Canada must call on the International Olympic Committee to relocate the 2022 Winter Olympics out of China. It won’t be the first time Canadian leadership on the world stage meant taking a risk to stand up for human dignity.
In 1985, in a hallway outside the United Nations General Assembly, Brian Mulroney added a few words into his speech – words that had been taken out by officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
He marched into the hall and put Canada on the right side of history. He called out apartheid in South Africa for what it was. He threatened economic relations within the Commonwealth over it. He did not follow U.S. President Ronald Reagan or U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Canada’s two closest allies, as neither of them were willing to take the same stand at that point.
This moment, like that one, is a time for Canadian leadership. As then-Prime Minister Mulroney said a few years later: “The movement in favour of human dignity is now irreversible.” And it must be again.
There is genocide going on in Xinjiang. The Chinese embassy in Washington bragged on social media recently about forced sterilization measures being undertaken, going so far as to refer to Uighur women as “baby-making machines.”
The assumption underpinning that horrific statement by an official agent of the Chinese government is they object to the creation of more Uighur Muslim children. No other conclusion could possibly be drawn.
No one wants Olympic athletes to pay the price but we would sully the value of this important global event by turning a blind eye to the genocide in Xinjiang by the communist regime. We would not have held the Olympics in Rwanda as Tutsis were being slaughtered. We would not have held the Olympics in Belgrade after Srebrenica and it’s an absolute farce to think we should hold them in Beijing now.
China is committing genocide. It has established a police state in Hong Kong. It has kidnapped two Canadians and held them hostage, without cause or due process, for two years.
We should not hesitate to say that a nation that does these things doesn’t get to appropriate the Canadian flag for a two-week sporting event that will be used to promote itself on the world stage. If we allow that to happen, then our flag stands for nothing.
There will be those who say we shouldn’t inject politics into the Olympics. Or who argue that if the world had boycotted the 1936 Olympics, we wouldn’t have benefited from Jesse Owens. The American’s track and field victories at the Olympic Games in Nazi Germany meant a Black man took the podium with four gold medals, in powerful contrast to Adolf Hitler’s vile policies of white supremacy.
That important moment, however, did not prevent those Olympics from being a two-week celebration of a regime that would shortly begin the mass extermination of European Jews.
There will also be those who repeat the tired line that alienating China will only encourage worse behaviour. Underpinning this plea for engagement is not some abiding concern for a stable world order. It’s the cold, hard addiction to a marketplace of over 1.4 billion people. That’s all.
Are we prepared to hang a “For sale” sign on our values as a nation or should the recognition of human dignity be irreversible?
Recently we learned that Canadian athletes are being told what they can and can’t say in China so they don’t become the target of state security forces. In 1968, John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in Mexico City. If our athletes already face restrictions to their speech in China during the Games, what might the Chinese state do to athletes in 2022 who use their podiums to show solidarity with Uighur Muslims?
Canada must take a stand against hosting the 2022 Olympics in China. We don’t need to do this alone. We should work with our closest allies and co-ordinate an effort to relocate the Games for 2022. And in doing so, we can remind them of the role Canada has and must continue to play in taking an early stand for human rights and dignity.
The world shouldn’t be denied the 2022 Olympics. Our athletes should be able to compete, break records and smash barriers. Their stories of overcoming adversity should be shared far and wide. The Jesse Owens, John Carlos and Tommie Smiths of 2022 should get to take their podiums. These historic, powerful and inspiring things must happen.
But not in China.
Erin O’Toole is the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. His party recently tabled a motion asking the House to declare that “a genocide is currently being carried out by the People’s Republic of China against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.”
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