MPs call to relocate 2022 Beijing Games over China’s reported abuses of Uighur minority

Thirteen MPs from all five major federal parties in Canada have signed a letter urging the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to another country over reported human rights abuses of China’s Uighur minority.

“We have a unique opportunity to come together with all the world’s humanitarians and democrats and take action by refusing to participate in this global sports festival, on the grounds that doing so would amount to taking part in a sinister, self-aggrandizing spectacle staged for the benefit of a regime that is perpetrating the worst possible crimes against humanity against its own people,” the letter reads.

“Some may argue that sports and politics should not mix. We would respond that when genocide is happening, it is no longer a matter of politics, but of human rights and crimes against humanity.”

The Olympic and Paralympic Games — set to be hosted by Beijing next February — were targeted Wednesday by a coalition of 180 human rights groups calling for the international sporting event to be boycotted altogether.

Last October, the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights tabled a report concluding that China’s treatment of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority — including mass detentions in concentration camps, forced labour and population control measures, such as forced sterilization — meets the definition of genocide.

In late January, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he agreed with the Trump administration’s determination that China committed genocide in its persecution of Uighurs in the country’s Xinjiang province.

China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has denied the accusations. 

Letter received support from all parties

The letter was initiated by Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, vice-chair of the parliamentary subcommittee, and was also signed by:

  • Bloc Québécois MPs Denis Trudel and Stéphane Bergeron.
  • Conservative MPs Arnold Viersen, Cathay Wagantall and Kelly Block.
  • Liberal MPs Ken Hardie, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and Sameer Zuberi.
  • NDP MPs Heather McPherson and Jenny Kwan.
  • Green MPs Elizabeth May and Paul Manly.

Several Quebec MNAs, Canadian organizations, human rights groups and 1994 Winter Games gold medallist Jean-Luc Brassard were also signatories to the letter. 

“The message that we’re sending to the world is supported by MPs in all parties,” Brunelle-Duceppe told CBC News, saying he was “proud” that his letter was backed across party lines.

Bloc MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, vice-chair of the parliamentary subcommittee on international human rights, spearheaded the letter signed by federal MPs, Quebec politicians and human rights groups. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The Bloc MP said the letter is focused solely on China’s treatment of its Uighur population and was not sparked by tensions between Canada and China, including the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

“We don’t want to enter Canada-China politics because then we’re going to lose some allies,” Brunelle-Duceppe said. “So we have to focus on this genocide and these Olympic Games.”

Parliamentarians not calling for boycott

The letter distances itself from existing calls to boycott next year’s games, which some view as a method of diplomacy that would punish athletes.

“We are not asking our athletes to give up their Olympic dream, because we know full well how much effort will have gone into pursuing it,” the letter states. “However, we believe that there is still time to demand that the International Olympic Committee move the Games to another country if the Chinese government continues its genocidal campaign.”

Demonstrators hold Tibetan flags at a protest against the 2022 Beijing Olympics in front of IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Wednesday. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via The Associated Press)

Both the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee have said they are firmly against a boycott.

“We believe this amounts to little more than a convenient and politically inexpensive alternative to real and meaningful diplomacy,” CEOs David Shoemaker and Karen O’Neill wrote in a joint statement this week. “Boycotts don’t work. They punish only the athletes prevented from going, those they were meant to compete against and those who would have been inspired by them.”

On Thursday, Dick Pound — a Canadian and the longest-serving member of the IOC — told CBC’s Power & Politics that spurning the games would not achieve the intended result.

Pound pointed to the 1980 Moscow Games, which Canada and its allies boycotted after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

“The Soviets were still in Afghanistan 10 years later, so in terms of bringing about a conduct change, it was completely ineffective,” he told host Vassy Kapelos.

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