Canada Voted to Call China’s Treatment of Uighurs a Genocide. Trudeau Didn’t

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously said that "genocide" is an "extremely loaded" term.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canada voted Monday to recognize the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China as a genocide. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't participate in the vote. Photo by David Kawai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Canada voted Monday to recognize the treatment of Uighurs Muslims in China as a genocide—without the support of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet.

Trudeau didn’t participate in the non-binding motion, while Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau abstained on behalf of the government. The rest of Trudeau's 35-person cabinet was absent, CTV News reported.


“We remain deeply disturbed by horrific reports violations in Xinjiang, including the use of arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labour, torture, and forced sterilization,” Garneau said in a statement following the vote. “The free vote in Parliament ensures each member can make a determination based on available evidence.”

Trudeau’s government has repeatedly denounced human rights violations against Uighurs, but it’s up to independent, international bodies to investigate and report allegations of genocide, Garneau said. 

Canada is only the second country after the United States to label China’s treatment of Uighurs as a genocide. The federal Conservate Party first introduced the motion last week, with all opposition parties and a handful of Liberal MPs voting in favour.

Bloc Québécois also amended the motion to call on the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Games from Beijing "if the Chinese government continues this genocide.”

The treatment of Uighurs in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang is well-documented. Earlier this month, former detainees and a guard gave detailed accounts about mass surveillance, detention, indoctrination, and sterilization in China’s internment camps, where, according to estimates, more than a million people have been held, the BBC reported. China says the camps offer “re-education” for Uighurs and other minorities, according to the BBC.


Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole criticized the Trudeau government’s decision to abstain from voting, saying its “coordinated absence speaks volumes.”

While Trudeau has acknowledged the “tremendous human rights abuses” harming Uighurs, the prime minister previously said genocide is an “extremely loaded” term and more research is needed before it’s used to describe what is happening in Xinjiang. He said premature classifications of genocide could weaken other situations where the term has been considered.

A Canadian parliamentary subcommittee already determined that actions against ethnic Uighurs in China is genocide last year. 

China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, told the Canadian Press prior to the vote that Canada shouldn’t interfere with China’s domestic affairs. “We firmly oppose that because it runs counter to the facts,” Cong said. "There's nothing like genocide happening in Xinjiang at all." 

The vote further complicates an already strained relationship between Canada and China. The RCMP detained Huawei executive and Chinese national Meng Wanzhou on an U.S. extradition warrant in 2018. China retaliated by arresting Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who are still in prison.

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