FIFA World Cup: Qatar faces more human rights scrutiny as Sajjan returns

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International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan is facing criticism from the opposition for not making a public statement about human rights during his visit to Qatar for the World Cup.

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NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said, “If we don’t raise the issue of human rights when we are in countries where we know human rights abuses are happening, then we have no moral right to.”

Sajjan attended the World Cup on behalf of the Trudeau government, where Canada’s men’s team is competing for the first time in years. He met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and local officials.


Yet Sajjan’s social media postings make no mention of the host country’s documented mistreatment of migrant workers, nor of the emirate’s anti-LGBTQ policies.

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Those concerns have led some broadcasters and players to sport armbands that say “One Love”. The German team covered their faces when their official photograph was taken.

Sajjan’s office said he was not available for comment on Thursday as he was flying back to Canada.

Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan, who is gay, said he felt divided over hosting Qatar.

“I’ll be honest, it’s very conflicting. I’m cheering on my team; I’m cheering on my country and (want) nothing but the best. But I tell you, it’s a kind of difficult,” he said

O’Regan said he could not speak for the gentleman, but noted that the government had expressed concerns about Qatar before the Games began.

“We know where we stand on this; We have clearly expressed our displeasure,” he said.

The NDP called for a diplomatic boycott of the tournament.

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“It’s talking out of your mouth with this government,” McPherson said.

“This government has shown once again that they really don’t care about human rights.”

On Monday, lawmakers passed a unanimous resolution condemning FIFA for threatening to punish players who wear “One Love” armbands. The motion argued that “international sports governing bodies have a moral obligation to support players and fans in explicing the fight for equality against homophobia, transphobia and all forms of discrimination in sport.”

Captains of several European countries scrapped plans to wear “One Love” armbands after FIFA, soccer’s governing body, warned they would face on-field sanctions.

Media reports from Qatar also stated that some fans dressed in rainbow outfits were refused entry to the stadium.

This month, Amnesty International rebuked Soccer Canada for its “profound silence” on the thousands of workers, mainly from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, who are “subject to labor abuses, abysmally low wages and other exploitations.”

Soccer Canada issued a statement last month in support of the ongoing reforms, but refrained from criticizing the Emirates.

Amnesty noted that partners in the UK, US, France and the Netherlands all supported calls for compensation for migrant workers who were abused while preparing Qatar for the Games.

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There was no direct comment from the conservatives on Sajjan’s actions. Instead, MP Michael Chong said his party preferred that the World Cup be hosted by countries with better prestige, such as Ukraine’s bid to co-host the 2030 tournament with Spain and Portugal.

“Conservatives condemn in the strongest terms all human rights abuses around the world and stand ready to work with our democratic allies to support human rights,” Chong wrote in a statement.

The Bloc Québécois echoed the NDP’s call for a diplomatic boycott and condoled the gentleman’s presence in Qatar. MP Martin Champoux tweeted in French on Monday: “Canada has no excuse for turning a blind eye to human rights abuses.”

During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Liberals urged the Harper government to raise the issue of human rights in China.


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