TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s main opposition party on Tuesday urged the government to press the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics out of Beijing, arguing China is committing genocide against more than 1 million Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region.
Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said Canada should not be turning a blind eye to genocide.
“Canada must take a stand, but we do not need to do this alone. We should work with our closest allies,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole said China is also imposing a police state on Hong Kong and arbitrarily detaining two Canadians in Chinese prisons He said if the Olympics are not moved, a boycott could be considered.
At a news conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was noncommittal, saying the issue was being looked at by the Canadian and International Olympic committees “and we will certainly continue to follow it closely.”
He also hesitated at using the word “genocide,” which he called an “extremely loaded” term.
“There is no question there have been tremendous human rights abuses reported coming out of Xinjiang and we are extremely concerned about that and have highlighted our concerns many times. But when it comes to the application of the very specific word genocide, we simply need to ensure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed before a determination like that is made."
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in October that an Olympic boycott by his country is a possibility, and new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he believes genocide was being committed in China. The World Uyghur Congress recently labelled the event the “Genocide Games” and asked the IOC to move the Olympics from China.
A coalition of 180 rights groups representing Tibetans, Uighurs, Inner Mongolians, Hong Kong residents and others sent an open letter this month calling for a diplomatic boycott.
The IOC has said repeatedly that awarding the Olympics “does not mean that the IOC agrees with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in the country” that hosts them.
Beijing is the first city to hold both the Winter and Summer Olympics. The IOC awarded it the Winter Olympics in 2015 when several Europe bidders, including Oslo and Stockholm, backed out for political or financial reasons.
The head of the Canadian Organizing Committee, David Shoemaker, rejected the idea of changing the venue.
“We believe that moving the Games less than a year out would be next to impossible. Organizing an Olympic Games is an incredibly complex undertaking that typically takes more than seven years to do," he said in a statement.
"The COC will focus on its role of preparing Team Canada for success and promoting the Olympic values at home and abroad.”
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa said that genocide is clearly defined in international law and that claiming it is happening in China is a major insult to the Chinese people.
“It is highly irresponsible for some parties to try to disrupt, intervene and sabotage the preparation and holding of Beijing Winter Olympic Games to serve their political interests. Such actions will not be supported by the international community and will never succeed," the embassy said in a email.
Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China, said the Winter Olympics should be postponed for a year and could be held elsewhere.
Saint-Jacques said the U.S. needs to take the lead.
“We know that China has said it would punish very severely any country that would dare to suggest to move the Olympics, but for democratic countries they have to think how history will judge us,” he said.
“If you are in good company it becomes very difficult for China to punish one country. The only country that can stand up to China is the U.S.”