Family of murdered student Amanda Zhao arrives in Vancouver

They are finally here in Vancouver.

They are Yang Baoying, Zhao Zisheng, and Li Junjun. They are the family of murdered Chinese student Amanda Zhao. They arrived at YVR yesterday after flying 20 hours from Beijing-Hong Kong-Vancouver. The tickets were sponsored by CARE Society and their visa application fees were sponsored by MLAs Jenny Kwan and Mike Farnworth. The Tzu Chi Foundation offered $2,000.

“After so many years, I can finally speak up,” an emotional Yang said with her lips trembling.

October 9 marks the sixth anniversary of the murder. Kwan has organized a memorial for Amanda on Thursday in the Chinese Cultural Centre.

Foreign affairs minister David Emerson will meet Yang on Thursday. The family will also meet with representatives of the RCMP, with the arrangements made by Kwan.

Amanda Zhao, a 21-year-old Chinese national student was reported missing on October 9, 2002, after she did not return from a trip to a convenience store. Her murdered body was discovered by hikers on October 20, 2002 near Stave Lake north of Mission.

After Zhao’s body was found, Ang Li, her boyfriend at the time, was questioned by police. Ang Li was a Chinese national and computer science student at Simon Fraser University.

A break in the case came after police interviewed Ang Li’s cousin, 19-year-old Han Zhang, who implicated Ang Li in the murder. Han Zhang was later charged with being an accessory after the fact in Amanda’s murder.

Seven months after Zhao’s body was found, the RCMP issued a warrant for Ang Li, long after he had gone to China. It was further reported that Ang Li was taken into custody in China in early 2004, but released shortly after by Chinese authorities for lack of evidence.

There are a few notes I’d like to say about the story behind bringing Yang and her family to Vancouver.

In May 2007, Ming Pao received a letter written by Yang Baoying and Li Junjun asking the Canadian department of justice to talk to them and tell them what the progress is about bringing justice to their only daughter. They wished we could relay the message for them.

At the same time, Yang already told us that she wanted to come to Canada and speak to someone herself. Our reporters, who have never given up this story ever since it happened, phoned politicians around to see if any one would like to help in any way.

We also phoned several charity and community organizations, asking if someone would be willing to sponsor Yang’s trip, as we know the family was in very difficult financial hardships as their home was demolished by the government to make way for the Beijing Olympics. Yang and her husband have to live from relatives’ homes to homes. They didn’t even know when they would stay the next week.

For politicians, we started with Bill Siksay, as he was the MP for the riding in which Amanda was killed. Also, Siksay’s former boss Svend Robinson had been very outspoken for the case. We also contacted Libby Davis and Raymond Chan.

Surprisingly, the only MP who didn’t mind meeting with Yang or help her write letters to Ottawa was Raymond Chan. But Chan already said he couldn’t pay for Yang’s tickets or whatever, he could only meet with them. No one else—including so-called community leaders—were willing to pick up the tab.

We of course talked to DOJ as we did once in a while to check on the progress of the case. As usual, we were told nothing could be disclosed because of privacy issue. We called foreign affairs to see if they could arrange a meeting. Nope.

We phoned the RCMP, any new progress? Nope. We also talked to China’s public safety ministry. A staffer told us that China was extremely committed to bringing the suspected killer to justice but needed the cooperation from Canada.

After a month of unsuccessful phoning around, we published Yang’s letter in June. And I published an English version.

Last October, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Amanda Zhao’s murder, one of our reporters flew to Beijing to talk to Yang Baoying and Li Junjun.

In November, MPs Bill Siksay and Libby Davis spoke up for the Zhaos in the parliament, asking Ottawa to work harder on the case. A DOJ spokesperson agreed that he would relay Yang’s wish to meet with the minister for us. Later, public safety minister Stockwell Day passed the ball to B.C.’s solicitor general John Les. The Province wrote an editorial urging to bring closure to the Zhao family. MLA Jenney Kwan finally picked up the story and made an appeal in B.C. legislature, reading out Yang’s letter. John Les replied it’s a federal matter.

Kwan followed up with a press conference with MLA Mike Farnworth.

In December, PM’s right hand man Jason Kenney had an editorial meeting with Ming Pao. We raised the Amanda story with him. He only had a very faint idea about who Amanda Zhao was. We explained the story to him and he expressed interest. He took out a pen and jotted down notes, saying “interesting.” He agreed to follow up on the case.

Days after, we emailed Kenney’s communication director and was told they were already gathering all the old press stories for Kenney. We were told Kenney had a plan to speak with public safety minister Stockwell Day and justice minister Rob Nicholson in the new year.

Also in December, Jenny Kwan wrote a letter to the deputy commissioner of the RMCP demanding actions on the case.

In January 2008, with a little help from us, Yang Baoying submitted a formal, English request to Nicholson for a meeting in person. Jenny Kwan agreed to invite Yang should the feds not. Bill Siksay and Libby Davis promised to look for ticket and accommodation sponsors.

In March, Kenney’s office told us that Harper’s cabinet had discussed Amanda Zhao’s case and there was a “political consensus” that Ottawa would facilitate bringing the killer to justice.

Meanwhile, Kwan and Farnworth began to work on inviting Yang over. They issued a formal invitation so that Yang’s visas could be processed in Beijing. Kwan and Farnworth even paid for their visa application fees after learning the Zhaos couldn’t make a payment themselves. Kwan was saying to us that she hoped Yang could come before her baby was born, with a due date in late August.

In early September, Yang told us they got the visas. Jason Kenney said he was prepared to meet with them and could arrange them to meet with other high level officials, David Emerson among them. Kwan and Farnwoth held a press conference to announce the trip.

Then there was a little public disagreement between Kwan et al there and Kenney et al here. Both claimed to be the person who did the work for Yang’s trip and meetings. Kenney said Kwan was making political capitalization out of the case because as a provincial representative, she wouldn’t have access to arrange for high-level official meetings for the Zhaos. Kwan et al blasted Kenney for claiming Kwan’s hardwork as his.

To us, though, we only want to help Yang to realize her wish. It really doesn’t matter who did the ground work. It’s Deng Xiaoping’s famous line: "No matter it’s a black or white cat, it’s a good cat as long as it catches mice."

Susanna Ng is an editor of a Vancouver Chinese newspaper. Read more on her Chinese in Vancouver blog.