In their adopted city of Vancouver, two Hong Kong-born Canadians have been lauded for their role in the fight against racism and human rights abuses.
(Photo: Edward Liu was the co-organiser of the anti-racism rally that took place in Richmond last winter. Liu spoke about the importance of diversity. Credit: Georgia Straight)
Edward Liu was the only representative from the Chinese community to help organise as well as speak at a large gathering opposed to an anti-immigration rally in Vancouver on 19 August. Liu’s role was noted by the media as some 4,000 Vancouverites pushed back against the rally’s organisers representing alt-right, white supremacist and anti-immigration groups.
A week later, the late Henry Chau, who had tirelessly campaigned for human rights in China and Hong Kong, was celebrated at his funeral by more than 100 family members, friends, and supporters. Chau, 69, passed away on 3 August after a brief battle with cancer.
Influenced by their upbringing in Hong Kong, the two men have been active in their respective causes in Vancouver’s Chinese community.
Liu, a senior journalist with the Sing Tao newspaper, came into public attention last year when he helped organise three rallies in response to the distribution of anti-Chinese flyers by white supremacist groups in the Metro Vancouver city of Richmond.
Liu said he had to push back against what he saw was the injustice and bullying by those seeking to blame Chinese migrants for the city’s housing affordability problems.
For years, the Canadian media have been feeding an unbalanced narrative that Chinese buyers are the main cause of the city’s surging housing prices. Most reports discount major factors such as low interest rates, the failure of the Canadian system to increase supply of affordable housing, and strong demand among local buyers and speculators. Emboldened by the media’s biased reporting, racist groups recruiting for the Alt-Right movement distributed flyers warning “whitey” that “the Chinese are taking over.”
“I felt the tensions and the anti-Chinese feelings, and decided it was time to organise and push back,” said Liu, who migrated to Canada in 1989.
“I needed to also do it for my two young children who were born here and have no idea about ‘invading’ Canada.”
The recent outcry against the “Chinese invasion” is a replay of the past. In the 1980s and 1990s, migrants from Hong Kong were also blamed for causing Vancouver’s rising cost. The critics fail to mention that the new migrants brought much needed capital and talent to revive the faltering British Columbia economy that was struggling from record level of debt and deficits.
Liu said his upbringing in Hong Kong had taught him to value social justice and the rule of law. His indignation and sense of right and wrong won the support of many people, including Richmond’s religious groups, local politicians, and civic groups who joined in his three rallies.
In the latest rally in Vancouver city, Liu denounced the organisers of the racist rally for making “nasty comments about Canada’s multiculturalism.”
“Multiculturalism is what makes the Canadian society strong and free,” said Liu at the event.
Describing Vancouver as one of Canada’s most culturally-diverse cities, he said racism “makes neighbours turn against each other, generates hate between people, and injects fear into a peaceful community.”
“We need to educate the government and people in British Columbia about their history. It wasn’t only white people who built up this province,” said Liu. Other groups including the Chinese played major roles, but have been downplayed or dismissed in the mainstream version of the province’s history.
Having worked with Liu in organising last year’s rallies as well as the August 19 gathering, Lisa Descary, a veteran activist in Vancouver, describes him as “a thoughtful and hardworking ally in our anti-racist work.”
Descary said she appreciates Liu’s willingness to inform the Chinese community about the nature of the racist groups operating in Canada.
“He has also been wonderful at mobilising people from the community to come out to rallies,” she said. The two allies and others are planning to hold another anti-racist rally on Sept 30.
Liu’s Hong Kong upbringing has also made him partial to human rights issues.
He’s a critic of Beijing’s poor human rights record as shown in its heavy-handed treatment of the late human rights campaigner Liu Xiaobo who died of cancer in July. No relation to the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Edward Liu the journalist is building a reputation for speaking out against social injustice committed by both racist groups and the Chinese government.
Henry Chau: human rights and democracy in China
The small group of campaigners for human rights in China recently lost their best known member, Henry Chau, who helped found the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement (VSSDM).
A group of about 20 Hong Kong migrants in Vancouver founded the society shortly after Beijing ordered troops to kill student protestors in Tiananmen Square on June 4 1989. Chau was among the founders.
He was elected as chair of the VSSDM in 1995 and held the post till his death, said Mabel Tung, who has taken over as the society’s new head.
In a statement, the VSSDM described Chau as “one of the strongest voices in Canada to condemn the massacre that happened in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.”
Tung told the Harbour Times that the society will continue with its work to keep VSSDM as “a vital force in promoting and defending the universal values of human rights, freedom, justice and democracy in China.”
The society notched up one of its most notable achievements in recent years by sponsoring the visit of China critic Lam Wing-kee to Vancouver in May.
Lam, one of the bookstore owners abducted by Chinese security forces in 2015 and held without charge for months, gave an anti-Beijing talk in Cantonese to more than 100 Canadians with Hong Kong ties. The talk at the University of British Columbia was organised by the Vancouver Hong Kong Forum Society (VHKFS).
Tung said VSSDM will continue to organise its annual June 4 Democracy Walk and the candlelight vigil in front of the Chinese Consulate along Vancouver’s Granville Street.
“Henry was deeply loved and respected by his family, friends and comrades. He will be greatly missed,” she said.