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Some of the strongest advocacy for reviving the special committee on Canada-China relations is coming from senior MP Garnett Genuis.Jason Lee

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is facing pressure from a growing number of MPs who want him to reverse course and revive a special parliamentary committee that probed Canada-China relations.

Five veteran MPs are adding their voices to other Canadian critics of the Chinese government in urging Mr. O’Toole not to silence a committee that shone a light on the dangers posed here and abroad by an increasingly-belligerent Beijing.

On Sunday night, Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong contacted The Globe and Mail after learning that the newspaper had spoken to fellow MPs about the matter. He said the party intends to seek to bring back the committee in “due course” later this year.

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Some of the strongest advocacy for reviving the special committee on Canada-China relations is coming from senior MP Garnett Genuis.

Mr. Genuis said he “profoundly disagrees” with a recent decision not to resurrect the committee. It was created in December, 2019, by a Conservative motion, with the support of the Bloc Québécois and NDP, over the objections of the governing Liberals.

He accused Mr. O’Toole of abandoning the initiative out of fear that high-profile criticism of the repression conducted by China’s ruling Communist Party was hurting Conservatives at the ballot box.

“Appeasement is just as bad a political strategy as it is a national policy,” said Mr. Genuis, who was vice-chair of the dissolved committee.

Four other MPs – Pierre Paul-Hus, John Williamson, Chris Warkentin and Michael Cooper – say they also want the Canada-China committee re-established.

“The Chinese Communist Party regime poses perhaps the greatest economic and security threat to Canada and is a major destabilizing force in the Indo-Pacific region, to democracy and the international rules-based order,” Mr. Cooper said.

“I would vote to reinstate that committee,” said Mr. Williamson, who along with Mr. Paul-Hus praised the work of the committee that probed China’s repression of its Muslim minorities and its crackdown on civil liberties and democracy in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

“Not only did it expose the government’s management of Canada-China relations, it also compelled the government to be more responsive to the realities of those troubled relations,” the New Brunswick MP said.

Mr. Chong originally told The Globe in November, 2021, that the party would push to revive the special committee on Canada-China relations when Parliament resumed sitting. Special committees are not permanent and must be recreated after a dissolution of Parliament.

But in December, the Conservatives announced they would not seek to bring back the committee, citing stretched parliamentary resources and hearings they had spearhead into the government’s handling of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in August, 2021.

The committee in its short life examined the fraught relationship between China and the West but also focused on then-imprisoned Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and launched a demand for federal documents about the firing of two scientists from Canada’s top-security virus laboratory.

Mr. Genuis said there is a lot of unfinished work for the Canada-China committee, including threats to Taiwan and other Indo-Pacific countries, the emergence of the U.S.-Britain-Australia defence pact AUKUS, the coming Beijing Olympics and the continuing threat of foreign interference in Canada by the Chinese state.

“Our party leadership … cited resource constraints and the fact that these issues can be studied elsewhere. As much as it pains me to say it, these arguments mirror the Liberals’ own objections from 2019,” he said.

On Sunday, Mr. Chong said there has been a misunderstanding about the future of the committee.

“We were always going to bring back the special committee on Canada-China relations – the question was when,” he said in a statement.

He could not say precisely when the Conservatives would launch a bid to reinstate the committee, but said it would be before the end of May.

“We take seriously the threats from the Communist leadership in Beijing and are committed to standing up for Canada’s national security and interest by countering these threats.”

NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson said she was surprised when the Conservatives pulled the plug on the committee, arguing that this has forced even more work on the shoulders of MPs on the Commons foreign-affairs committee.

“So the NDP has always been supportive of having the Canada-China committee but the Conservatives, I think, felt they paid a price for their anti-China stance in the last election,” Ms. McPherson added.

In the 2021 federal election campaign, several Conservative MPs lost their seats in ridings with significant populations of Canadians of Chinese origin including Kenny Chiu in Steveston-Richmond East, Alice Wong in Richmond Centre and Bob Saroya in Markham – Unionville.

McGill University information-warfare researchers and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab have both documented what they characterized as disinformation attacks against Mr. Chiu on Chinese language social-media platforms widely used by Chinese-speaking Canadians.

Mr. Genuis noted that these disinformation attacks mirrored talking points used by the Chinese Communist Party but said the Conservative response should be to improve communication with voters of Chinese origin rather than back down. He said now is not the time to “put our tail between our legs” and hope that election “interference campaigns decide to leave us alone next time.”

He also said the Conservative leadership never told the caucus when they were pushing to create a committee probing Canada’s record in Afghanistan last fall that it would be used as a reason not to resume the Canada-China committee. “In other words, we were never told that supporting the creation of one committee would lead to the cancellation of the other.”

Mr. Warkentin said he also doesn’t buy the argument that the Canada-China committee would take up too many resources as MPs begin a special study of Canada’s response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

“The Parliament of Canada is a multimillion-dollar operation and I haven’t seen any [spending] limitations on a whole host of fronts and I think parliamentary committees should be the priority,” he said.

Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Advocacy Project, said it’s a foolhardy decision by Mr. O’Toole at a time when Canada’s spy agency is warning of Beijing influence operations in Canada, including harassment of Uyghur, Tibetan and Chinese Canadians.

“The decision by the Conservative Party to give up on the committee really sends a bad signal that the Chinese government can push political parties on Canadian soil to step back,” he said.

Mr. Tohti is worried that this will embolden China to put pressure on other political parties to avoid criticizing Beijing.

Cheuk Kwan, spokesman for the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, accused Mr. O’Toole of “defeatism” and being “cowardly” in the face of what he believes were attempts by Beijing to interfere in last year’s election.

“If we are forever kowtowing to China just because we fear election politics – then we will never get ahead,” he added.

Gloria Fung of Canada-Hong Kong Link said the committee’s work is essential to understand just how China is interfering in Canadian elections, using social media as propaganda and harassing its critics with intimation tactics.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had MP Pierre Paul-Hus spelled incorrectly.

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