Two city-hall ceremonies to mark the founding of Communist China this weekend were cancelled at the last minute, as controversy continued over how the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic was to be celebrated in Canada — if at all.
The flag-raising events planned for Richmond Hill and Vaughan, both suburban municipalities north of Toronto with large Chinese-Canadian populations, were called off amid angry complaints from groups supporting protesters in Hong Kong.
A third in nearby Markham, Ont., went ahead on Saturday, with speeches from Mayor Frank Scarpitti and Chinese consul general Han Tao.
All three were organized by a group whose leader has in the past echoed a key demand of the Chinese government, calling for the speedy release of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive arrested at the request of U.S. prosecutors.
Meanwhile, Chinese-language media coverage revealed that a second Liberal cabinet member — Mary Ng — spoke at a 70th-anniversary dinner last week. Harjit Sajjan, defence minister, appeared at a celebration in Vancouver, though said he did so as a candidate and didn’t stay long.
Such events have been held in past years, and many municipalities allow community groups to hold flag-raising parties at city halls on the national day of their countries of origin.
But the China events have been particularly contentious this year in the face of Canada’s bitter diplomatic feud with Beijing, the mass protests in Hong Kong and growing concern about human-rights abuses in China.
“While our Canadian citizens have been bullied, while our country has been bullied by this totalitarian regime, why should we still continue with this kind of celebratory event?” asked Gloria Fung, head of the group Canada-Hong Kong Link. “Our politicians need to show a higher level of political wisdom, to understand what not to do on Canadian soil.”
Before this weekend, flag raising ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary had already been held in at least two cities, as well as at the Ontario legislature. At Toronto City Hall, Mayor John Tory refused to take part, citing tensions between the two countries.
Announcements of the weekend events suggested they were jointly organized by each city and the Federation of Chinese Canadians of Markham or a sister group — both headed by Dr. Ken Ng — and were sponsored by the TD Bank and the Chinese consulate general in Toronto.
The flurry of commemorations did not sit well with those troubled by Beijing’s increasing grip on Hong Kong, prompting many to email the cities’ mayors in protest, said a spokesman for Torontonians Stand with Hong Kong.
“A lot of Hong Kong Canadians, when they found out there were three of them, people got furious,” said the spokesman, who asked only to be quoted by his first name, John, because of safety concerns within the Chinese-Canadian community. “At a time like this, where two Canadians have been detained and our relationship with China is at a very low point, is it really necessary to have all these celebrations?”
Ken Ng could not be reached for comment.
But in emails and Facebook messages, he said the raising of the Chinese flag on China’s national day has taken place since 2014 to “recognize the contributions and the heritage of people of Chinese descent in the region.”
Ken Ng also noted that China is now Canada’s second biggest trading partner and the two countries have had diplomatic relations for 50 years.
Even so, his organization dropped the events in Vaughan and Richmond Hill.
“We are respecting the fact that there are currently some unsolved issues with the Canada-China relationship, and have decided to forgo this year’s flag raising,” Ken Ng wrote in an email to Richmond Hill city council last Thursday.
The Markham physician played a small part in a major development on the Canada-China front earlier this year. He helped organize a news conference where John McCallum made comments about the Huawei case that would later get him fired as Canada’s ambassador to China. Ken Ng himself was quoted as saying at the same event that he hoped the judicial system would speed up the extradition process so Meng could be released quickly.
Emails that activists received from the Markham mayor’s office last week — and were obtained by the National Post — indicated the event there had been called off, too. But the flag raising went ahead, with Scarpitti and some members of city council attending.
The mayor could not be reached for comment.
Fung speculated that Scarpitti’s office was anxious to placate those Chinese Canadians opposed to the celebrations, while not alienating the pro-Beijing faction.
All three cities insisted that they neither organized nor funded the flag raising events.
Mary Ng, small business and export development minister in the last parliament, appeared at a celebration of the 70th anniversary organized by a Toronto Chinese-Canadian group with close ties to the consulate. Her speech, though, mostly extolled the benefits of multiculturalism, avoiding mention of the founding of the PRC.
By Tom Blackwell