Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and a leading voice on human rights, is urging Justin Trudeau to take steps to recognize that China is conducting acts of genocide against its Muslim minority.
Mr. Cotler said the federal government could either ask the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on whether China is committing genocide or have Parliament adopt a resolution on the issue.
MPs are preparing to vote Monday on a Conservative motion to recognize China’s conduct as genocide. The NDP, Bloc Québécois and Green Party have indicated that they would support the motion, which says Beijing’s actions contravene the UN Genocide Convention.
The Prime Minister, who said this week that he was reluctant to describe China’s conduct as genocide and that the matter required more study, recently appointed Mr. Cotler as his special adviser for Holocaust remembrance and combatting anti-Semitism.
The Montreal lawyer said he’s confident that what is taking place in China meets the test of genocide.
“I have looked at all the evidence and I have no doubt that, in fact, there are mass atrocities that are constitutive to acts of genocide under the Genocide Convention,” Mr. Cotler said in an interview.
The Biden and Trump administrations have both said Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region 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.
Mr. Cotler said forced sterilizations and abortions and holding more than one million Uyghurs in what he called “concentration camps” violate the Convention.
“This constitutes the largest detention of a minority since the Holocaust … and you have witnesses testifying about forced enslavement, torture, mass rape, disappearances, murder,” he said.
A growing body of evidence from human-rights monitors, Western media outlets and testimony from Uyghur survivors themselves 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.
Beijing defends its conduct by saying that it’s trying to stamp out extremism and calls the camps re-education centres.
The Conservative motion would not be the first statement from Parliament on the issue. In October, a House of Commons subcommittee, dominated by Liberal MPs, also labelled Beijing’s conduct in Xinjiang as genocide.
Arif Virani, the parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister and Attorney-General David Lametti, later told the Commons that he believed “it is genocide that appears to be taking place today in China.”
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 describe China’s conduct as genocide in case it leads to repercussions for jailed Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Mr. Trudeau said Monday that his 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.”
But he said that 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.”
Mr. Cotler said he knows the Prime Minister is worried about the fate of the two Michaels but added that a parliamentary determination of genocide would allow “the government to say they are responding to the will of Parliament, which is reflective and representative of the will of the people … or they can go the Supreme Court route.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul have said they believe Beijing is committing genocide against the Uyghurs. Ms. Paul has 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. The Conservative motion to be voted on Monday was amended during debate Thursday to also urge the relocation of the Games from Beijing.
Paul Evans, the HSBC Chair in Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, said Canada is “not on strong moral and political ground” to lead on the issue of genocide, given this country’s painful history of residential schools for Indigenous children.
“There do appear to be parallels between our residential-school history and what Beijing is attempting to do with some of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang,” he said.
“We would be on a firmer ground, and more likely to attract others to the cause, if we labelled Chinese actions in Xinjiang as ‘cultural genocide,’ a horror we are very familiar with in our own story.”
With reports from Reuters
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