By Steven Chase
SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER
Protesters gather outside the Parliament buildings in Ottawa on Feb. 22, 2021.ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Canadian MPs voted 258 to 0 to endorse a report calling on Ottawa to extend special immigration measures that would grant refuge to Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities fleeing repression from China.
The adopted motion was to concur, or agree with, a recent report by the House of Commons standing committee on immigration committee that said Canada needs to open its doors for these minorities because they “face an ongoing genocide” in China. This repeated a strong condemnation that angered Beijing in 2021.
The vote offers another reading of parliamentary sentiment on China’s repression. It was only in late August that United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in a report released just before she left office, said the “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of Uyghurs and other minorities may constitute crimes against humanity.
MPs from all opposition parties supported Tuesday’s motion, moved by Conservative international development critic Garnett Genuis. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet abstained, as it did in February, 2021, when the House of Commons first called China’s conduct genocide.
International Trade Minister Mary Ng voted to endorse the report that condemns China and seeks help for Uyghurs but her office put out a statement saying this was a mistake, and Ms. Ng subsequently distanced herself from the vote.
The immigration committee report endorsed by the Commons on Monday asks Ottawa to extend existing special immigration measures to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims and allow them to seek refuge in Canada and waive the requirement that they be first designated as refugees by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
It’s only the first of two calls this week in Parliament to provide safe haven for Uyghurs and other minorities.
On Wednesday, debate begins on motion M-62 by Montreal-area Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi, who is calling on Ottawa to make room in its refugee intake numbers for 10,000 Uyghurs and members of other Turkic groups who have fled China and are living in third countries such as Turkey.
Mr. Zuberi has spent the last few months building support for his motion.
More than 160 Uyghur Canadians have registered to attend the visitor’s gallery in the House of Commons Wednesday to watch debate on M-62, according to Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. They will wear T-shirts saying “We were all once refugees,” he said.
Rights groups and media reports say the Chinese government has committed grave human-rights violations against the Xinjiang region’s largely Muslim Uyghur population, as well as other minorities. Forced labour and forced relocation to work in other provinces, China’s critics say, are part of the latest stage in a government-directed effort to exert control in Xinjiang, which Beijing has described as being infected with extremism. To date, however, Canada has done little to act on the genocide motion from February, 2021.
Despite changing customs law as of mid-2020 to prohibit imports made with forced labour, Ottawa has failed to intercept a single shipment that it could prove was made under coercion.
It’s not the first time Canada has been urged to open its doors for Uyghur refugees.
In 2019, a Commons subcommittee on human rights, of which Mr. Zuberi was a member, published a report that, among other things, called on Canada to create a dedicated refugee stream for Uyghurs and other groups persecuted by China. Such a stream has not been established.
“I hope and am pressing very strongly for the government to create a program after what I hope will be a positive outcome for the vote on this motion,” Mr. Zuberi said Tuesday.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner’s August report on China’s treatment of Uyghurs included “allegations of torture, sexual violence, ill-treatment, forced medical treatment, as well as forced labour and reports of deaths in custody.”
Media reports have detailed how China has forced intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands in Xinjiang.
The report said official population figures indicate a sharp decline in birth rates. In the space of two years, from 2017 to 2019, it said, the birth rate in Xinjiang dropped more than 48 per cent: to 8.14 per thousand from 15.88 per thousand. The average for all of China is 10.48 per thousand, the UN report said.
Uyghur Canadian advocate Mr. Tohti said it’s time for Canada to put action behind words.
“That UN report is damning,” he said.