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Claims of Uyghur genocide in China are ‘lies,’ adviser to B.C. premier says

Claims of Uyghur genocide in China are ‘lies,’ adviser to B.C. premier says
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VANCOUVER — A member of a committee that advises B.C. Premier John Horgan is under fire for referring to accusations of Uyghur genocide in China as “lies.”

Bill Yee, a retired provincial court judge and a member of B.C.’s Chinese-Canadian Advisory Committee, made the comments during an interview on the Toronto-based Chinese-language radio station A-1.

Those statements have a Canadian organization that advocates for democracy in Hong Kong calling on Horgan to dismiss Yee from his advisory role.

During the March 31 interview, Yee dismissed allegations that a genocide is being conducted against Uyghurs by the Chinese government.

“They use these lies, and those politicians, but what kind of legal basis do they have to prove China has committed genocide?” he said. “That doesn’t make sense.”

In the past year, the Chinese government has faced accusations of genocide from think tanks, non-governmental organizations and journalists who have documented human rights abuses in the country’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Those stories include allegations of systematic rape, forced birth control, forced labour and internment camps targeting Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities.

On Feb. 22 Canada’s House of Commons passed a motion to formally recognize that a genocide is taking place in the region. The motion passed by a vote of 266-0, with most members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet abstaining.

Last summer, witnesses who included victims of human rights abuses in the region testified before the House foreign affairs subcommittee on international human rights. The subcommittee subsequently declared that a genocide is happening in the region, and was recently sanctioned by the Chinese government, along with MP Michael Chong.

Pressed during the radio interview by host Andrea Chun, Yee said the allegations about events in Xinjiang are “made up” and “lies.”

Yee, who is a past president of the Chinese Benevolent Association in Vancouver, accused Canadian politicians of having “ulterior motives,” according to a translation of the interview done by the Star.

“The so-called evidence from some people, does that mean they’re fact? It needs to be objective,” Yee said. “Many people have ulterior motives, so have you thought about that?”

The Star requested an interview with Yee through Horgan’s director of communications, as well as through the Chinese Canadian Museum, which lists him as a member of its board of directors, and was told the messages would be passed on to him.

He did not reply to the requests.

The radio interview did not mark the first time Yee has made controversial comments about China’s human rights record.

In 1993, the Vancouver Sun reported that Yee had said there may be another “perspective” to the Tiananmen Square massacre, and that Vancouver’s pro-democracy activists may have a “hidden agenda” regarding the 1989 event.

“It’s very clear that this man is repeating the same talking points that the Chinese Communist Party has been broadcasting,” said Cherie Wong, executive director of the pro-democracy group Alliance Canada Hong Kong. “What’s worrisome is this is happening on a provincial level of politics.”

She said Yee should be dismissed from the committee, calling it a “choice John Horgan must make.”

The Star reached out to Horgan’s office about Yee’s comments last week and received a response back from Minister of State for Trade George Chow’s office that said Yee had been expressing “personal opinions” during the radio interview.

“The mandate of the advisory committee was set up to provide inputs to the government on domestic community issues and does not include foreign affairs,” the statement from Chow’s office said. “Therefore, Mr. Bill Yee has been asked to not identify himself as a member of the advisory committee when expressing personal opinions.”
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