The accused in a seven-year-old murder case that shocked British Columbia and fed tensions between Beijing and Ottawa is finally behind bars in China, perhaps indicating that Chinese and Canadian have resolved a web of jurisdictional squabbles over how and where he should face trial.
Acting on evidence provided to them by the RCMP, police in China quietly moved this summer to arrest both 26-year-old Li Ang and his 26-year-old cousin, Zhang Han.
Mr. Li has long been the main suspect in the 2002 murder of his girlfriend, 21-year-old Wei (Amanda) Zhao, an English student at Coquitlam College. Mr. Li reported Ms. Zhao missing in October of that year, 11 days before hikers found her body stuffed in a duffel bag in the woods near Mission, B.C. She had been strangled.
Mr. Li, who fled to China two days after the body was discovered, was charged in absentia with second-degree murder seven months later. Mr. Zhang, who initially remained in Canada, pleaded guilty to charges of helping dispose of the body, though a Vancouver judge later threw out his confession on the grounds it had been improperly obtained.
Like Ms. Zhao, Mr. Li and Mr. Zhang are Chinese nationals who had come to Canada to study. The three had shared a basement apartment in Burnaby before the killing.
What charges the two men will face in China isn't clear, nor is it plain why the arrests have been kept quiet by both countries. The RCMP had for years been hesitant to co-operate with Chinese authorities over fears that Mr. Li might face the death penalty if he were tried and convicted in China. Canada and the RCMP have also claimed jurisdiction in the case from the beginning, and repeatedly requested that China arrest Mr. Li and send him back to Canada.
Those quarrels appear to have subsided for now. Ms. Zhao's mother, Yang Baoying, said that it was the Yves Goupil, the RCMP attaché at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, who informed her that Mr. Li and Mr. Zhang had been arrested. Though Mr. Goupil and the embassy declined to comment, Ms. Yang said she believed there would have been no progress in the case without Mr. Goupil's personal efforts.
“He really did a lot. Without his work, the Canadian government would probably still be doubting China [over the death penalty]” Ms. Yang said in an interview with The Globe and Mail and CTV in Beijing. Nonetheless, news of the arrests did little to ease the pain of a grieving mother.
“After I heard this message, I was pretty calm. Why? Because even if he is chopped into muddy flesh, it won't ease my hatred. Two gold mountains can't bring back my child. My child ... was the ultimate goal of my life. So after I heard this news, I didn't feel shocked or excited or ... I felt it was a natural result.”
The arrests came after Chinese police travelled to Vancouver in January to meet with RCMP investigators and review evidence related to the case. That visit followed a highly unusual trip by RCMP investigators to Beijing last fall.
No trial date has been publicly announced, but Ms. Yang said she has already been asked for a written testimony, akin to a victim impact statement, which she gave in July. A faxed list of questions sent by The Globe and Mail to the Beijing Public Security Bureau went unanswered today.
Ms. Yang said she was told that Mr. Li was arrested in June and Mr. Zhang a month later. Even with the two men behind bars, Ms. Yang said she expects her struggle to bring her daughter's killers to justice is far from over. She said Mr. Li's parents are high-ranking officials in the Chinese security establishment – his father is a senior military officer, while his mother works for the Ministry of Public Security – and she says they have already been meddling in the case to stave off a prosecution. Ms. Yang, a schoolteacher who lives with her unemployed husband in a modest home on Beijing's outskirts, said she expects the Li family will try to use their influence to affect any trial or possible sentencing.
“What I'm worried is after the judgment, when the trial proceedings have ended, whether they will do something in the shadows,” the 63-year-old Ms. Yang said, her voice firm even as her hands shook in her lap. “Why? Because of his family background. His family has at least two or more senior officers in the armed forces … generals and higher.”
But Ms. Yang, a diminutive but fiery woman who made a dramatic trip to Canada last year to plead with officials to end their jurisdictional quarrels and focus on prosecuting her daughter's killer, saved some of her harshest words for the Canadian government. She dismissed Ottawa's concerns about the possibility of a death penalty verdict and accused Canadian officials of using her daughter's case as a “bargaining chip” during a period when Canada-China relations were particularly rocky.
“I am just a very ordinary, very ordinary person. I don't think the Canadian government would have treated the case this way if I were a high-ranking official.”
At a Vancouver press conference Tuesday morning, NDP MLA Jenny Kwan said that under the agreement Canada and China have reached, the death penalty is off the table.