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HomeBusinessChinese community activist urges more education about elections, enforcement against voting violations to boost turnout

Chinese community activist urges more education about elections, enforcement against voting violations to boost turnout

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Bob Mackin

A former candidate for Mayor of Vancouver says local governments and Elections BC need to do a better job of educating the region’s Chinese community about elections and enforcing laws around voting to avoid allegations of vote-buying in the next election.

They also need to beef-up social studies curriculum in order to increase voter turnout.

Chinese community activist Meena Wong outside Vancouver city hall (Mackin)

“We need to rise up and say to our provincial government, hey you need to do more in civic education,” said Meena Wong, who finished third in 2014 with COPE. “Not just among newcomers, but local born and grown, they need to learn about the importance of civic participation. My biggest worry is that the community at-large sees the Chinese community in one stroke and paints all the candidates and everybody in the Chinese community as crooks. A few bad apples happens in every community.”

The Civic Engagement Network’s Wong said she was distressed by the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society offering on WeChat to pay a $20 “transportation subsidy” and recommending certain candidates to vote for in Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby. Most of the same candidates attended a donation ceremony at the society’s clubhouse in late August. The WeChat message prompted an RCMP investigation. On Oct. 19, the Richmond detachment said it had insufficient evidence to pursue criminal or election act charges, but its investigation into potential voter manipulation continues.

The 2016 Census found one in five people in Metro Vancouver is ethnic Chinese. Wong said there are 63 ethnic Chinese candidates running in the Oct. 20 municipal elections, which could lead to more Chinese voters and campaign donors.

The Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations did its part to mobilize the community when it published a Chinese and English guide to the region’s municipal elections. But CACA is known for being friendly with the People’s Republic of China government. It was behind a controversial Chinese national day flag-raising ceremony outside Vancouver city hall in 2016 that divided the local Chinese community.

In the Rise Weekly special edition, CACA executive chair Yongtao Chen urged more Chinese to run for public office, so they could have an influence on local government decisions. Chen boasted of one example of the impact of political action in Richmond, where city council tried to enact new limits on the size of farmland mansions. Agriculture advocates worry that the real estate boom will harm Richmond’s food supply.

Municipal election guide financed by a pro-Beijing group. (Rise Weekly)

“In a poll regarding house size restrictions on farmland this year in Richmond, the Chinese and Indians cooperated, and this led to a 6-3 vote which resulted in denying the restriction proposal,” Chen wrote. “This was the first time these two minority groups have cooperated and it was a shining example of how it could affect government decisions. Afterwards, the Chinese suggested that Chinese, Indians, and other minority farmers together should form the Richmond from land owners association. Not only did this help minority groups affirm their rights, But it also pushed multiculturalism in Canada into the forefront.”

Chen could not be reached for comment.

The Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society is one of dozens of organizations under Richmond-based CACA’s umbrella. The society’s website said it raised $26,000 for political donations to Richmond mayoral candidate Hong Guo and Chinese-Canadian politicians from Coalition Vancouver, Vision Vancouver, Burnaby Citizens Association, Richmond First and Richmond Community Coalition. Only RCC incumbent councillor Chak Au and Richmond First candidate Peter Liu have responded to theBreaker. They both denied that their campaigns have received money from the society or its directors. Only individuals can make donations under new laws. Official returns are due to Elections BC 90 days after the election.

Wong worries that the activities of Beijing-friendly organizations like CACA mean that B.C. is experiencing meddling from the Chinese government’s United Front program.

“There’s already Australia and New Zealand talking about foreign influence in the electoral process and in government. I hope that the RCMP serious crime unit is going to really look into this, find out and follow the money about what is happening in Canada.”

Wong said she was shocked by comments from Richmond mayoral hopeful Guo. In an Oct. 2 interview with theBreaker, the real estate and immigration lawyer aiming to beat Malcolm Brodie denied that China has a human rights problem.

Richmond candidates Hong Guo, Chak Au and Peter Liu in the front row with Vision Vancouver’s Wei Qiao Zhang at the Aug. 26 fundraiser. (Wenzhouren.ca)

“I’m a bit taken aback when I hear candidates deny human rights abuse, and deny facts that are being recognized by many, from the United Nations to Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch. These are all credible organizations.”

She is also concerned by politicians who divert attention from China’s human rights record by criticizing Canada’s imperfections.

Liu said Richmond has to “respect everybody, we respect the difference,” even China. Pressed further about concerns with China, he said: “Right now I cannot comment on international relationships with other countries because I’m running for city council and focussing on the city only.” 

Asked if he would acknowledge China’s human rights problems, Au said that “every society has their own problems; Canada is not perfect.”

“Look at our record on the First Nations. Working towards common understanding and reconciliation is important,” he said.

Said Wong: “It’s different, we are democratic, we can criticize our government. Canadians need to stand up and say these are values we hold. Trade is important, but with principle.”

Wong, 57, was born in China and moved to Hong Kong at age 11 to escape the Cultural Revolution. She came to Canada as a 19-year-old student and said it is vital to get out and vote on Oct. 20, if you are: a Canadian citizen, 18 and over, who has lived in B.C. for at least six months and lived in or owned property in a municipality for at least 30 days. 

“People complain so much but they don’t engage. They say it’s dirty. I say it’s dirty because you don’t get involved,” she said. “Whatever the government we get, we are responsible as voters.”

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