Mayor John Tory boycotted the ceremonial raising of China’s flag at Toronto city hall on Monday, but two city councillors and dozens of protestors turned up.

Tory’s office said Friday that unlike last year, when he helped hoist the red flag up the “courtesy flagpole” overlooking Nathan Phillips Square, the mayor would skip Monday’s flag-raising that marked 70 years since founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Tory’s office cited ongoing “issues between Canada and China,” adding, “The mayor believes in democracy and the rule of law.”

Canada-China relations have soured since the December arrest of Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an extradition request by the United States.

China then arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig, both of whom it continues to detain. The Chinese government also toughened the sentence of a Canadian held on drug charges and blocked Canadian canola exports to China.

Councillor Jim Karygiannis (Ward 22 Scarborough-Agincourt) attended Monday’s event, as he did last year. This time he was with Scarborough realtor Cynthia Lai who was elected to city council last fall. Lai’s family moved to Toronto from Hong Kong in 1972, according to her city biography.

Protesters, many with signs criticizing China’s actions regarding democracy in Hong Kong, were relegated to a lower walkway but made enough noise to be audible at the ceremony, one of many approved by the city each year to mark special events and causes.

    The former Liberal MP said that in 1989 he protested China’s massacre of protestors in Tiananmen Square outside the consulate but that, since then the Communist state “has come a long way.”

    “If you engage them, the more sensitive they become to what you say, and the more likely you are to get changes,” said Karygiannis, recalling being part of a 2001 trade mission to Beijing with then-prime minister Jean Chrétien, who Karygiannis said “gave them hell” on human rights.

    Lai had no comment on Tory’s absence and said she attended her seventh such flag-raising to represent about 45,000 constituents with Chinese heritage.

    “My presence is the least I could to to maintain good Canada-China relationships we’ve been building over the years as a city, both economically and culturally,” Lai told the Star.

    The Toronto celebration was one of many China is holding around the world to toast 70 years of statehood, culminating in a massive military parade Tuesday.

      In Hong Kong, meanwhile, pro-democracy protesters are expected to continue calling on Beijing to honour human rights in the special administrative region rocked by months of unrest.