OTTAWA — International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan is facing opposition criticism because he did not make a public statement about human rights during his visit to Qatar for the World Cup.
"If we don't raise the issue of human rights when we are in countries where we know human rights abuses are taking place, we have no moral authority," said NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson.
Sajjan attended the World Cup on behalf of the Trudeau government, where the Canadian men's team is competing for the first time in years. He met with U.S. 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 the emirate's anti-LGBTQ policies.
Those concerns have led some broadcasters and players to sport armbands that say "One Love." The German team covered their mouths when their official photo was taken.
Sajjan's office said he was unavailable Thursday for comment as he was flying back to Canada.
Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan, who is gay, said he felt split on Qatar's hosting.
"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'll tell, you it's kind of difficult," he said
O'Regan said he could not speak for Sajjan, but noted the government voiced concerns about Qatar before the games got underway.
"We know exactly where we stand on it; we've voiced our displeasure clearly," he said.
The NDP had called for a diplomatic boycott of the tournament.
"This is talking out of both sides of your mouth, with this government," McPherson said.
"This government once again has shown that they don't really care about human rights."
On Monday, MPs passed a unanimous motion condemning FIFA for threatening to penalize players who wore the "One Love" armbands. The motion argued that "international sporting governing bodies have a moral obligation to support players and fans in highlighting the fight for equality against homophobia, transphobia, and all forms of discrimination in sport."
Captains of several European countries scrapped plans to wear a “One Love” armband after FIFA, soccer’s governing body, warned they would face on-field sanctions.
Media reports from Qatar also said some fans wearing rainbow attire were refused entry to the stadiums.
This month, Amnesty International rebuked Soccer Canada for its "deafening silence" on the thousands of workers, predominantly from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, who "have been subjected to labour abuses, abysmally low pay, and other exploitation."
Soccer Canada released a statement last month in support of ongoing reforms, but steered clear of criticizing the emirate.
Amnesty noted that peer federations from Britain, the U.S., France and the Netherlands all endorsed calls for a compensation fund for migrant workers who were mistreated while preparing Qatar for the games.
The Conservatives did not have a direct comment on Sajjan's actions. Instead, MP Michael Chong said his party prefers that the World Cup be hosted by countries with better reputations, such as a bid by Ukraine to co-host the 2030 tournament with Spain and Portugal.
"Conservatives condemn in the strongest terms all human rights abuses around the world and are prepared to work with our democratic allies to support human rights," Chong wrote in a statement.
The Bloc Québécois had also called for a diplomatic boycott, and lamented Sajjan's attendance in Qatar. "Canada has no excuse to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses," MP Martin Champoux tweeted in French on Monday.
During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Liberals urged the Harper government to raise the issue of human rights in China.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press