Justin Trudeau will soon attend his first international summit as prime minister, and some Canadians are calling on him to speak out for their family members imprisoned in China.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum starts Nov. 12 but world leaders will convene for their meetings on Nov. 18 and 19.
It will be Trudeau’s second foray into the world of leaders’ summitry following the G20 meeting in Turkey this weekend. Both are seen as an opportunity to build relationships and draw lines.
During the election campaign, Trudeau pledged to speak directly to Russian leader Vladimir Putin about his interventions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, which he described as irresponsible and dangerous, respectively.
“Canada needs to continue to stand strongly with the international community pushing back against the bully that is Vladimir Putin. If I have the opportunity in the coming months to meet with Vladimir Putin, I will tell him all this directly,” he said.
But Putin isn’t the only world leader attending APEC that Canadians hope Trudeau will speak with directly. Canadians who have family members imprisoned in China for their spiritual convictions are also pleading for help from Trudeau. They hope he will intercede with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on behalf of those family members.
Torontonian Paul Li is hoping the prime minister will somehow raise the plight of his father, a former mayor of a small town in China who was recently sentenced to a second eight-year detention in a Chinese prison for practising Falun Gong, a traditional spiritual practice that has been persecuted in China since 1999.
Vancouver resident Alice Zhang hopes the same for her mother Tang Huafeng, a former schoolteacher. Tang was sent to a labour camp in 2006 for two years and arrested again in February 2014 and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
Zhang and Li scheduled press conferences for Thursday, Nov. 12, just a few days before Trudeau was to leave for the Philippines.
On his first day in office, Trudeau told reporters that Canadians expected his government to protect Canadian interests in a constructive way on the world stage.
“And yes, that means promoting our values and standing up for human rights,” he said.
Trudeau said working to improve relations and economic growth also means having frank conversations with trading partners.
“Canada will continue always to be a strong and positive voice on the world stage, building the kind of future, not just for Canadians, but for everyone on this planet that we know people expect.”
Trudeau’s new role will see him fielding such calls frequently, especially from communities with friends and family members facing oppression in countries like China that are significant trading partners.
Canadian-Tibetans issued such a call to Trudeau before he was even sworn in, through an open letter on Oct. 27.
“We hope that you take hold of every opportunity to stand for oppressed people in Tibet,” reads the letter from Students for a Free Tibet Canada.
Sonam Chokey, the group’s national director, said the PM needs to prioritize human rights in Tibet when meeting with Xi.
“Recent leaked documents reveal an intensification on crackdown on religion in Tibet, and political prisoners such as Khenpo Kartse continue to suffer unjust imprisonment.”
She said Trudeau, as a representative of Canadians’ values, must respond to the suffering faced by people across Tibet and China.
A press release sent out on behalf of eight Canadians with family members imprisoned in China for practicing Falun Gong notes that in China, “torture is systematic and widespread,” according to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. Although the report found Falun Gong practitioners accounted for 66 percent of victims of alleged torture while in custody, other groups, including Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Christians report widespread abuses.
In 2006, two Canadians—human rights lawyer David Matas and former secretary of state David Kilgour—wrote a groundbreaking report that concluded largescale forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners of conscience was taking place.
Their findings continue to be investigated by other groups and researchers including investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann, who wrote in his book “The Slaughter” that approximately 65,000 Falun Gong adherents have been killed for their organs from 2000 to 2008, a practice that still continues.
Gutmann traced the origins of organ harvesting from political prisoners to Xinjiang in northwest China, where dissident Uyghurs were executed and their organs extracted.
This article was corrected to indicate the G20 will be Trudeau’s debut international summit.