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Protesters gather outside the Parliament buildings in Ottawa on Feb. 22, 2021.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

With the Liberal backbench in open revolt, the House of Commons unanimously declared Monday that the government of China is committing genocide.

In the short run, little will come of it. Meaningful action to constrain the increasingly aggressive Chinese government will only occur if the United States rallies its allies to act.

But the House, including much of the Liberal caucus, has expressed its will. This Liberal government must take a much firmer stand against atrocities committed by the regime in Beijing.

There is solid evidence that the Chinese government is committing genocidal acts against China’s Uyghur minority, as defined by the United Nations convention on genocide, including mass detentions, torture and the rape and forced sterilization of women, though it is still subject to debate whether the regime’s actions meet the convention’s bar of “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

Which makes the position of this Liberal government untenable. During debate on the motion last Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau declared that “we will continue to co-exist with China. We will compete with China. … We will co-operate on global challenges like climate change, and we will challenge China when human rights are being violated.”

Such an approach, which has been pursued by Liberals governments all the way back to Jean Chrétien, can’t be squared with the atrocities the Xi regime is committing against minorities, with the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, and with the state kidnapping of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

Which is why, while Mr. Garneau abstained on the vote, “on behalf of the Government of Canada,” more than 80 Liberal MPs voted in favour of the motion, and none against. Combined with opposition support, the motion passed without a single dissent.

So now what?

Having declared that the government of China is committing genocide against some of its own people, Parliament should demand that our government take the appropriate measures, which in a situation this horrific surely requires severing diplomatic relations, freezing Chinese assets, imposing a strict economic embargo and boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. None of that is likely to happen.

First, a motion by the House of Commons does not carry the weight of a government declaration. By having cabinet abstain, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clearly signalled that he is not prepared to further estrange relations with China, though with so many of his own caucus siding with the opposition, he may have no choice.

Second, the meaning of the word genocide has evolved. When the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls declared in 2019 that Canada had committed genocide against Indigenous peoples, Mr. Trudeau said that “we accept the finding that this was genocide, and we will move forward to end this ongoing national tragedy.”

But the Liberal government certainly has not acted as though it believed Canada had committed the most terrible of all possible crimes against humanity. So even if the government does ultimately agree with the House, strong measures are not likely to follow.

Third, China is not Rwanda, or Bosnia, or Darfur or lands once held by the Islamic State – places where slaughters have taken place in recent decades that were widely condemned as acts of genocide. These places were all relatively small and economically inconsequential. The persecution of the Uyghur people in China, in contrast, is being committed by the most populous country in the world, with the world’s second largest economy and full nuclear capability, making the situation both more urgent and more dangerous.

Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s secretary of state, declared on his last day in office that China’s actions against the Uyghur people amounted to genocide. Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden’s Secretary of State, has said he agrees, though one report noted that the State Department has not issued a formal finding.

If the Biden administration truly believes Beijing is committing genocide against the Uyghur people, then it must mobilize the nations of NATO, the Group of Seven, the Five Eyes and other American allies to constrain the regime. Perhaps that will start with a joint statement by Canada and the U.S. after Mr. Biden meets virtually with Mr. Trudeau on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister would no doubt appreciate the cover, as he tries to bring his government’s actions in line with the will of Parliament.

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