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Protesters gather outside the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Monday, February 22, 2021. Parliament declared China's actions against ethnic Muslim Uighurs as genocide. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The House of Commons overwhelmingly endorsed a motion to recognize that China is committing genocide against its Muslim minority, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet abstaining from the vote amid a nearly frozen relationship with Beijing.

The vote in favour of declaring Chinese atrocities in Xinjiang contravene the United Nations’ Genocide Convention passed by 266 to zero. The Conservative motion was supported by all opposition parties and dozens of Liberal MPs.

The parliamentary declaration is certain to anger Beijing, whose relations with Ottawa were already strained over the arrest of a Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive in British Columbia and China’s retaliatory detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, among other matters. China’s ambassador warned just days ago that the declaration would constitute interference in his country’s domestic affairs.

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The House also voted to adopt an amendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois that Canada urge the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing if the Chinese Communist Party continues its brutal treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.

Uyghur Canadian advocate Mehmet Tohti said he believes this represents the first time a legislative body around the world has declared China’s treatment of the Uyghurs to constitute genocide.

“Canada has set a precedent,” said Mr. Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project.

Canada has made similar declarations before. The House unanimously agreed in 2018 to declare the violent campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar a genocide, and in 2016 MPs voted unanimously in favour of a Conservative motion to recognize that the violence perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant against the Yazidis constitutes genocide. In 2004, the House voted to formally recognize the genocide of Armenian Turks during the First World War in a vote that Liberal prime minister Paul Martin ordered his cabinet to oppose.

Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet did not vote Monday. His Foreign Minister, however, made an appearance to abstain. “I abstain on behalf of the Government of Canada,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said.

“The fact that Mr. Trudeau did not even show up to be accountable is a terrible sign of leadership,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said.

Mr. Trudeau has been reluctant to describe China’s conduct as genocide, saying the matter required more study and independent investigation by a body such as the United Nations.

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A senior government official said the government will not take action on the genocide motion until it has support of the United States and other Western democracies. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official, who was not authorized to discuss Canada-China relations.

Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi, who voted for the motion, said he hopes this persuades the government to re-evaluate Canada’s relationship with China. “We have to look at our interactions with China through the lens of this recognition of genocide.”

The genocide motion is not binding on the federal government, but Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong urged the Liberal government to now officially recognize genocide against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

“We call on the government to uphold its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention and work with allies to take co-ordinated action and respond to the genocide, including the introduction of a more effective ban on imports [of forced labour] from Xinjiang and Magnitsky sanctions to punish those overseeing the genocide,” he said.

The Biden and Trump administrations have both said Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims meet a credible definition of genocide. Allegations include mass incarceration, destruction of religious sites, forced labour, forced sterilization and other forms of population control, as well as torture.

China’s embassy to Canada, in a statement late Monday, condemned what it called an “anti-China farce.”

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“We severely condemn this shameful act,” said the statement, which cited Xinjiang’s economic growth and increase in life expectancy.

“It is time for Canada to examine its own conscience and ask itself about ‘genocide’ and reflect deeply on the tragic history of its indigenous people,” the statement said. It accused Canadian lawmakers of hypocrisy, shamelessness, selfishness and narrow-mindedness, saying the call to move the Winter Games amounted to a politicization of sports that violated the spirit of the Olympic charter.

“How arrogant and ignorant they are to continue to tell China what to do in the 21st century!” the embassy said.

Monday’s motion is not the first statement from a Canadian Parliament body on the issue. In October, a House of Commons subcommittee on human rights, dominated by Liberal MPs, also labelled Beijing’s conduct in Xinjiang as genocide.

A growing body of evidence from human-rights monitors, Western media outlets and testimony from Uyghur survivors has documented China’s actions.

Media reports have detailed how China has forced intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands in Xinjiang. Birth rates in Hotan and Kashgar, Uyghur-majority areas of Xinjiang, fell more than 60 per cent between 2015 and 2018, an Associated Press report says.

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Mr. O’Toole urged Mr. Trudeau to heed the will of the House of Commons and release a government statement acknowledging the genocide and push Olympic organizers to relocate the 2022 Winter Games.

The Conservatives said it’s now time for Canada to take tough trade action by banning all imports from China’s Xinjiang province because of the great likelihood that products such as cotton are made with forced labour.

The Conservatives have also urged Ottawa to impose Magnitsky-style human-rights sanctions on top Chinese officials over what is taking place in the Xinjiang region. This would include freezing assets and prohibiting targeted officials from conducting financial transactions. “Toronto is a top-10 global financial centre and sanctions can have a profound impact,” Mr. Chong said.

Hours before the historic vote, the Conservatives held a news conference with Uyghur survivors of the detention camps.

Kayum Masimov, a former teacher in Xinjiang, described how Uyghurs were tortured, beaten, forced to sleep on cold concrete floors and made to “crawl like dogs.” She described the pain of a forced sterilization at the age of 50 in 2019 and watching a Chinese policeman beat a man to death who tried to stop him from harming a young child.

“When the Nazis were exterminating Jews, the world did not believe until [seeing] the liberated camps. Jews were not able to get any help from outside,” she said. “Today the Chinese Communist Party are holding Uyghurs in concentration camps and killing them. Yesterday’s Jews are today’s Uyghurs.”

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MPs voted by 229 to 29 to adopt a Bloc amendment to urge the IOC to move the Games from Beijing but it did not call for a boycott. Mr. Garneau was the only minister to take part in that vote. He abstained while his parliamentary secretary, Rob Oliphant, voted in favour.

Mr. O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul have all called for the 2022 Winter Olympics to be moved out of China. Those advocating a change of venue have said they fear China will use the Games to shore up its international image.

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