This Dec. 5, 2017, photo shows flags of Canada and China prior to a meeting of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. (Fred Dufour/THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Pool Photo)

Ontario shelves plan to fly Chinese flag at legislature ceremony

Bowing to pressure, skepticism and criticism, the Ontario government has backed off on a controversial flag-raising ceremony honouring China at the province’s legislature that was to take place shortly after noon today.

The legislature was set to commemorate China’s National Day, Oct. 1, which marks the founding of the republic by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.

China’s consul-general in Toronto, Han Tao, was set to speak at the event and politicians and diplomats of all stripes were due to attend.

Apparently overlooked by organizers were the two Canadians–former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor–who are currently in prison in China on what most believe are trumped up charges.

The backlash and criticism mounted quickly. 

A young man holds a sign bearing photographs of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who are being in China, outside B.C. Supreme Court where Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was attending a hearing, in Vancouver, on January 21, (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

“I don’t think any order of government in Canada should be flying the flag of the People’s Republic of China while two Canadian citizens are wrongfully imprisoned in China,” the federal Conservative Party’s foreign affairs critic, Michael Chong, said Tuesday.

“When governments fly a foreign flag it sends a certain signal.”

Both the NDP and Liberals said Tuesday they would not be sending any of their provincial legislators to the event.

Their boycott followed a similar one at Toronto City Hall on by Mayor John Tory on Monday. 

Late Tuesday, the sergeant-at-arms at the Ontario Legislature, Jackie Gordon, announced that the event and all future flag-raisings were being cancelled because of COVID-19.

Relations between Ottawa and Beijing began to sour following the arrest nearly two years ago of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport at the request of the U.S.

Her arrest infuriated Beijing and a short time later the two Canadians– Kovrig and Spavor–were arrested in China.

Both have since been charged with espionage and Canada continues to press for their release.

Meng, meanwhile, is currently fighting extradition to the U.S. in British Columbia’s Supreme Court.

With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press, RCI

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