Conservatives win all-party support of Uighur genocide vote in House of Commons

Ministers sit out China vote

UPDATE 1:50 p.m.

Canada's House of Commons voted unanimously in favour Monday of a Conservative motion declaring as genocide the atrocities committed against ethnic Muslim Uighurs in China's Xinjiang province.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and all of his Liberal cabinet ministers abstained from the politically charged vote, which took place mainly over video, and against the backdrop of all-but-frozen relations between Beijing and Ottawa.

China has imprisoned two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on what the government and dozens of its allies say are bogus charges in retaliation for the RCMP's December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau registered a formal abstention on behalf of the government, drawing audible jeers over the video feed.

Dozens of Liberal MPs supported the Conservative motion, which passed by a 266-0 margin, amid the cabinet abstentions in the 338-seat Commons.

The vote is largely symbolic but represents growing political opposition to widespread reports of atrocities against Chinese minorities, accusations the China's communist leaders vociferously deny.

MPs also voted in favour of an amendment from the Bloc Québécois to call upon the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Olympic Games out of China if the genocide continues.

ORIGINAL 11:50 a.m.

The federal Liberal cabinet will abstain from the Conservative party's motion to have Parliament declare a genocide against ethnic Muslim Uighurs in China's Xinjiang province.

A senior federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, said other MPs would be allowed to vote freely.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau was to give the government's position in the House of Commons later on Monday, the official said.

Earlier, the Conservatives called on Liberal MPs to support the party's motion.

Conservative MPs Michael Chong and Garnett Genuis were joined by Uighur community members at a teleconference Monday in calling for the government's support of the motion, suggesting that unanimity would send a strong signal to China.

"We can no longer ignore this," said Chong, the party's foreign affairs critic.

"We must call it for what it is: a genocide."

The Conservatives tabled a motion in the House of Commons last week that is expected to come to a non-binding vote later Monday, calling for a formal declaration that crimes against Uighur Muslims in China's Xinjiang province constitute a genocide.

Genuis, the critic for international development and human rights, said the Conservatives expect to have the support of opposition parties to pass the motion.

"But we believe the message will be that much stronger and clearer if as many members of the government as possible join with us and show that we are able to stand together on issues of fundamental human rights," he said.

Opposition parties indicated they were prepared to support the Conservative motion.

"New Democrats recognize that China's measures of mass detention, forced labour, surveillance and population control, such as forced sterilization, against Uighurs and Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang meet the definition of genocide," said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a statement.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said his party has proposed an amendment to the motion, so that it would also call upon the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Olympic Games out of China if the genocide continues — that would likely lead his party to support it.

A Green party spokesman said it would support the Conservative motion, and the Bloc amendment.

Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said on Twitter that he would vote in support of the genocide motion.

"I will also support the Bloc amendment to call upon the IOC to move the Olympics from China. However, that vote does not signify support for a boycott if the Games are not moved," he wrote.

Chong dismissed the Chinese government's claims there is no genocide taking place in Xinjiang.

Ambassador Cong Peiwu recently told The Canadian Press that reports of millions of people in detention camps being subjected to forced labour, sterilization and other abuse is simply unsubstantiated China-bashing.

Chong rejected that denial, saying there are reams of satellite images, smuggled video and documents, accounts from escaped Uighurs and undercover reporting by major American newspapers to document the atrocities.

"The evidence has come in the form of high-definition, high-resolution satellite imagery that has been tracked over time that documents clearly the building of hundreds of detention centers," said Chong.

The Tories were joined by Kalbinur Tursun, a Uighur who fled China and has spoken publicly against the Communist Party's treatment of her people in Xinjiang.

Speaking through a translator, she said the world didn't believe the horrors of the Holocaust until the concentration camps were exposed for all to see after the Second World War.

"Yesterday's Jews are today's Uighurs," said Tursun.

Two weeks ago, Tursun said Chinese police contacted her with "threatening texts and phone calls reminding me to cease talking." She said she was speaking publicly in an appeal to save the lives of her relatives back home.

A Canadian parliamentary subcommittee concluded in an October report that China's treatment of Uighurs is a genocide, a finding China rejected as baseless. The committee heard from Uighur witnesses who gave first-hand accounts of atrocities.

"What we see before our eyes is not complicated. We see the existence of modern concentration camps," said Genuis.

"When you think of slaves being forced to pick cotton, you might initially think of images of the Antebellum South. But that description equally describes what is happening in Xinjiang."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stopped short of agreeing with American officials, human rights advocates and legal scholars who argue the violations amount to a genocide, saying it is a loaded word that has to be used carefully.

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