It comes as White House spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed on Monday that the American government “will not send any diplomatic or official representation” to the Olympic Games next February, citing the regime’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”
O’Toole had acknowledged earlier in the day that questions about a boycott are challenging given the hard work and training put in by Canadian athletes hoping to wear the maple leaf in competition.
“They should also wear our values abroad as well,” O’Toole said, noting he has been speaking over the course of months with athletes planning to compete to understand the effects on them.
“This is an important question and it’s something I’ve struggled with,” he added, describing a diplomatic boycott as the best option right now.
“I think that’s the best thing we can do alongside our allies to show pressure but not make the athletes pay the price.”
NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson also voiced her support for a diplomatic boycott.
She pointed to the decision by Beijing in March 2021 to impose bans on several Canadian MPs who had worked on a subcommittee report issued in October 2020 which concluded China’s persecution of the Uyghur ethnic minority group constitutes a genocide.
“That means that if we did send a diplomatic mission, China in fact is choosing who gets to go on that mission … that, in and of itself, to me is problematic,” said McPherson, who is among those banned.
She also pointed to the vote in the House of Commons in February 2021 in which MPs affirmed the recognition of a genocide taking place by the Chinese government against the Uyghurs.
That motion passed unchallenged, with 266 voting in favour and the Liberal cabinet abstaining.
There were no votes against it.
“I think we need to send a message to Beijing that the world is watching, the world is paying attention, and we are not going to allow this to go unchallenged,” McPherson concluded.
Que. NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice said Canada “needs strong action” when it comes to the Olympics in Beijing.
What is a diplomatic boycott?
A concept of a diplomatic boycott is different from that of an broader boycott.
Whereas a normal boycott typically would see everyone involved in an event pledge not to take part, the concerns around an outright boycott of the Beijing Olympics is that it would unfairly penalize athletes who want to compete this year in China despite the country’s human rights abuses.
Athletes train intensely for years in order to qualify for the Olympics.
A diplomatic boycott, on the other hand, refers specifically to non-athletes. It would see countries that agree to take part in a boycott pledge not to send diplomatic missions or representatives to attend the ceremonies and the events themselves
Normally, participating countries typically do send official representatives from their governments.
For example, former Canadian governor general David Johnson attended the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for six days as the country’s official representative.
But China is facing growing global pressure over its persecution of the Uyghurs, its crushing of internal dissent — including in Hong Kong — and the arbitrary detentions of two Canadians, who have since been released, in what was widely viewed as a hostage-taking.
As well, the regime’s disregard and aggression towards the rules-based international order have sharpened concerns among a growing number of countries about the need to come together to challenge Beijing’s conduct publicly.
“We’ve seen a much more aggressive China over the last three years than we ever saw before,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow with the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, and a board member of the Canadian International Council.
“This is a new China we’re seeing.”
Added into the mix are international fears for the wellbeing of tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared from public view last month after she alleged that a high-ranking Chinese official had sexually assaulted her.
Concerns about her safety have since led the Women’s Tennis Association to suspend tournaments in China.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday that the question of whether to implement a diplomatic boycott is something Canada is still discussing with the U.S.
“Canada remains deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in China,” said press secretary Syrine Khoury in an email.
“We will continue to discuss this matter with our closest partner.”
Pascale St-Onge, the minister of sport, told journalists ahead of question period on Monday that no decision has yet been made on whether to join the U.S. in a diplomatic boycott.
With files from Global’s David Akin.