China hits back at Canada, calls for UN investigation into crimes against Indigenous people

·4 min read
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, in 2016.  (Damir Sagolj/Reuters - image credit)
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, in 2016. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters - image credit)

On the same day Canada helped to launch an international effort at the United Nations to demand that China allow free access to Xinjiang to investigate reported human rights violations, China and its allies have called on the UN to investigate crimes against Indigenous people in Canada.

"We are deeply concerned about the serious human rights violations against the Indigenous people in Canada. Historically, Canada robbed the Indigenous people of the land, killed them and eradicated their culture," said Jiang Duan, a senior official at China's mission to the UN in Geneva.

"We call for a thorough and impartial investigation into all cases where crimes were committed against Indigenous people, especially the children," Jiang said, citing the preliminary discovery last month of what are thought to be the unmarked burial sites of children's remains adjacent to the former Kamloops residential school.

Jiang delivered his statement on behalf of a group of countries that includes Russia, Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded Tuesday to China's moves at the UN by drawing comparisons between how the two countries have handled historical and ongoing injustices.

"The journey of reconciliation is a long one, but it is a journey we are on. China is not recognizing even that there is a problem. That is a pretty fundamental difference," Trudeau told reporters.

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to China

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"In Canada, we had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Where is China's truth and reconciliation commission? Where is their truth? Where is the openness that Canada has always shown and the responsibility that Canada has taken for the terrible mistakes of the past, and indeed, many of which continue into the present?"

Trudeau said it's important for Canadians and the world to pay attention to the "systemic abuse and human rights violations against the Uyghurs."

Trudeau also highlighted the joint statement delivered by Canada at the UN this morning.

Canada's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Leslie E. Norton delivered a statement on behalf of 44 countries immediately following China's statement that called on the Chinese government to allow independent observers, including the UN high commissioner for human rights, "immediate, meaningful and unfettered access" to Xinijang.

"We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region," said Norton.

"Credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and that there is widespread surveillance disproportionately targeting Uyghurs and members of other minorities and restrictions on fundamental freedoms and Uyghur culture."

WATCH: China calls for UN investigation into crimes against Indigenous people in Canada

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Norton cited reports of "torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children from their parents by authorities."

Pre-emptive statement

Norton delivered the statement on behalf of a group of countries that includes Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

China's statement at the UN appears to be an attempt to pre-empt the renewed call by Canada and its allies for the UN to gain free and unfettered access to Xinjiang to investigate reported abuses of the Uyghur population.

China has detained an estimated one to two million Uyghurs in China in what the government calls "re-education centres."

An independent legal analysis released earlier this year by the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and a Washington-based think-tank concluded that China is committing an ongoing genocide against its Muslim minority population in Xinjiang.

A number of Canadian human rights experts contributed to the report, including former cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy, Allan Rock and Irwin Cotler, as well as former ambassador to the UN Yves Fortier.

Canada acknowledges injustices to Indigenous people

This isn't the first time China has called out Canada for its treatment of Indigenous people. Typically, China exerts pressure on Canada whenever Canada raises concerns about human rights violations taking place in China.

In October, Canada's Ambassador to the UN Bob Rae responded to comments made by representatives of Syria and China with language similar to Trudeau's words this morning.

"They said, 'Well, look, you have significant problems with Indigenous people in Canada. There have been great injustices toward Indigenous people, therefore you have no right to talk about Xinjiang, or Tibet, or Hong Kong or the tragedy of hundreds of thousands dead in Syria, or the tragedy of millions of refugees in Syria.' And I respectfully disagree," said Rae.

Rae noted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's 2017 speech before the UN, in which he admitted Canada had failed its Indigenous people and reaffirmed his government's commitment to reconciliation.

"We have established commissions of accountability. We have established commissions of Truth and Reconciliation. Where are the commissions of truth and reconciliation in China? Where are the commissions of truth and reconciliation in Syria?" said Rae.

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