Meet the Canada-based, NED-funded group driving the debunked Xinjiang genocide narrative in Canada

By Aidan Jonah, The Canada Files, Jan. 26, 2022

Consistent readers of The Canada Files’ work have almost certainly heard about the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project (URAP). That’s because URAP was the first group we exposed as taking funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to influence Canadian politics.

The NED’s work is explained well by founding member Allen Weinstein, who told the Washington Post in 1991, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” That work includes regime change, building up opposition politicians and parties loyal to the USA, spreading misinformation against “enemy nations” and more.

Yet, almost 11 months to the day URAP was exposed as taking NED funds, they continue to hold sway over Canadian foreign policy towards Xinjiang. From holding protests in front of parliament and even getting involved in a critical lawsuit which could drastically impact Canada-China trade relations, URAP is a threat to movements for peaceful relations with China. To understand that danger, it’s necessary to look to the past, because it certainly isn’t going away anytime soon.


How did URAP’s interference come to the forefront in Canada?

Foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Canada was never intended to be a major focus of The Canada Files when this media outlet first launched. It happened largely by accident. In October 2020, The Canada Files published William Dere and Khan Jooneed’s deep dive into the Xinjiang genocide narrative being pushed within Canada. It touched slightly on a Xinjiang study by the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, but led inevitably to so much more.

Our intention to focus exclusively on Canada’s foreign policy influence abroad would last only 17 months. On February 21, 2021, The Canada Files received a message advising that there were some peculiar fellows, such as Adrian Zenz, testifying to the parliamentary subcommittee mentioned earlier. This was just a day before parliament was set to vote on the non-binding Conservative Motion Number 56 to declare that a genocide was occurring in Xinjiang, China. 

Quickly it became apparent that Adrian Zenz was just the first of so many imperialist mouthpieces to testify to this committee. Then, Grayzone Editor Max Blumenthal confirmed that he and contributor Ajit Singh were never invited to testify before the subcommittee, despite The Grayzone’s ground-breaking investigation into the alleged Xinjiang genocide. This investigation was the first to challenge the very data pushed to drive the genocide narrative and look into the main organizations behind it.

They further showcased how the allegations of genocide against the Uygur population are totally false, and motivated by the American desire to smear China, while the NED (a US government arm and CIA-front) funds Uyghur dissident organizations around the world, including the World Uyghur Congress.

It soon became obvious that the Canadian parliament subcommittee’s study was a stage-managed farce, which invited witnesses exclusively from only one political point of view and excluded others with a different viewpoint.

The National Endowment for Democracy played a massive role in that farce. Three of the groups were transparently funded by the organization.

What turned this story from an article about the Sinophobic machinations of certain Canadian political parties, especially visible in the Conservative, Green, social democratic New Democratic Party, and Bloc Quebecois, into a bona-fide investigation, was that the NED was funding a group in Canada. This group receiving funds from a CIA-cut out wasn’t just a benign, international organization of do-gooders, but rather one which drove the Xinjiang subcommittee’s very report and stuck its claws into the deepest possible levels of the Canadian state.

That group’s name: Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. The group was even proud enough to declare their NED funds, “[URAP] is funded by the Washington based National Endowment Fund for Democracy for its Advocacy work in Canada.”

At the time, it didn’t appear that the life of URAP’s Executive Director Mehmet Tohti warranted a further view, other than for co-writing an op-ed demanding Canada takes action against the supposed “Uyghur genocide”, with ex-The Breach (a social democratic, “left” anti-communist investigative outlet in Canada)  columnist Azeezah Kanji.

But Tohti is so much more than a run-of-the-mill NGO executive, who had far deeper connections to the NED than those stemming only from URAP. In 2004, Tohti was a co-founder of the NED-funded World Uyghur Congress. He was a "Special Representative” of the WUC to the European Parliament between 2010 to 2012, and even served as Vice-President of the World Uyghur Congress for two separate terms. Later in 2021, he even was elected to serve as the Director of the Legal Committee for fellow NED funded organization, World Uyghur Congress.

This is why his organization, URAP, having such extensive influence in the parliamentary subcommittee, mattered far more than anyone understood at the time. This public-facing influence was his testimony to the second sitting of the subcommittee, on July 28, 2020, where he pushed the debunked narrative that 80 per cent of all sterilizations in China occurred in Xinjiang, and falsely claimed that Uygurs are having their organs harvested and sold.

The behind-the-scenes influence was far more important. Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project strongly encouraged MPs to set up an unofficial Parliamentary Uyghur Friendship Group, and when it was launched on URAP’s website on February 28, 2020, partway through the subcommittee’s term, expressed their pleasure and promised to work closely with the friendship group. PUFG’s working program was publicly revealed on URAP’s website.

These MPs were far from nobodies. Five out of the eight MPs (including NDP MP Heather McPherson) were members of the Parliamentary Uyghur Friendship Group throughout the Xinjiang study of the subcommittee. These MPs were not impartial judges to determine whether China is committing genocide or not. Bloc Quebecois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, a member of this subcommittee, was even a delegate to the NED funded World Uyghur Congress in November 2021.

An archived version of URAP’s site from July 2020 declared that “[We are] pushing to have Parliamentary Hearing around July 20 or 21 in Ottawa.” They succeeded in this goal.

The MPs in the PUFG could be even less impartial judges towards a witness, Tohti, who was part of the same Parliamentary Uyghur Group as the majority of the subcommittee’s members, when he testified on July 28, 2020.

This stage-managed committee released its report summary on October 21, 2020, coming to the conclusion that China was committing genocide against the Uygurs, and demanding the Trudeau government take action.

The influential PUFG was replaced with an official Canada-Uyghur Parliamentary Friendship Group on February 14, 2021. Unsurprisingly, this news was announced on the NED-funded Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project’s website, just eight days before a parliamentary vote would take place, on the non-binding Conservative motion calling on parliament to declare that a genocide was occurring in Xinjiang, China.

Ex-Green Party leader Annamie Paul’s farcical public declarations pushing the Xinjiang genocide narrative, led to Motion 56 being amended to demand that the Beijing Olympics be moved to Canada.

On February 22, 2020, the vote would be unanimous in favour of the aforementioned Conservative motion on Xinjiang. All parliamentarians who attended the vote, including supposed New Democratic Party progressives such as Matthew Green and Leah Gazan would vote in unison with the Conservatives and a few Liberals, to declare a genocide in Xinjiang, China. The entire Liberal Cabinet abstained on the vote.

Canada-China relations had begun to deteriorate already, with the Trudeau government of Canada acting as Trump’s lapdog in arresting Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on December 1, 2018, who was facing charges which were illegal under international law. Six days later that Trump admitted he had Meng arrested by the Canadian government in order to use her as a “bargaining chip” in his trade war with China. With the genocide vote, the NED-funded group URAP achieved a dangerous victory. They so blatantly influenced and drove the actions of a crucial parliamentary subcommittee, unbeknownst to the general public until three hours before the parliament vote on Xinjiang. Yet they haven’t stopped there.

In a grassroots pushback against the unanimous vote on Motion #56, a well-attended Zoom panel on Xinjiang, co-hosted by Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War, on March 19, 2021, was an antidote to the anti-Chinese hysteria at the highest levels of government.


URAP after the parliamentary genocide vote

After the vote in parliament, Senator Leo Housakos filed a motion in the Canadian senate to declare a “Uyghur genocide” in Xinjiang, China. On June 29, 2021, this motion was defeated, with 29 votes for, 33 against, and 13 abstentions. The opposition to this motion was spearheaded by Independent senator Yuen Pau Woo. The defeat of Housakos’ motion caused URAP to have a full-fledged meltdown in the form of a statement. The most egregious element, pushing anti-communist Red Peril narratives, claimed that “Mr. Yuen Pau Woo has been acting as a spokesperson for China rather than for Canada.” URAP promised to retaliate against Pau Woo by campaigning for his expulsion from the Senate.

On August 20, 2021, URAP joined Canadian Friends of Hong Kong, Vancouver Uyghur Association, and National Endowment for Democracy adjacent organization Students for a Free Tibet Canada, in demanding that the Winter Olympics be moved from Beijing.

On November 26, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole met with representatives of two CIA-front funded groups, the World Uyghur Congress and Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. On December 14, URAP held a protest near Canada’s parliament in Ottawa, to spread the “Uyghur genocide” narrative. On December 22, it was confirmed that URAP had gained intervener status, with the support of anti-China ex-MP David Kilgour, in a legal case initiated by refugee group Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need (CSRDN), demanding a judge declare that the Canada Border Services Agency has the right to presumptively ban imports from Xinjiang, China.

The basis for the demand? The claim that these goods are made with slave labour, a blatantly false one.

In the USA, these claims have been aggressively pushed by the AFL-CIO, and other members of the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region, who have campaigned to intimidate companies into giving large payouts to Uyghur exile organizations, and cutting operations in Xinjiang, putting Uyghur workers in Xinjiang out of their jobs, based on ludicrous allegations of slave labour.

The importance of the false claim of slave labour in Xinjiang, is explained in a Globe & Mail article:

“In 2018, Canada signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement. As part of the new trade treaty, Canada vowed to stop the importation of products made with forced labour. It enacted the prohibition in mid-2020 and in early 2021 announced it would be cracking down on such [alleged] goods from China.”

Around the time of this trial, Tohti and his lawyer Sarah Teich wrote an article claiming that their devices were hacked by the “CCP” (Note: Communist Party of China, or CPC, is the proper term). Teich claimed that being temporarily kicked out of the legal hearing was proof of a Chinese government plot to interfere in the Canadian justice system. They cited zero evidence to validate their claim that the “CCP” was behind the issues they suffered.

Anti-China elements are taking the push for a US-style ban on all goods from Xinjiang on multiple fronts. A month before URAP joined CSRDN’s lawsuit, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos introduced Bill S-204, which would ban all goods from Xinjiang, China, based on the assumption that all goods from this region are made from forced and/or slave labour. How this would technically be done, is by amending the Customs Tariff to prevent the importation of goods to Canada which are partially or fully made or produced in Xinjiang.


URAP founds the Uyghur Legal Initiative

On January 14, 2022, Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project’s Executive Director Mehmet Tohti announced the creation of three teams: a legal team, policy advisor team and research team. The purpose of the legal team is to “explore domestic and international legal systems, in Canada and globally, and pursue various mechanisms to address the ‘ongoing Uyghur genocide’ and commission of other ‘atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs’.” This fancy sounding explanation can be summed up in one word: “lawfare”.

When contacted by The Canada Files on January 17, 2022, through e-mail, Tohti stated that these teams would be working pro-bono.

The members of the first two teams are of particular interest.

Members of interest on the legal team:

  • Sarah Teich: A senior fellow since December 2020 at the MacDonald Laurier Institute, which receives significant funding from the Taiwan area government and Latvian government. Teich is serving as URAP’s lawyer as they act on their intervener status in CRSDN’s legal case against the Canada Border Services Agency.

  • David Matas: Matas is B’nai Brith Canada’s senior legal counsel. B’nai Brith is an unconditional supporter of Israeli apartheid. Matas is the co-writer of the discredited 2007 Kilgour-Matas report, commissioned by Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China, which claimed that members of the Falun Gong cult were being targeted for state-sanctioned organ harvesting. This claim has been put under severe doubt even by mainstream outlets and figures including a Congressional Research Service report by Thomas Lum and Glen McGregor of the Ottawa Citizen. In reality, this claim is pushed by Falun Gong front groups to demonize China.

  • Azeezah Kanji: Kanji is the Director of Programming at Noor Cultural Centre, and ex-The Breach columnist, who is seen as a “progressive”, anti-colonial activist by many. In reality, Kanji has been extremely friendly with the openly NED funded URAP since 2020, even co-writing an op-ed with Mehmet Tohti urging Canada to take action on the “Uyghur genocide”. Kanji testified to the parliamentary subcommittee on Xinjiang (thereby collaborating with the Canadian state to demonize China) that led to the Xinjiang genocide vote in Canadian parliament on February 22, 2021. Kanji has denounced the Grayzone and other US-based activist groups as “Uyghur genocide” deniers, for daring to oppose the narrative.

    In recent months, Kanji has even began trying to manipulate the Kashmir and Palestine (image below) solidarity movements into pushing the Uyghur genocide narrative. There is seemingly no depth which Kanji won’t stoop to, in her quest to ally with anti-China forces in Canada.

Members of interest on the policy advisor team:

  • David Kilgour: Kilgour is a fiercely anti-China ex-Liberal MP, who was in parliament for more than 25 years. He is a co-author, along with David Matas, of the debunked 2007 Kilgour-Matas report alleging state-sanctioned organ harvesting in China. Kilgour has served as a senior fellow for the foreign funded MacDonald Laurier Institute since September 2018. To the present day, Kilgour has retained close ties with the Falun Gong cult, and written repeatedly for their main news outlet, Epoch Times.

  • Charles Burton: Burton is an ex-counsellor at the Canadian embassy in China, who previously worked for the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s equivalent of the FBI, which represents Canada among the Five Eyes Alliance. Burton has served as a senior fellow for the foreign funded MacDonald Laurier Institute since February 2019.

  • Marcus Kolga: Kolga is a senior fellow at the MacDonald Laurier Institute, who runs an organization which defends Estonian Nazi collaborators. Kolga runs, a supposed anti-disinformation resource which is funded by the US State Department’s Global Engagement Centre, Journalists for Human Rights and the MacDonald Laurier Institute (MLI.)

  • Scott Simon: Simon is a senior fellow at the MacDonald Laurier Institute. He joined as a senior fellow in October 2020, with his focus being “covering issues including Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific, human rights, and Indigenous rights.”

Their research team members are fairly unremarkable, run of the mill sympathizers of western imperialism.

What’s eye-catching is how blatant of an alliance there is between the foreign funded Macdonald Laurier Institute and the NED funded Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. One member of the legal team, and four out of five members of the policy team, are senior fellows at the MacDonald Laurier Institute.

As the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, continues to move full steam ahead, it is important for the anti-imperialist left in Canada to fiercely oppose its foreign interference in Canadian politics, and reject their push to demonize China by pushing the debunked “Uyghur Genocide” narrative.

It’s important to understand that a NED-funded organization run by only one-person was able to drive the results of a parliamentary subcommittee, and get Canada’s parliament to publicly declare their false belief that China is committing genocide against Uygurs in Xinjiang, China. A one man organization was able to pull off this stunning heist. Imagine the damage a more well funded NED group in Canada could do to our foreign policy, if action isn’t taken to root out front groups for the US government in Canada.

The Trudeau government’s complete lack of an independent foreign policy will continue to cause severe harm to nations around the world, and the economic immiseration of Canadians down the line, if a foreign policy independent from Washington can’t be won. So, it must be won as soon as possible.


Aidan Jonah is the Editor-in-Chief of The Canada Files, a socialist, anti-imperialist news outlet founded in 2019. Jonah has broken numerous stories, including how the Canadian Armed Forces trained neo-Nazi "journalist" Roman Protasevich while he was with the Azov Battalion, and how a CIA front group (the NED) funded the group (URAP) which drove the "Uyghur genocide" vote in parliament to pass this February. Jonah recently wrote a report for the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council.


Posted Feb. 6, 2022