Dozens came out to support the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China at a flag raising at Toronto city hall, but it was a ceremony that the mayor opted to skip.
Don Peat, a spokesperson for John Tory, told Global News a number of issues between Canada and China were a great enough concern that Tory decided not to attend.
Peat did not elaborate on what Tory’s issues were specifically, but he said Tory “believes in democracy and the rule of law.”
He added the mayor hoped there is a resolution in sight over a number of issues between the two countries.
Tory’s decision comes at a time when Canada-China relations are increasingly frayed. Diplomatic tensions remain high as Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor remain detained by China. Their arrests have widely been seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, after an extradition request from the United States.
Several protesters were kept separate from the flag raising ceremony. Some were holding signs with slogans of support for the Hong Kong protesters along with the images of Kovrig and Spavor. While they chanted anti-China slogans and sang “O Canada,” members of the flag-raising ceremony tried to drown them out with drums and cymbals.
Dozens of pro-China supporters attended the ceremony.
While Tory was not there, Councillors Cynthia Lai and Jim Karygiannis were. A chair was also reserved for Coun. Denzil Minan-Wong, but he did not attend.
“I’m here to support my constituents,” said Karygiannis.
He said he supports the right to protest in China, but said the issue needs to be resolved so both countries can move forward.
“The fact that a couple of Canadians have been detained, I have been very vocal with the Chinese Consul General, I’ve let him know my points of view,” said Karygiannis.
Lai also said it was the Chinese community in her ward that was her reason to attend the event. When asked if she thought it was appropriate to attend while there are Canadians being detained, she said her job was to make sure Toronto prospered.
“My job is to make sure Toronto maintain the world class city status and with economic development,” said Lai.
Peggy Leung said she came from Pickering to take part in the protest against raising the flag.
“I don’t think it’s right because they detained our two Michaels in China right now,” said Leung.
She applauded the move by Tory to sit out the ceremony. Leung said Lai and Karygiannis’s attendance at the ceremony was “despicable.”
While city hall has a courtesy flag pole and a protocol for who can use it, the City of Toronto itself does not endorse those who use it.