During a recent debate in the legislature on antiracism initiatives, Attorney General David Eby tried to deflect a B.C. Liberal MLA's question by highlighting racially charged remarks by a senior member of her caucus.
It came during a June 11 exchange between Eby and Richmond North Centre MLA Teresa Wat about Eby's decision in 2015 to provide land-title information to housing researcher Andy Yan.
The Eby-Yan study concluded that nearly two-thirds of the buyers of a small sample of 172 homes on Vancouver's West Side had non-anglicized Chinese names.
Wat asked: "Is the minister aware of how hurtful the study he was involved in with Andy Yan could have been towards Canadians of Asian heritage, including myself, including my daughter, including many of my friends and my constituents and British Columbians of Asian descent?"
Eby replied that he accepted responsibility for "failing to understand how the study would be...reported on in the media". He also said that he has apologized for that.
Then, Eby turned the tables by zeroing in on comments by former finance minister Mike de Jong in the legislature on March 9, 2016.
According to Eby, de Jong "made a mistake that I think is qualitatively different but similar".
"In that question period, I stood up to ask a question about international money in our housing market," Eby said, "and the member for Abbotsford West [de Jong], based on the names on a property title, Wei Tang Huang and Shan Hue, said the following: 'at the same time that he and his colleagues have been decrying the entry of foreign investors into our market, the party coffers of the NDP seem to be benefiting quite nicely from some of those investments'— implying that, because these individuals had Chinese names, they were foreign investors."
Back in 2016 in response, Eby informed de Jong that the NDP had sold its headquarters to a local business owner of Taiwanese ancestry who owned a hotel next door. And if de Jong had a problem with that, Eby suggested that he should bring it up with that very same local business owner.
"Then, the member for Abbotsford West responded to me: 'So if I have any other questions about that transaction, I'll contact the lawyer involved—one Chairman, sorry, C. Mao, who appears to be involved'," Eby declared on June 11.
From that exchange in 2016, Eby said that de Jong first of all assumed that because the buyers of the NDP building had Chinese names, they were foreign investors in our market.
In addition, Eby accused de Jong of "openly mocking the name of the lawyer involved, C. Mao, suggesting that his first name was probably Chairman".
"I haven't heard an apology from the member from Abbotsford West about that, and I wonder if the member is as concerned as I am about it," Eby said in completing his answer to Wat's question.
Wat replied that her time is "really quite precious" in the estimates debate.
"So I leave it to my colleague [de Jong] to respond to the minister if we have more than enough time," Wat said.
In 2017, Wat endorsed de Jong's unsuccessful bid to become B.C. Liberal leader—a contest won the following year by Andrew Wilkinson.
Wat's daughter won't return to Vancouver
Elsewhere in the debate, Wat said that her daughter left B.C. in 2013 to see the world.
At that time, according to Wat, her daughter planned to return to Vancouver "once she satisfied herself with opening up her horizons".
"She now has two sons. I have two grandkids," Wat said. "But from what she read in the media and watched on TV, she told me that she really doesn't want to come back. She doesn't want her two sons to be discriminated against.
"My daughter is not like me," the Richmond North Centre MLA continued. "She is a full Canadian. She speaks English just like any locally born Canadian. She doesn't have any cultural barriers.
"I am an adult immigrant. I speak English with an accent. I might have some cultural gaps between myself and the locally born Canadians, but not her. Yet she hesitates to come back, seeing such an anti-Chinese, anti-Asian immigrant environment."
Eby stands by Yan
At the provincial money-laundering inquiry in April, Eby testified that his apology was published in an "article" in the past (which the Straight has never seen).
In a subsequent email to Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd last month, Eby said that the apology was made in 2016.
The Ministry of Attorney General has not provided the Straight with a copy of the article containing the apology.
Eby defended Yan, now the director of the SFU City Program, in the email and in the legislature for conducting the study.
In the email to Todd, for example, Eby said that the housing researcher "is one of the best for fearlessness and curiosity".
In the legislature on June 11, Eby reiterated this position.
"I want to be really clear that I support Mr. Yan's ability to do this work, to be fearless in doing it, to examine important questions," the attorney general said.
The attorney general has only expressed regret for his participation.
"My disappointment with how that study was covered by the media led me to apologize for my involvement in that study," he told fellow legislators. "I thought, mistakenly, that the study was interesting and that it dispelled a number of myths around how people were purchasing homes.
"There were a lot of rumours at the time," he continued. "But obviously, my naivety about believing that I could influence the perspective of the media led me to insufficiently, I think, set the context for it."
Despite Eby's professed concerns about how reporters and commentators covered the study, he has spurned Wat's efforts to encourage a serious probe of the relationship between media coverage and the rise of anti-Asian hatred in B.C.
On June 11, Wat reiterated her request to Eby—made near the end of last month—to ask the National NewsMedia Council for a review of media coverage.
This would be "to determine the extent, if any, to which language, visual depictions and editorial content may have conditioned people to accept racial stereotyping and racial intolerance".
Eby would not explicitly commit the government to doing this—even though Bloomberg has described Vancouver is the anti-Asian Hate Crime Capital of North America.
Rather, Eby mentioned that the Resilience B.C. Anti-Racism Network held a roundtable a few months ago with 20 media outlets, including seven that Eby described as "major".
He said that this conversation was intended to help community organizations and media work better together to reflect the lived experience of racialized groups.
"This is also a topic of discussion in our engagements with various groups across the province—all, obviously, in the context of the importance of the press being independent of government," Eby said.
"But facilitating these conversations between racialized groups and media is a very positive outcome and work that was prioritized by the Resilience B.C. network," he added. "So the member's suggestion is being taken up by Resilience B.C., with the support of government, to facilitate those conversations between media and racialized groups."