A B.C. senator has accused the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation of “distorted reporting”.
According to Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, this has put him in “the firing line for a torrent of abuse and physical threats”.
Woo told the Straight by phone that this came as a result of the public broadcaster’s coverage of a speech that he delivered in the Senate on June 28. It was in response to a motion dealing with the genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang in western China.
The CBC reported that Woo “said Canada should avoid criticizing China for its human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims because our country has mistreated Indigenous peoples”.
Woo told the Straight that he said the opposite in his speech.
“It is precisely because of our history that we need to tell the Chinese that our own experiment with forced assimilation failed,” Woo said by phone.
Woo said that he brought this to the attention of the CBC. “They replied that they thought the article was accurate,” he said.
The CBC's public-affairs spokesperson, Chuck Thompson, did not reply to the Straight’s request for comment by deadline.
Regarding the treatment of Uyghurs, a Muslim minority in China, Woo said in his speech that there is “no version of what is happening in Xinjiang that most Canadians would be comfortable with”.
“We have a view of individual liberties that is embodied in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that we hold sacred, and which would not today allow our government to make mass arrests on the suspicion of terrorism, force whole communities to attend schools for what we perceive to be for their benefit, sterilize women so that they did not burden themselves and society with ‘inferior’ children, or relocate entire villages in order to give them modern amenities,” he said in his speech.
Then he added: “Except that we did all those things, and we did them throughout our short history as a country, most appallingly to Indigenous peoples, but also to recent immigrants and minority groups who were deemed undesirable, untrustworthy, or just un-Canadian.”
Later in the speech, he described how he broaches the issue of the treatment of Uyghurs in his conversations with Chinese friends.
“We had a system of residential schools for Indigenous children for over 140 years that sought to assimilate Aboriginal peoples into mainstream society—ostensibly for their own good. It did not work.
“More than that, we have come to understand that the policy of Indian assimilation was not only ineffective, it was also morally wrong. The legacy of residential schools is one of individual and community trauma that will take generations to heal. We convened a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008 to try and better understand what went wrong and how we can fix those wrongs. The findings were released in 2015 and we are still in the early stages of responding to all its recommendations.
“Many Canadians cannot listen to the news about Uyghurs, even your government’s version of what is going on in Xinjiang, without reflecting on how terribly wrong our own experiment with Indigenous children in residential schools went. In making those reflections, Canadians are saying to Chinese friends that we don’t want you to make the same mistakes.”
Woo was born in Malaysia and grew up in Singapore before immigrating to Canada.
He claimed that two recent articles on the CBC News website make a “very subtle insinuation that I am somehow a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party”. He insisted that his comments in the speech “would be anathema to the Chinese government’s position”.
“So it begs the question why have they chosen to make this insinuation?” Woo asked. “Other senators have spoken against this motion. They did not get the same insinuation.
“Is there something unique about me that makes them want to draw this link to the Chinese Communist Party?”
The motion to declare what’s happening in Xinjiang as genocide was defeated in a 33-29 vote in the Senate, with 13 senators abstaining.
After this story was posted, CBC's head of public affairs, Chuck Thompson, emailed this statement:
"Our headline says Senator Woo invoked residential schools in saying Canada should be careful about criticizing China.
"The senator was arguing against a motion in the Senate that would have labelled China's treatment of the Uighurs as a genocide, as the House of Commons had done. In making his arguments, he did say that Canada's past can be a point to help show China a way forward, and our story reflects that.
"As you will have seen, we did include a link to Senator Woo's full speech in a later story and we have since added the link to the full speech as well in JP Tasker's original story.
"Additionally, through his spokesperson, we offered Senator Woo an opportunity to respond to the criticism and abuse he says he received because of our story. He did not send us further comment."
Update # 2
Sen. Yuen Pau Woo offered this response to Thompson's comment: