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The federal Conservatives have asked Parliament to recognize that China is committing genocide against its Muslim Uyghur minority through internment camps and forced population control.

The Official Opposition put a motion up for debate Thursday that would declare that Beijing’s persecution constitutes genocide. MPs spent much of Thursday debating the matter and will vote on the motion Monday after Question Period.

The parliamentary measure could put further pressure on the minority Liberal government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already expressed discomfort over the issue, saying the word genocide is an “extremely loaded” term and said the matter requires more study.

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The Conservative motion stands a very good chance of passing. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh earlier this week said he considers China’s persecution of the Uyghurs to constitute genocide. The Bloc Quebecois Thursday indicated they would support it as well. A Commons subcommittee dominated by Liberal MPs last October also labelled Beijing’s conduct as genocide.

The motion calls for the Commons to recognize that “the People’s Republic of China has engaged in actions consistent with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 260, commonly known as the Genocide Convention, including detention camps and measures intended to prevent births as it pertains to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.”

More than one million Uyghurs have been held in political indoctrination camps in China’s Xinjiang province, facilities the Chinese government calls vocational and educational-training centres. Beijing defends its conduct by saying it’s trying to stamp out extremism.

The Associated Press reported last June on how China forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands in Xinjiang. It found that birth rates in Hotan and Kashgar, Uyghur-majority areas of Xinjiang, fell more than 60 per cent between 2015 and 2018.

“We know that China is committing those acts with the intent to destroy the Uyghur Muslim population,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Thursdary morning before the debate.

“And so, I ask Prime Minister Trudeau. How much more evidence of atrocities do you need?

NDP foreign affairs critic Jack Harris addressed Mr. Trudeau’s refusal to use the word genocide because it’s a “loaded” term. “Yes, it is a loaded word,” Mr. Harris said. “Loaded with the freight of horrors of the past – a word that was not coined until 1944 – describing the implementation of Nazi policies in occupied Europe and mass killings of the past. Other words were not strong enough.”

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But, he said, the term fits what China is doing to the Uyghurs.

Mr. Harris urged the Liberals not to write off the motion as a merely a Conservative ploy to demonstrate the Trudeau government is too lenient with China. “It is far too serious a matter to treat [as] a political event.”

The NDP MP said it’s obligation of countries like to Canada to “call out the actions of states whose actions and practices of widespread and systematic abuses of human rights are of such enormity that they require international opprobrium and action.”

In January, the official Twitter account for China’s U.S. embassy – in a tweet that Twitter later ruled violated its policy against “dehumanizing” people – defended the Chinese record in Xinjiang saying Uyghur women had been emancipated and were no longer “baby-making machines.”

The Conservative motion notes that the United States, under “two consecutive administrations,” has already recognized that Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are being subject to a genocide.

“The forcing of men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” Antony Blinken told a U.S. Senate hearing in January, before he was confirmed as President Joe Biden’s Secretary of State.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau, speaking to the motion Thursday, said the Trudeau government is deeply concerned by what he called “reports of human rights violations in China” against the Uyghurs and other minorities. “The nature and scale of these abuses [is] alarming.”

Mr. Garneau said he takes allegations of genocide very seriously but gave no indication the Liberals plan to support the motion. He said he would like to see the international community investigate the matter.

He noted that China is a “key economic actor” and an important partner for Canada in fighting climate change and added that the Liberal government views Canada’s relationship with China “as important and complex” and “we must and will continue to co-exist with China.” The Chinese embassy in Ottawa said earlier this week in a statement to The Globe and Mail that allegations of genocide are false and represent “major insults” to the Chinese people.

The federal government has previously said it wants an independent investigation into China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. And Mr. Trudeau said earlier this week that Canada would like to be part of such an investigation. Human-rights advocates have pointed out that it’s extremely unlikely China would ever allow it.

When asked if he is reluctant to label China’s conduct as genocide in case it leads to repercussions for Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Mr. Trudeau said Monday that his government’s primary concern is making sure the term genocide is not misused.

“There is no question there have been tremendous human-rights abuses reported coming out of Xinjiang, and we are extremely concerned about that.”

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But he said when it comes to calling it genocide, “we need to ensure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed in the process before a determination like that is made.”

Federal Green Party Leader Annamie Paul has said she believes the Chinese government is committing genocide against the Uyghurs and urged Ottawa to consider diplomatic and economic sanctions against China.

The Conservatives have said that other consequences should follow a recognition of genocide, and they have already urged the government to press Olympic organizers to move the 2022 Winter Games out of Beijing.

With a file from Reuters

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