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MLA credited with breaking logjam in Zhao murder case

In 2008, NDP MLA Jenny Kwan spearheaded the Zhao family's emotional visit to Vancouver.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The Amanda Zhao murder case had stalled.

For six years, her parents waited for justice while officials in Beijing, Ottawa, and Victoria were embroiled in a jurisdictional standoff.

In 2008, New Democrat MLA Jenny Kwan spearheaded the Zhao family's emotional visit to Vancouver. On Thursday, after news that a Beijing court had convicted Ms. Zhao's boyfriend of her murder, Ms. Kwan called that trip the "turning point" in the case.

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But the journey might never have happened without the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA. Ms. Kwan's name was at the top of a list of thank-yous released by Yang Baoying, Ms. Zhao's mother. Ms. Yang said she was grateful to Ms. Kwan for pushing for unprecedented co-operation between Chinese and Canadian officials.

During a news conference in downtown Vancouver to discuss the verdict, Ms. Kwan told reporters it was a fight she simply had to take up.

"I remember people saying, 'Why are you doing this? What do you think will actually come out of it? Do you think it will ever be their day in court?' Our answer was that we had to believe we could achieve that."

"We had to pursue it. You know what? It took a long time, but we achieved it," she said.

Ms. Zhao's body was discovered inside a suitcase near Stave Lake, B.C., in October, 2002. The 21-year-old had been living with her boyfriend, Li Ang. Mr. Li, the suspect in the case, returned to China two weeks after the body was discovered. China claimed jurisdiction because both Ms. Zhao and Mr. Li were Chinese citizens. The RCMP refused all requests to co-operate with Chinese investigators, and the case languished for years.

Ottawa said it was a provincial responsibility. Victoria said the opposite.

In an interview in December, 2007, Ms. Kwan asked, "How are we ever going to ensure that justice is served for the murder of Amanda Zhao, when we have the provincial and federal governments pointing fingers at each other?"

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Ms. Zhao's parents arrived the next October, and held a news conference that left even some reporters in tears.

Zisheng Zhao, the father, wept and buried his face in his hands as he talked about losing his only child.

"The Canadian government hasn't done anything for us," he said at the time. "They told us six years ago that it would be resolved very soon, and still we wait."

After the news conference, the RCMP began co-operating with police in China on the case.

Mr. Li was arrested in July, 2009. When he still hadn't gone to trial nearly a year-and-a-half later, Ms. Kwan wrote to the head of the Beijing law courts, questioning the delay.

On Thursday, the federal Foreign Affairs Department and Coquitlam College – the school Ms. Zhao had attended – did not comment on the case. However, Ms. Kwan was in her usual spot in front of the microphone. She was joined by fellow New Democrat MLA Mike Farnworth, who also had pushed for action in the case.

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She called the day bittersweet, although she said she was pleased by the outcome.

"I am delighted for the family in the sense that they got their day in court, in the sense that they received the verdict that they had been waiting for, and that they are able to begin the process of closure for the loss of their loved one," she said.

She said it was necessary to bring the family to Vancouver for a visit because "we weren't going to get answers alone. The family's voice had to be heard here on Canadian soil.

"They cried across the waters and their voices were haunting," she added.

Ms. Kwan said lessons can be learned from the ordeal, and, as she has before, she called for an extradition treaty with China.

Mr. Li's family has questioned the fairness of his trial in China, and alleged he was tortured. Ms. Kwan noted that Mr. Li had years to return to Canada to be tried here and did not.

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Based in Vancouver, Sunny has been with The Globe and Mail since November, 2010. More


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