Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Lawmakers in Canada voted to declare China's treatment of its Muslim minority Uighur population a genocide, a move that is expected to further fray relations between Ottawa and Beijing.
The House of Commons on Monday voted 266-0 to declare that the People's Republic of China is perpetrating genocide against its Uighur citizens in northwestern Xinjiang province with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other members of his cabinet declining to attend.
Marc Garneau, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, issued a statement after the vote saying that the federal government is "deeply disturbed" by the reports of human rights abuses committed in Xinjiang, including arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labor, torture and forced sterilization of Uighurs.
"The government of Canada will continue to work with international partners to defend vulnerable minorities and we once again repeat our call for transparency and a credible international investigation in response to allegations of genocide," he said.
The federal government has repeatedly voiced opposition against China's human rights violations but Trudeau said earlier that Ottawa wants to ensure "all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed before making a determination like that."
"The primary concern we have as a government that has always been responsible about using this extremely loaded term is not applying it to things that don't meet the very clear internationally recognized criteria around genocide," he said during a press conference on Feb. 16.
Trudeau's absence from the vote was heavily criticized by the Conservative Party, which forwarded the motion, with leader Erin O'Toole calling the prime minister and his cabinet's absence "shameful" during a press conference following the vote.
"Canada may be a smaller country in terms of population but we are a towering giant when it comes to our commitment to human rights," he said. "This is why Conservatives call on the Trudeau government to show up for work on human rights and stop their naive approach to the Chinese Communist Party."
The vote makes Canada the second country to declare that China is committing genocide after Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State during the Trump administration, did so on his final day in office.
"I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state," he said on Jan. 19.
China has repeatedly balked at the accusation it is committing genocide and has claimed concentration camps where more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to be kept are for the purpose of re-education and stamping out terrorism.
However, the State Department has accused the Chinese Communist Party of unlawful killings, forced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention and other human rights abuses.
The Chinese Embassy in Canada rejected the motion in a statement and reiterated that what the communist party is doing in Xinjiang has nothing to do with human rights but to combat violent terrorism and secession.
It also accused Canada of interfering in its internal affairs with the motion, a common response China gives to accusations of human rights abuses.
"The Canadian side's attempt to contain China's development through the aforementioned Xinjiang-related motion will never succeed," the embassy said. "We urge these politicians to face the fact, stop interfering in China's internal affairs, stop using the Xinjiang-related issue to seek their own interests and stop engaging in the anti-China farce, otherwise they will end up humiliating themselves."
The motion was passed amid strained relations between Ottawa and Beijing, as Canada seeks the release of two citizens it accuses China of detaining as retaliation for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei executive Canadian authorities apprehended in December of 2018 at the behest of the United States.