Canada is hitting four Chinese officials and one entity with sanctions in relation to what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “gross and systematic human rights violations” taking place in the Xinjiang region.
The sanctions, which Canada is applying in coordination with the United States and the United Kingdom, come amid multiple reports, studies and news articles detailing the horrific mistreatment and abuse China’s Uyghur population has been subjected to in the Xinjiang region.
“Today, Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States imposed sanctions in response to the repression of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang,” Trudeau said in a Monday press conference.
“These measures reflect our grave concern with the gross and systematic human rights abuses taking place in the region. We will continue to work closely with our international partners to pursue accountability and transparency.”
In a statement issued earlier on Monday, Global Affairs said that “mounting evidence” points to “systemic, state-led human rights violations by Chinese authorities.”
“This includes the mass arbitrary detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, as well as political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilization.”
The European Union also imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials earlier in the day on Monday, prompting swift retaliation from Beijing, which is reportedly set to blacklist several European officials.
In a further show of a multi-country consensus, a joint statement was released by the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, and the United States Secretary of State on Monday afternoon.
“The evidence, including from the Chinese Government’s own documents, satellite imagery, and eyewitness testimony is overwhelming,” the statement read.
“China’s extensive program of repression includes severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labour, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilisations, and the concerted destruction of Uyghur heritage.”
The statement adds that the goal of these sanctions is to “send a clear message about the human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang.”
“We are united in calling for China to end its repressive practices against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, and to release those arbitrarily detained,” it read.
The sanctions aren’t the first action Canada has taken to express concern about China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. In late February, Canadian lawmakers voted to support a motion formally recognizing China’s treatment of its ethnic Muslim Uyghur population as a genocide – though the Liberal cabinet abstained from the vote.
China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, denounced the motion prior to the vote.
“We firmly oppose that because it runs counter to the facts. And it’s like, you know, interfering in our domestic affairs,” Cong said at the time.
“There’s nothing like genocide happening in Xinjiang at all.”
In January, Canada and the U.K. also outlined a host of new measures in a bid to move in on businesses that profit off forced labour in the Xinjiang region.
As a part of those measures, the government urged companies with business links to the Xinjiang region to “closely examine their supply chains” to make sure their companies aren’t participating in the use of forced labour.
China was infuriated by the move, accusing Canada of colluding with other countries to undermine Xinjiang’s stability – a move they wrote is “doomed to fail.”
“Under the banner of ‘caring about’ the human rights of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, Canada distorts the facts, blames the innocent and suppressed Xinjiang enterprise for no reason, which fully exposed its hypocritical and ugly face.”
On Oct. 20, the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights released a statement detailing the findings of its own study into the human rights situation of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
It found China’s treatment of its Uyghur population constitutes a “genocide.”
The statement described horrific human rights abuses, including mass detentions, forced sterilizations, claims of widespread organ harvesting, and coerced labour.
In a press release issued Monday amid the announcement of the sanctions, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said Canada remains “deeply concerned” about the “the egregious human rights violations that are taking place in Xinjiang at the hands of the Chinese state.”
“Today, we are joining our partners in calling on the Government of China to put an end to this systematic campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities and to hold those responsible to account,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun, The Canadian Press, Reuters