O'Toole calls for relocation of 2022 Olympic Games out of China

·5 min read
A man walks past the Olympic rings on the exterior of the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, which will be a venue for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing on Feb. 2. Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole added his voice to a growing chorus calling for the relocation of the Games out of China due to the country's human rights record.
A man walks past the Olympic rings on the exterior of the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, which will be a venue for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing on Feb. 2. Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole added his voice to a growing chorus calling for the relocation of the Games out of China due to the country's human rights record.

(Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole today called for the relocation of the 2022 Winter Olympics out of Beijing — in part because of the Chinese government's treatment of its Muslim minority population.

O'Toole said Canada should not be sending its athletes to compete there while the country stands accused of committing "genocide" against Uighurs in Xinjiang province. He also cited the country's actions in Hong Kong and the ongoing detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games are scheduled to take place in and around the Chinese capital in February 2022. (CBC has the Canadian broadcast rights to the 2021, 2022 and 2024 Olympic Games).

"I think Canadians would agree that it would violate universal fundamental ethical principles to participate in an Olympic Games hosted by a country that is committing a genocide against part of its population," O'Toole said at a press conference in Ottawa. "Canada must take a stand."

O'Toole said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should lobby the International Olympic Committee to identify alternative countries where the games could be held, although he stopped short of calling on Canadian athletes themselves to boycott the international sporting event.

"It's only if [relocation] is not possible and there's no change in conduct by the state of China that we should examine whether our athletes compete," said O'Toole.

WATCH | Conservative leader calls for Beijing 2022 Olympics to be relocated:

O'Toole has joined a growing chorus of critics in Canada and abroad calling on countries to re-examine their participation in the Winter Games in response to increasing international opposition to China's policies in Xinjiang, a western province.

UN experts and activists say more than one million Uighurs, Kazakhs and others have been held arbitrarily in prison-like centres for political indoctrination. China claims the centres are intended to combat extremism and teach job skills, but former residents and rights groups say they target Islam and minority languages and cultures.

The country also has been accused of instituting a forced birth control campaign in the region.

The House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights tabled a report in October that concluded that China's mistreatment of Uighurs — through mass detentions in concentration camps, forced labour, state surveillance and population control measures — amounts to a policy of genocide.

China's foreign affairs ministry has denied the accusations.

Trudeau said today that while there is "no question" that human rights abuses have occurred in Xinjiang, genocide is an "extremely loaded" term that should be applied only in accordance with internationally-recognized criteria.

Use of the word must be "properly justified and demonstrated so as not to weaken the application of 'genocide' in situations in the past," he said.

The Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee "are looking very closely" at calls to relocate the games, Trudeau added.

WATCH | Olympic committees 'looking very closely' at human rights issues ahead of Beijing Olympics: Trudeau

During question period in the House of Commons this afternoon, Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong questioned the Liberal government's refusal to describe China's actions in Xinjiang as genocide.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau responded by saying the government is evaluating the evidence behind the allegations and has urged China to allow experts into the area to examine the situation independently.

Other opposition leaders support relocation

The call from the Conservative leader follows a similar one from Green Party leader Annamie Paul and a multi-party group of 13 MPs who, earlier this month, released an open letter calling for the Olympics to be relocated. The letter was also signed by several Quebec MNAs, some Canadian non-governmental organizations and 1994 Winter Games gold medallist Jean-Luc Brassard.

It came days after a coalition of 180 groups representing Tibetans, Uighurs, Inner Mongolians and residents of Hong Kong, among others, called for a full boycott of the games.

Paul said Canada should consider the feasibility of hosting the Games itself.

"If the relocation of the Olympics serves as a wake-up call to the Chinese government, that would be a positive by-product," Paul said in a press release last week. "However, it should be enough to know that Canada has not participated in providing a global platform for a country perpetrating genocide."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he also supports relocating the games.

In a statement to CBC issued Tuesday evening, the head of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said moving the Games less than a year before they begin would be impractical.

"We believe that moving the Games less than a year out would be next to impossible. Organizing an Olympic Games is an incredibly complex undertaking that typically takes more than seven years to do," said CEO and secretary general David Shoemaker. "The COC will focus on its role of preparing Team Canada for success and promoting the Olympic values at home and abroad."

Canada-China tensions continue

The push to relocate the games comes at a time of heightened tensions between Canada and China. Beijing has been demanding for the past two years that Canada release a top executive of communications giant Huawei who is wanted on fraud charges in the United States.

Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the company's founder, denies the charges, which China says are politically motivated and part of a U.S. effort to stifle the nation's economic expansion.

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor were detained by Chinese authorities nine days after the RCMP arrested the Chinese tech scion at the Vancouver airport in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Bob Rae, Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, called on the United Nations in November to investigate whether China's persecution of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang constitutes genocide.

The Canadian Olympic Committee didn't immediately return a request for comment, while the International Olympic Committee has said repeatedly that awarding the Olympics "does not mean that the IOC agrees with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in the country" that hosts them.