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Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has drawn large criticism over his attendance at a gala event in Vancouver’s Chinatown that celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule.

Many observers have called it inappropriate for minsters and other politicians — Sajjan wasn’t the only politician in attendance — to attend such an event when two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, remain detained by the Chinese government.

“I don’t think our politicians should attend the PRC 70th Anniversary at this moment while PRC retains our Canadians with no reason for over 9 months,” said Mabel Tung, chair of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, in an email.

“Canada should, with other leaders of the world, stand up against ever-encroaching authoritarianism from the PRC,” she wrote, referring to the ongoing persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China and the mistreatment of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat posted to China, had a similar take on Sajjan’s appearance.

 “It is highly inappropriate for any Canadians to participate in celebratory activities for the 70th anniversary of the PRC until such time as Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are freed from their utterly unjustified arbitrary detention,” said Burton.

“Mr. Sajjan was wrong to attend an event held to celebrate the PRC in his capacity as a federal election candidate and Minister of the Crown at this time.”

Sajjan’s spokesperson, Todd Lane, has addressed the criticisms and said that Sajjan didn’t stay at the event long and took the opportunity to discuss the two men currently being detained,

 “During the event, Mr. Sajjan delivered brief remarks where he spoke of the long-standing focus of the organization on promoting diversity and their efforts to grant Chinese-Canadians the right to vote,” Lane said. “Mr. Sajjan took the opportunity to state that the Chinese government needed to address the consular cases of the two arbitrarily detained Canadians. Mr. Sajjan believes in standing up for the rights of Canadians and has done so on numerous occasions. Shortly following the remarks, Mr. Sajjan departed. … Mr. Sajjan did not stay for dinner.”

As iPolitcs pointed out, the decision of several ministers to attend the pro-China event was contrasted by Mayor John Tory’s boycott of a Chinese-flag-raising ceremony in front of Toronto’s city hall. He cited “soured bilateral relations,” according to iPolitics as his reason for not wanting the Chinese flag to fly on China’s national day.

Other ministers and politicians have said that supporting the Chinese-Canadian community was their primary reason for attending the pro-China gala, with the Chinese National Day constituting a major cultural event across Canada.