Motion Concerning Genocide of Uyghurs and Other Turkic Muslims by the People’s Republic of China

By: The Hon. Peter Harder

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Parliament from across the Ottawa River, Ottawa

Hon. Peter Harder: Honourable senators, I speak to you tonight from the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

This debate comes in a week in which the tragic discovery of yet more mass graves — of 215 children in Kamloops — adds to the indictment of our centuries-long practice of residential schools, forced sterilization and what the former chief justice of Canada described as cultural genocide of our Indigenous peoples.

This horrifying reality of our history stands in rather cynical contrast to the tone of moral superiority and self-righteousness contained in the motion before us tonight.

Honourable senators, I rise to oppose the motion before us and would like to take a few minutes to explain why.

In doing so, I would like to address the following issues: the purpose of the motion and the context in which we receive the motion. What does voting against this motion mean, and how should the Senate of Canada deal with issues raised by it? In speaking to the purpose of this motion, I asked myself several questions to determine whether or not this was a motion I could speak to because the issues are important. The first question I asked was: Will this motion help the two Michaels?

Colleagues, on reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that it will not help but, rather, significantly jeopardize the ongoing treatment of the two Michaels. If you read this morning’s column by John Ivison in the National Post, Ivison states how he has changed his view on how Canada should address this issue of the two Michaels and that it ultimately will involve a political solution. I would argue, colleagues, as I believe that that is true, that a political solution will not be encouraged by motions such as the one before us, and I strongly urge us not to jeopardize the fragile situation involving the negotiations with regard to the two Michaels.

The second question I posed to myself was: Will this motion inflame or dampen any anti-Asian violence in Canada? Like many senators, I share the concern of many senators and Canadians over the rise of anti-Asian violence in Canada generally, and particularly anti-Chinese violence. I believe it’s incumbent upon us, as a chamber of sober second thought, to seek to dampen the rage that many are feeling, legitimate or otherwise, and we should not adopt motions which inflame the attitudes that are present in our society.

Will this motion contribute to a better understanding of Canada’s interests in engagement with China? No. This motion is about rage, it is about raising the serious situation of our fellow compatriots in certain regions of China, but frankly it will not aid in our engagement of China on these issues or the broader context of these issues. This motion will not advance human rights in China but, rather, lead to a clampdown and a negative reaction, and it is not the way in which I believe we can successfully engage China with regard to these practices and other issues of concern that we might have.

Will this motion strengthen the ability of the Government of Canada to engage with the Government of China on bilateral and multilateral issues that are urgent for our attention? I believe, colleagues, that this motion will undermine such efforts at a time when the world has issues on which it must engage China that are important for multilateral issues but also for the bilateral issues that Canada faces in the world of today.

The motion before us suggests that the Olympics ought to be boycotted in China. I would argue that this motion and this request make the victims our athletes and the Olympic movement, and will do nothing to address the concerns that are quite heartfelt and raised in the motion, and it will undermine the polity of Olympic competition and victimize our athletes.

There have been in Question Period and in this debate itself questions of the motivation of the Government of Canada and the ability of the Government of Canada to “stand up to China.” Senator Housakos spoke of the motion before the other place in which the executive of Canada did not support the motion, and some have speculated that that is out of weakness or out of a desire on the part of the government not to engage forcefully the people in the Government of China.

Colleagues, I believe that the motion before us will, if adopted, add significantly to a deterioration of a relationship the victims of which will not be senators but, rather, the two Michaels, the ability of the communities in Canada to seek common ground and to distort our ability to speak to human rights issues with our Chinese interlocutors.

Colleagues, we are living in perilous times. The postwar era of U.S. dominance is being challenged, not in a Cold War redux, but rather the emergence of a near peer in China. This challenge to American exceptionalism comes at a particularly challenging time in the democratic life of our friends in the United States. I raise this context because surely our focus has to be how best to guide Canada’s interest in the world of today and tomorrow. Simply stimulating public rage is not enough to move forward in our interests. We are in fevered times in our relationship with China on a wide range of issues, and the motion before us does not address how best to deal with those fevered times.

What does voting against this motion mean? Certainly, for my part it does not mean that the issues raised are not important and frankly ought not to be raised with our interlocutors in China. I myself have raised them, I will continue to raise them, and I’ve raised them in the context even in the events in Kamloops today with Chinese officials. We need to find ways of engaging in a respectful fashion that demonstrates our commitment to the issues raised by Senator Housakos but does not imperil our national interests and the well-being of Canadians.

I would suggest that the Senate of Canada should deal with the issues raised in the motion and the broader context of Canada’s relationship with China that I’ve raised and do what we do best, and that is provide sober second thought and advice to the Government of Canada in engaging in a study on what should our relationship with the evolving China be in the months and years ahead. This could be a useful contribution to both public understanding and a government’s contemplation of dealing with the changing circumstances to which I referred.

I am particularly concerned with two developments taking place in the bilateral relationships between major powers in the world today: China and the United States. I fear strategic miscalculation on both parts, and I fear fevered political rhetoric which locks out the possibility of political compromise and cooperation on the issues on which we must make advances for the well-being of this planet and the relationships that are required to make progress on that.

Former President Obama said it well when he said, “. . . what’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics . . . .”

Colleagues, let’s not use this motion to emphasize the smallness of politics but, rather, seek, as a Senate, to address the magnitude of our problems. Thank you.

Senator Housakos: Would Senator Harder take a question?

Senator Harder: Certainly.

Senator Housakos: Senator Harder, you’re absolutely right; let’s address the issues at hand. We have a Chinese regime that has absolutely no standards compared to Canada when it comes to labour. We have a Chinese regime that has no standards when it comes to environmental protection, like we do in Canada. We have a Chinese regime that has no respect for intellectual property, which we do in Canada.

Fundamentally, we currently have — and you haven’t addressed the issue — a regime that has millions of minority Muslims in concentration camps who are being tortured. We have two Canadians that have been detained illegally for over 900 days. This is the issue at hand. You haven’t addressed them in your speech, other than giving us an explanation about why our government is in dialogue.

We have a current administration that has been in dialogue with the Chinese regime, continues to turn a blind eye to the egregious behaviour I’ve highlighted, and many more. I could speak for hours. Can you please pinpoint any concrete result from that dialogue and the appeasement by our government to this Chinese regime? Are the Michaels in any better shape today than they were two years ago? Are there Uighur people in China suffering any less because of it? Is China all of a sudden willing to embrace some of the values and principles that we Canadians hold dear?

And this institution called the Senate does not speak on behalf of the executive; we speak on behalf of Canadians and those values.

Could you give me concrete examples how dialogue has moved the yardsticks forward in getting this tyrannical regime to start behaving the way we expect of an ally and trading partner?

Senator Harder: Senator Housakos, I thank you for the question. I’m going to have to respond in a broader context than your question, because you’ve used words like “appeasement” and “tyrannical regime” and other descriptions of China, which, frankly, I find totally inappropriate in the context of seeking a broader engagement.

The criticisms that you make are, frankly, not uniquely only in the reflection of one country. One could draw attention to any number of countries for which there are concerns with respect to human rights or international practices that you raise.

I, for one, am not going to, in a public platform such as the Senate of Canada, seek to condemn at the very moment I’m seeking to engage. I do not see how, colleagues, we’re going to get progress on climate action by insulting those that we wish to engage in stronger action. I do not see how we’re going to see a stronger trading regime if we do not seek partners for WTO reform from the very sources of countries that we are, with this resolution and by the rhetoric of the question, condemning.

I would also reference the actions being taken by some countries. I know in the dying days of the Trump administration the then Secretary of State made certain comments on behalf of his government with respect to what he described as “genocide,” which the Biden administration is quite rightly reviewing, because they have not concluded that the 48 convention standards have been met.

My point in responding, senator, is we should get off our high horse and seek to engage more appropriately, not bellicosely and belligerently, with countries — not just China but countries that we need to engage. I’ll leave it at that for tonight. Thank you.

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