Put Human Rights At Heart Of Canada-China Relationship

The following letter was sent on October 6 to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion, and Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland.

We, the undersigned organizations and supporters, call on the Canadian government to put human rights, especially free expression and press freedom, at the heart of the “renewed” Canada-China relationship.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived on Parliament Hill on September 22 to continue talks with Prime Minister Trudeau, during which an agreement was signed by the two countries to begin exploratory talks on a Free Trade Agreement. Discussions of a proposed extradition treaty also continued, which provoked swift outcry in Canada after its announcement on September 13. 

China is one of the worst perpetrators of crimes that silence the voices of activists, journalists, artists and others who exercise their right to freedom of expression. The country’s culture of impunity, where rights violations go unpunished, is systematic, endemic and ever-growing. China has one of the highest numbers of imprisoned journalists in the world and is among the top ten most censored countries in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. It is ranked fourth worst—176th out of 179 countries—on Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index.  

In light of China’s atrocious human rights environment, simply acknowledging that China and Canada “have different systems of law and order,” as Prime Minister Trudeau did during his press conference with Premier Li, is not acceptable. The very nature of fundamental human rights is that they transcend national borders and apply to all humans equally, regardless of their citizenship.

Chinese officials frequently object when any criticism is made of their human rights record by foreign governments, insisting that the country has made “tremendous and universally recognized achievements in the protection and promotion of human rights.” The advancement of human rights depends upon a free press to disperse accurate information, expose corruption and wrongdoing, and give voice to the powerless. As long as the government of China can with impunity engage in broad crackdowns on dissent, kidnap Hong Kong booksellers for publishing books critical of Chinese leaders, repress Uyghur Muslims, punish lawyers who dare to defend dissidents, and intimidate diaspora journalists in Canada, there can be no true progress. 

Canada must not conveniently forget this in the name of increasing trade and currying favour with China. “Honest, regular engagement” with China must include an engagement with, and consideration for, the Chinese citizens who risk their lives and personal freedom to secure the liberties we are guaranteed by birth. We urge you to put human rights at the heart of the Canada-China relationship. Specifically, we ask you to raise with the Chinese government the cases of the 49 journalists imprisoned simply for carrying out their professional duties, and to call for their immediate release.

Above all, we ask that you call on China to prioritize journalists’ safety in all interactions with law enforcement and security forces.

We thank you for your attention and look forward to your reply.


Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Albanian Media Institute
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Centre for Free Expression, Ryerson University
Committee to Protect Journalists
Council of Canadians
CWA-SCA Canada
Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ)
Freedom Forum
Free Media Movement
Human Rights Watch
I’lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research
Independent Journalism Center – Moldova
Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión – IPLEX
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Press Institute 
Media Institute of Southern Africa 
Media Watch
National NewsMedia Council (Canada)
Pacific Freedom Forum
Pacific Islands News Association 
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms – MADA
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique 
Writers’ Union of Canada’s (TWUC)

This letter was sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion, and Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made his first official visit to China. The PM aims to strengthen ties between Canada and the world’s second-largest economy, and promote human rights.

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