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Chinese couple to visit B.C. to seek answers in daughter's death

For nearly six years, the parents of Amanda Zhao, a young Chinese student murdered in Burnaby, have been waiting for answers and waiting for justice.

Not only have they suffered the anguish of losing their only daughter, the chief suspect in the murder remains free as a bird in China because of a protracted jurisdictional dispute between Canadian and Chinese authorities.

Early next month, Yang Baoying and Zhao Zisheng, Ms. Zhao's mother and father, will leave their home in a remote Beijing suburb for the long journey to Canada to search for resolution of the impasse and some closure.

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But Ms. Yang says she and her husband are coming with a heavy heart.

In a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Yang talked about their bitterness over Canada's role in the matter, particularly the refusal to co-operate with Chinese police to allow them to pursue the case in China.

"I don't even like to speak about it, because we have been listening to the same thing for almost six years," Ms. Yang said. "A simple criminal case is delayed and turned into a complicated, political issue between the two countries. And I think Canada should take the blame.

"Canada seems intent to delay and play down the case," the 62-year-old retired teacher said quietly. "We are very hurt and very exhausted. My husband and I have only a short life left, and we are afraid we will never see this case decided."

Nothing has gone right in the case since Amanda Zhao, a 21-year old student taking courses in Port Coquitlam, was reported missing by her live-in boyfriend, 19-year-old Li Ang. Mr. Li told police she had left their basement apartment in Burnaby at 10 p.m. on the night of Oct. 6, 2002, to walk 10 blocks to a supermarket to buy cooking oil.

Eleven days later, her body was found stuffed in a suitcase near Stave Lake in the Fraser Valley. Three days after that, Mr. Li, then a student at Simon Fraser University, was allowed to return to China.

On May 12, 2003, Mr. Li was charged in absentia with second-degree murder, after his cousin confessed to helping him dump Ms. Zhao's body. The cousin was subsequently acquitted of being an accessory to murder, when the trial judge threw out his confession because of improper police questioning.

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Canada has asked China to send Mr. Li back to stand trial here, but China argues that the case is theirs to prosecute because it involves two Chinese nationals. They have sought permission to send detectives to Canada to investigate the murder. Canadian officials have refused. Neither country has budged, despite the passage of time.

But Ms. Yang said that Mr. Li should be tried in China, because he is Chinese and currently lives there.

"China has Chinese law, and Canada has Canadian law, but no matter what the law is, the murderer should be punished. If you let criminals escape punishment, what use is the law?" she argued. "Canada is being too dogmatic."

The parents' airfare and accommodation during their expected two-week stay in Canada are being covered by two local Chinese charities. Their visas were paid for by NDP MLAs Jenny Kwan and Mike Farnworth, who have taken up their cause.

A meeting has been set with Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson and Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney.

"I don't know what will come out of the meeting, but it will be good for everyone to see each other face-to-face," Ms. Kwan said. "I am astounded at the lack of answers the family has received so far. They need to have closure. They deserve better than this."

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Ms. Yang said she does not know what to expect from their Canadian visit.

"We are hopeful there may be some progress and some help for us, but we are just not sure."

Li Junjun, Ms. Zhao's cousin who will accompany the couple on their trip, added: "In the beginning, we had a lot of hope. Now, after such a long time, we really feel helpless."

Ms. Li said the tragedy and ongoing frustration have taken a terrible toll on the couple. "They spend most of their time alone. They are afraid, when they meet other people, that someone will mention their daughter, and the topic is still so painful for them."

Adding to the couple's woes is their recent forced eviction, with little compensation, from their Beijing home, which has since been demolished. They have had to move to a distant suburban residence provided by a relative, with few amenities.

"We feel our situation is very unfortunate," Ms. Yang said. "In addition to my daughter's death, the house is another sad issue for us. I don't want to talk about it. It's too painful."

Ms. Yang said she and her husband are not anxious to spend a long time in Canada. "It's hard to explain, but after all, that country is a heartbreaking place for us."

With a report from Yu Mei in Beijing

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