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HomeNewsUpdate: Vancouver city hall refers WeChat vote-buying scheme to police

Update: Vancouver city hall refers WeChat vote-buying scheme to police

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UPDATED: Oct. 12

Bob Mackin

Richmond RCMP’s serious crimes unit revealed Oct. 12 that it is investigating allegations of vote-buying via WeChat.

Vancouver city hall has called the Vancouver Police to do the same. 

The Richmond News reported Oct. 11 that City of Richmond began investigating after the Canada Wenzhou Friendship

Wenzhou expats WeChat group is under investigation for alleged vote-buying.

Society WeChat group offered a $20 “transportation subsidy” incentive for Chinese-Canadians to vote between Oct. 6 and 20. The message on the Chinese social media platform provided a list of recommended candidates, mainly in Richmond. The newspaper said the association withdrew its offer earlier this week when it learned offering incentives to vote was illegal.

The WeChat message recommended voting Hong Guo for mayor of Richmond, and Richmond First’s Peter Liu, and Richmond Community Coalition’s Chak Au and Melissa Zhang for city council. In an Oct. 2 interview with theBreaker, real estate and immigration lawyer Guo contradicted evidence and said  that China is not a human rights abuser.

A translation for theBreaker showed the WeChat message also recommended voting for Burnaby Citizens’ Association Coun. James Wang, Vancouver mayoral candidates Fred Harding of Vancouver 1st or Wai Young of Coalition Vancouver, and city council candidates Wei Qiao Zhang of Vision Vancouver and Jason Xie of Coalition Vancouver.

In a news release, Vancouver city hall said that it is investigating in conjunction with civic officials in Richmond and Burnaby. Section 123 of the Vancouver Charter bans offering money or rewards for voting. Penalties include fines up to $10,000, up to two years jail or a ban on holding public office for up to seven years. 

The City of Vancouver is aware of messages circulating on WeChat from the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society that appear to offer money in exchange for voting in Richmond, Burnaby, and Vancouver. Wenzhou is a port city of 9 million, south of Shanghai, in China’s Zhejiang province. 

The Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce held a ceremony where the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society donated $26,000 to eight candidates on Aug. 26 in Richmond that was attended by Xie, Young, Guo, Zhang, Liu and Wang. The ex-president of the Wenzhou Association of Canada, Miaofei Pan, also attended the event. Pan famously hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a 2016 private Liberal fundraiser.

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)

In October 2017, Pan’s $14 million Angus Drive mansion in Shaughnessy was severely damaged by an arson fire. No one has been charged. Vancouver city hall did, however, charge Pan under the heritage maintenance bylaw for failing to protect the house after the fire.

Vision’s Zhang has not immediately responded for comment. Coalition Vancouver did not make Wai Young or Jason Xie available for an interview.

Elections BC spokesman Andrew Watson said the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act states campaign donations can only be made by individuals who are a resident of B.C. and a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. Watson said Elections BC is aware of the society’s fundraising event. “They will be taken into consideration during our compliance review of the financing reports for all of the candidates in question,” Watson said.

A Coalition Vancouver ad on WeChat shows Wai Young at the pro-Beijing Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations meeting at the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Association’s Richmond clubhouse on Sept. 22. Young was accompanied by Coalition Vancouver candidates Morning Li and James Lin (city council) and Ying Zhou, Sophia Woo and Ken Denike (school board). 

Coalition Vancouver campaign manager Neil McIver said the party would fully cooperate with police.

We didn’t direct them or communicate with them outside of presenting to them as potential supporters — just like all Chinese candidates from all parties did,” McIver said. “It’s an outside group who likely didn’t know what they were doing was improper under Elections BC rules.”

Wai Young and Coalition Vancouver candidates on Sept. 22 at the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society in Richmond (Coalition Vancouver/WeChat)

McIver said that if they donated to Coalition Vancouver or its candidates, the donation would be returned.

Harding told theBreaker that he was flattered by the endorsement on WeChat, but distanced his campaign from the cash offer.

“Let me say this: I’ve got a lot of people I’ve spoken to, probably 20,000 Chinese people in the last three months. Are any of them from Wenzhou? Probably. I’ve never heard of it. If they’re just suggesting I’m someone they support, that’s different than suggesting I’m somehow complicit,” Harding said.

“We don’t recommend people do this, we don’t need this to help us, we don’t need to induce people to help get them to vote for us. We’ve got solid, solid support in the Chinese community. We will win without having to resort to any measures that are concerning or underhanded.”

According to the society’s website, “two mysterious guests” came to the Wenzhou society’s Mid-Autumn Festival tea party on Sept. 23. 

“Chinese famous singer Zhang Mi and her husband, Fred [Harding], who is preparing to run for the mayor of Vancouver in October. Fu Aide made an impromptu speech at the scene and hoped that everyone would vote for him. Zhang Mi sang a few well-known Chinese songs for everyone, winning a burst of applause from the folks.”

Most Vancouver civic parties and mainstream mayoral candidates have disclosed unofficial lists of donors. Their audited returns are due to Elections BC three months after election day.

Harding said it is unlikely that Vancouver 1st will reveal its monetary supporters before Oct. 20. 

“I don’t know if we’ll do it before election day, we’ll certainly comply with the Election Act. We’ve got nothing to hide about our donors, of course. We’ve done well, despite the stringent financial laws.”

Vancouver 1st’s marketing effort to Chinese voters has included promoting ex-police officer Harding’s marriage to Chinese singer-model Zhang Mi and featuring his resemblance to Barack Obama.

Fred Harding (Vancouver 1st)

Candidates in the Oct. 20 local government elections are scrambling to find individuals to donate after the NDP government banned corporations and unions from writing donation cheques. Parties like Vancouver 1st and Coalition Vancouver have targeted Chinese voters and candidates. One-in-five Metro Vancouverites is ethnic Chinese.

However, governments in the United States and Australia have warned that the Chinese government is seeking to influence local government elections via Beijing-loyal business and cultural associations. 

Research for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, released Aug. 24, said the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department “seeks to co-opt ethnic Chinese individuals and communities living outside China while a number of other key affiliated organizations guided by China’s broader United Front strategy conduct influence operations targeting foreign actors and states.”

The report cited the work of author Clive Hamilton, a public ethics professor at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales. The report said Australian security authorities estimate at least 10 recent state and local government candidates were connected to Chinese intelligence agencies. 

“United Front activities in Australia have involved political donations, influence operations targeting high-ranking politicians, and harassment of members of the Chinese-Australian community,” the report said. 

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