The head of the World Uyghur Congress is visiting Ottawa this week to ask the Canadian government to step up efforts to block imports of products made with forced labour in China and to create a refugee stream for Uyghur refugees fleeing Beijing’s repression.
Dolkun Isa, president of the umbrella organization for exiled Uyghurs, will meet with Immigration Minister Sean Fraser and is hoping to meet with other decisionmakers during his stay in the nation’s capital, which will include a rally on Parliament Hill with MPs and senators from all major political parties.
Mr. Isa was once the subject of a wanted alert, or red notice, by Interpol – a measure that led to criticism the Chinese Communist Party was abusing Interpol to persecute dissidents. This red notice was cancelled in 2018 to much protest from Beijing.
He also wants to ask the Canadian government why it took no action after Parliament adopted a motion earlier this year declaring China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities to constitute genocide. The same motion said Canada should urge the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing “if the Chinese government continues this genocide.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, like other Western governments, have declined to consider an athletic boycott of the Games, but U.S. President Joe Biden has said he is weighting a diplomatic boycott which would mean no government representatives attend. The Canadian government has not said whether it would follow suit. “We will continue to discuss this matter with our closest partners,” Syrine Khoury, a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said last week.
Canada also has not to date demonstrated much success in intercepting imports made with forced labour from China.
Mr. Isa said he hopes that the House of Commons motion was not “an empty promise bringing nothing.” If Canada was sincere about declaring that a genocide is occurring then that is a sufficiently serious situation to prompt further “concrete action,” he said.
He said China will exploit full attendance at the 2022 Games to demonstrate the furor over Xinjiang was not serious.
China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, which produces a fifth of the world’s cotton, is where researchers and critics say the Chinese government has committed grave human-rights violations against the largely Muslim population of Uyghurs and other minorities. Allegations include mass incarceration, destruction of religious sites, forced labour, forced sterilization and other forms of population control, as well as torture. Forced labour, they say, is the latest stage in Beijing’s efforts to exert control in an area with a large population of Muslim people that Beijing has described as infected by extremism.
Canada was one of seven parliamentary bodies around the world to adopt such a motion and the Biden and Trump administrations in the United States have both said Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims meet a credible definition of genocide.
Xinjiang cotton appears to be pervasive in supply chains for major retailers. As The Globe Mail also reported last week, Lululemon, the apparel company selected as the official outfitter for Team Canada at the 2022 Olympics, is among dozens of international brands and retailers at risk of having cotton produced by Chinese forced labour in their supply chains.
A new report this week by Britain’s Sheffield Hallam University analyzed supply-chain connections identified through shipping records to show how cotton from the Uyghur region circumvents supply standards and import bans to end up on clothing racks around the world. The researchers investigated the supply chains of brands such as Target, Walmart and Uniqlo, and Canadian retailers Aritzia and Lululemon, and found that many well-known brands are in danger of having cotton from Xinjiang in their finished products.
Mr. Isa said he’d like Canada to follow through on a recommendation from a House of Commons subcommittee in 2020 that drew up a report urging action by Canada on China’s treatment of Uyghurs. The report recommends the creation of “an exceptional refugee stream to expedite entry” for Uyghurs. No such stream has been created.
He noted Canada plans to accept hundreds of thousands of immigrants annually. “A couple thousand Uyghur immigrants is nothing,” he said.
There are about 50,000 displaced Uyghurs in Turkey, he said, of which as many as 15,000 to 20,000 lack citizenship documents and are effectively stateless.
Canada has done little to stop forced-labour imports from Xinjiang from entering this country. It has only seized one shipment of goods it identified as being made with forced labour in the nearly 17 months since federal law was toughened in 2020 to prohibit imports of items made under coercion. As The Globe first reported last week, the Canada Border Services Agency seized a shipment of women’s and children’s clothing that arrived in Quebec from China, on the belief that it was “manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour.” The date of the interception was October 26, the CBSA said.
Mr. Isa said he’d requested a meeting with Mr. Trudeau but had not received confirmation it would happen. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to say whether the Prime Minister would meet with Mr. Isa. Stephen Harper met with Mr. Isa’s predecessor Rebiya Kadeer when he was prime minister.
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.