Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that Canada will launch a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
No federal government officials will attend the games. Canadian athletes will still be allowed to compete.
The U.S., U.K. and Australia already have announced they won’t send official delegations to the games — a collective attempt to send a message to China that its human rights abuses have not gone unnoticed.
Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Trudeau said the government is “extremely concerned” by the “repeated human rights violations carried out by the Chinese government.”
He said Canada will show its displeasure with the communist regime by withholding the delegates that normally would attend high-profile events like the opening and closing ceremonies.
Asked if he was anticipating any blowback from Beijing for snubbing China as it prepares to host the world, Trudeau said “this should not come as a surprise” to the regime.
“For months, we have been coordinating and discussing the issue with our allies,” he said.
MPs, senators and civil society groups have been pushing the Trudeau government to hold China accountable for its crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong and the ongoing abuse of the Uyghur Muslim minority.
Earlier this year, the House of Commons passed a motion branding the violence directed at religious minorities in China’s Xinjiang province as “genocide.” That motion followed a Commons subcommittee report that found China persecutes its Muslim minority through mass detention in concentration camps, forced labour, state surveillance and population control measures — policies the report said are designed to “eradicate Uyghur culture and religion.”
In the motion, MPs also called on the federal government to use its influence to pressure the International Olympic Committee to move the games out of China “if the Chinese government continues this genocide.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Wednesday his party’s push to relocate the games got “no traction with Mr. Trudeau” and a diplomatic boycott is the next best thing.
While he said he’s horrified by reports of violence in Xinjiang, O’Toole said a full boycott would be unfair to Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes who have trained so hard for the world’s premier sporting event.
Trudeau agreed that Olympic athletes shouldn’t pay a price for China’s abuses. “They need to have one thing in mind and that’s representing the country to the best of their ability and winning a gold medal for Canada,” he said.
In a media statement, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said it “understands and respects” the government’s decision and applauds the effort to “draw an important distinction between the participation of athletes and the participation of government officials.”
The last time Canada pursued a full boycott of the Olympics was in 1980, when Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau blocked athletes from participating in the summer games in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union’s military presence in Afghanistan.
Citing that 1980 move, the COC said “history has shown that athlete boycotts only hurt athletes without creating meaningful change.” The COC said the games will “create an important platform to draw attention” to ongoing issues in China.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said the decision to pull diplomats and keep Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge and others at home was motivated by reports of abuse coming out of Xinjiang, an oil-rich territory in the country’s northwest.
“Clearly it is important for us to send a strong signal to China because we’re extremely concerned about allegations about the Uyghurs,” Joly said.
Joly said she has raised the possibility of a boycott with allies in nearly every meeting she’s had since being named foreign minister in October.
She said she will travel to a G7 meeting in the U.K. this weekend to press other holdouts, such as France and Germany, to join the boycott.
“Canada has been playing a leadership role on this — this is in line with our foreign policy. Canada always stands up on questions of human rights,” she said.
Conservative MP Michael Chong, the party’s foreign affairs critic, said Trudeau’s China policy has been characterized by “incoherence and contradiction.”
He said China’s abuses demand a stronger response and a diplomatic boycott doesn’t go far enough.
“We’ve called on the government to take many more measures to counter the threats that China is presenting to our values and our interests. It’s why we’ve been calling for years now to ban Huawei,” Chong said.
While other security partners have long blocked Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from building out their 5G networks, Canada has been silent on the issue.
In the absence of a definitive decision by the Liberal government, most of the country’s wireless providers have opted already to work with Sweden-based Ericsson.
Huawei’s founder has close ties to China’s communist leadership and intelligence partners have long warned that the company’s technology could be used to spy on Canadians.
“We’re unilaterally alone among our intelligence allies in not making a decision to restrict or ban Huawei,” Chong said.
“It’s part of a broader pattern on the part of this government that has isolated Canada on the international stage.”
Canada-Chinese relations soured after China detained two Canadians — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — in an apparent act of retribution for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s 2018 arrest on U.S. fraud charges.
In September, the two men were freed by China’s regime after the legal dispute involving Meng was partly resolved by U.S. prosecutors.
The western world’s relationship with China has deteriorated over the past two years.
China has been accused of covering up early COVID-19 outbreaks and of pushing World Health Organization (WHO) officials to praise its pandemic response rather than scrutinize its actions.
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