Canadian Ambassador Says First Trip to Xinjiang in a Decade Will Focus on Human Rights

Canadian Ambassador Says First Trip to Xinjiang in a Decade Will Focus on Human Rights
Jennifer May, Canada's Ambassador to China, is seen in Ottawa, on Sept. 28, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Andrew Chen

Canada’s Ambassador to China Jennifer May is visiting Xinjiang Province, the first Canadian envoy to do so in a decade. Human rights groups have long reported severe human rights abuses of Uyghur groups in the region.

Ms. May mentioned her trip while testifying virtually before the House of Commons Canada-China committee on June 17. She noted that part of her job was to regularly raise human rights issues with Chinese representatives.

“Tomorrow, I‘ll be travelling to Xinjiang, the first visit by a Canadian ambassador to this region in more than 10 years,” Ms. May said. “I’ll take this opportunity to share Canada’s concerns with the region’s leaders and to observe conditions on the ground.”

The Epoch Times reached out to Global Affairs Canada for comment on whether the Chinese authorities would allow Ms. May to access evidence of human rights abuses during her trip to Xinjiang. No response was received by publication time.

Forced Labour

During the June 17 committee meeting, several MPs voiced concerns about forced labour involving Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang. NDP MP Heather McPherson said Canada had failed to stop shipments of goods made with forced labour in China.
Canada pledged to stop the import of products made with forced labour as part of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which came into effect on July 1, 2020. The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed on Nov. 12, 2021, that it had made only one interception of such goods since the agreement came into force.
As of April 2024, that number remained unchanged, according to the government’s response to an Inquiry of Ministry first reported on by Blacklock’s Reporter. The intercepted shipment, which arrived from China on Sept. 15, 2021, was valued at $68,623 and included 100 percent cotton children’s clothes classified as produced with forced labour.
Ms. McPherson contrasted Canada’s efforts with those of the United States, which she described as “having a real impact.” She pointed to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which prohibits the import of products from Xinjiang’s reeducation camps. Since its implementation in June 2022, U.S. authorities have detained over 2,689 shipments from China at customs, ultimately refusing entry to 1,183 of them, according to a U.S. government.
She also asked about Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan’s commitment to introduce a bill in Parliament by year’s end that would block goods made with forced labour. Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister David Morrison responded that the question should be addressed by the federal government.

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec also voiced concerns about China’s development of renewable energy and solar panels, which he alleged were “built with Uyghur forced labour.”

In response, Mr. Morrison said, “Canada has been concerned for a very long time about the use of forced labour in Xinjiang and elsewhere, and it makes its concerns known.” Pointing to Ambassador May’s Xinjiang trip, he noted Canada’s efforts to “ensure transparency in supply chains, including for photovoltaic panels.”

Canadians Detained

The situation of Canadians currently detained by Chinese authorities was another focal point for MPs during the June 17 committee meeting.

Mr. Kmiec specifically asked about Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen and Uyghur rights activist who has been held by Chinese authorities since 2006. Ms. May confirmed discussing the case with Chinese officials but said that due to Mr. Celil’s dual citizenship, China has refused Canada’s requests for consular access.

As of last December, the government reported that 97 Canadians were imprisoned in China, more than are being held by any other foreign state except the United States. Ms. May reaffirmed that the number of incarcerated Canadians in China remains about 100.