Canada will not send any official representatives to the Beijing Winter Olympics in February as part of a growing diplomatic boycott by allies over China’s record of human rights abuses.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on Wednesday after facing several days of questions over whether Canada would stand with allies that have already announced similar plans.
“We are announcing today that we will not be sending any diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic games this winter,” said Trudeau, adding he does not believe the move from Canada or by allies will “come as a surprise” to China.
“We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations and this is a continuation of us expressing our deep concerns for human rights violations.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has worked in the past with the Canadian Olympic Committee to try to keep athletes safe while competing abroad.
That work, she said, will continue in Beijing.
“In this particular situation, we want to make sure our athletes have access to protective services,” she said, and noted that work will focus on also making sure on-site consular support is available.
Pascale St-Onge, the minister for sport, said additional staff have been hired as part of that work.
“Everything will be in place to make sure the athletes are safe,” St-Onge said.
Calls have been growing over recent days as Canada’s closest allies have announced their plans not to send official representatives to the Beijing Olympics in February as part of a diplomatic boycott over China’s human rights abuses, particularly against the Uyghur ethnic minority.
The United States, the U.K., and Australia all announced their decisions this week.
Liberal MP Adam van Koeverden, an Olympic gold medalist kayaker, said a diplomatic boycott is one of the tools at Canada’s disposal and that he doesn’t think such a move would cause additional stress on athletes.
“My priority is to make sure that athletes have the opportunity to compete, and of their safety and security as well,” he said on Wednesday.
“I don’t think the athletes are concerned with which diplomats are there when they’re there to compete. Our athletes are professionals, and I think they have the ability to compete without concerning themselves with who’s in the audience.”
What is a diplomatic boycott?
A diplomatic boycott is different from that of a broader boycott.
Whereas a normal boycott would typically 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.
“Our athletes have worked extremely hard to get there. They have trained hours, they’ve traveled the world, they’ve competed, and it’s just normal for them to have the chance to really go ahead and compete in the Olympic games,” said Joly on Wednesday.
“So this is a situation that needs to be dealt diplomatically, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
A diplomatic boycott 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.
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.
With files from Global News’ Mike Le Couteur.