Early on the morning of January 21, 2010, Vancouver resident Yao Wei Wu was awoken by the doorbell. After opening the door, he was brutally beaten by police officers.
Wu suffered many wounds: his left eye was all red, and the inner orbital bone was cracked. Wu’s front-page “bloody headshot” photos shocked the city.
On the following day, Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu visited Wu and apologized to him. Chu also retracted the police statement claiming that Wu had been beaten because he assaulted the police officers.
There was huge public concern over the Wu case because it sent a message that this kind of tragic incident could happen to any citizen.
The beating of Wu was the big news in the Chinese newspapers over the following days. It was intriguing that when the family approached a major Chinese immigrant-services organization for help, they were ignored. More tellingly, the CEO of the organization later hosted a media event and stood with the police commissioner and the police complaints commissioner.
The event was meant to help restore public faith in the police and to repair the damage to the police’s public image caused by the beating of Wu.
Yet Wu and his family, the true victims of the unfortunate incident, were left without help.
A few activist friends were talking about the Wu case and we strongly felt that our community should support the family.
Thus, Bill Chu, Thekla Lit, Tommy Tao, Chak Au, Thomas Lou, and I met and formed a "Community Concerned Group". After we met with the family, we determined that they needed assistance on different fronts, including counselling, handling of media requests, fundraising, and legal support.
The most pressing matter was to get a good lawyer to represent the Wu family. With the help of MLA Jenny Kwan, we were able to retain veteran lawyers Cameron Ward and Neil Chantler (who worked at the same firm) to represent Wu to pursue his case in court.
Nevertheless, even with the assistance of the group and these lawyers, Wu’s case met obstacle after obstacle. The slow progress reflected some serious shortcomings in the system.
Shortly after the Community Concerned Group was formed, Chief Chu invited us to a meeting. When he was asked how long it would normally take to investigate a case like this, Chu responded that because this was not complicated and only a few people were involved, it would take “weeks” to complete.
It turned out that the investigation took more than nine months.
On November 3, 2010, the chief of the Delta police, Jim Cessford, released his department's report to the media. The investigators took the words of the two involved police officers at face value, and the report concluded that Wu was beaten because he first assaulted the police.
Since the Community Concerned Group had obtained the report a day before, we were able to study it and publicly responded on the same day Delta police made the announcement. We challenged the fairness of the findings and raised a series of questions that highlighted the inconsistencies—like, how could Wu have assaulted two police officers when he knew that he was opening the door to the police?
The investigative report said Wu’s eye was injured when he fell onto the concrete floor. If that were the case, how come there were no bruises on his face?
Seeing this kind of investigative report, the Wu family was extremely upset. After discussing it with his lawyer, Wu decided not to file an appeal because this would have been reviewed by another police department—and it would be a waste of time and energy expecting fairness from the police investigating police.
It was thought that the criminal investigation would end with the Delta Police report. It transpired that Police Complaint Commissioner Stan Lowe also shared our view and had doubts about the investigation. On November 2010, he announced that a retired judge would conduct a public hearing into Wu case.
If the hearing ruled against the two police officers, they would face disciplinary action. However, victory in a civil trial would have compensation to the Wu family and there would not be any disciplinary consequences to the officers.
What happened next was quite incredible. The lawyer for the two police officers went to the court to challenge the authority of the commissioner to order a public hearing on the Wu case. The judge accepted the argument and called it off.
Lowe appealed the ruling, but it’s uncertain whether a public hearing would be conducted. Meanwhile, the civil trial of the Wu case was scheduled for 22 days, beginning on October 9, but an out-of-court settlement was reached before the proceedings began.
Due to the condition of confidentiality in the agreement, Wu regrets that he cannot meet with the media.
My understanding is that Wu is satisfied with the terms of the settlement. In addition, he is donating the funds raised by the community, including money that was spent on his family, to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, so that it could help others in need.
As an activist involved in the Wu case for over two years, I think the settlement is good news. It is because Wu and his family no longer need to be dragged through the long legal process and can get on with their normal life.
If the trial proceeded as scheduled, it would have taken a month, including holidays. During that time, not only could Wu not work, he would have to repeatedly talk about his ordeal in great detail, plus answer all the questions by the defence lawyer.
There is no way to tell whether the jury would rule in his favour. And even if he won, the city could appeal.
Then it would be another long wait and another round of tribulations.
Wu’s lawyer, Ward, was previously involved in a case of police abusing their power. Although Ward won in different courts, the city appealed the verdict all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. The case took 10 years to resolve.
Although the Wu family has suffered a great deal from this tragic incident, the resolution has a positive effect on our society.
However, Wu’s case and others of more serious police violence have raised questions about the integrity of the police-investigation system. In the end, they helped push the government to establish the Independent Investigations Office headed by a civilian, who has never served in the police force.
When I talked to David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, regarding the community donation, he was surprised to hear about the out-of-court settlement because it’s quite rare for the City of Vancouver not to proceed to court. It's worth repeating that the Delta police’s criminal investigation has cleared the two police officers.
Another lawyer I’ve talked to also shared the same view. In other words, they both think the settlement is a victory for Wu.
So why was the city willing to resolve the Wu case out of court? I can think of a few reasons. Wu was represented by good and experienced lawyers. The case has been highly publicized and there is a Community Concerned Group bringing the media into the case.
Normally, when a case proceeds along a legal path, the plaintiff and his lawyer cannot comment or rebut anything publicly. But this does not apply to members of the Community Concerned Group. Not only had the members spoken to the media bout the Wu case, we also raised questions about the fairness of the Delta police investigation.
Lastly, I want to bring up one more point. Some people think that language barrier had played a role in the Wu incident. The fact is, from my observation, Wu basically understood what his lawyer told him. But then, even if one does not know English, that should not be an excuse for police brutality.
Gabriel Yiu is a small businessman and the NDP candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview.