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NDP demands action on Zhao slaying Add to ...

Thousands of Chinese students head to Canadian schools every year, clutching their parents' hard-earned savings, hoping to better themselves and the lot of their family.

Amanda Zhao, a soft-spoken, 20-year-old from Beijing, was among the annual flood of Chinese students in 2001. Instead of a rosier future, however, she found death.

Ms. Zhao was strangled Oct. 9, 2002, in the small Burnaby apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Ang Li, who told police she had gone out late at night to purchase some cooking oil. Two weeks later, her body was discovered in a large bag tossed into some woods near Stave Lake in the Fraser Valley.

Seven months after that, Mr. Li, also a Chinese student, was charged with Ms. Zhao's murder. But by then, he had long since fled to China, where he remains free thanks to an unseemly jurisdictional squabble between Canada and the People's Republic of China.

Yesterday, elected NDP representatives from both the federal and provincial wings of the party said it was time for Ottawa to get serious about the heartbreaking case, which has devastated Ms. Zhao's poverty-stricken family back in Beijing.

"Frankly, we are quite appalled that more than five years have gone by since the murder," said Burnaby-Douglas MP Bill Siskay.

"The government needs to get its act together. This is about justice, justice for Amanda Zhao and her family."

Noting that Canada wants Mr. Li returned to Canada to stand trial, while China insists that, as a Chinese citizen, he must be tried there, the NDP members demanded that Canadian officials vigorously step up their efforts to resolve the impasse.

"As far as we can tell, they've done absolutely nothing on this file," said federal NDP House Leader Libby Davies. "This is a complicated matter, but it's not unresolvable. The Canadian government should be pressing very hard on this case, and we intend to keep up the pressure on them."

MLA Jenny Kwan said the matter has been further complicated by federal and provincial buck-passing.

She was referring to earlier comments by federal Public Security Minister Stockwell Day, who claimed the case is a provincial responsibility.

B.C. Solicitor-General John Les fired back that, with the prime suspect ensconced in China, it is the job of the federal government to negotiate his return to Canada.

"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?" Ms. Kwan demanded.

Inquiries to Mr. Day's office yesterday were referred to the federal Justice Department.

Spokesman Chris Girouard said the department "shares the goal of bringing the alleged perpetrator to justice" in the Zhao case.

But he refused to shed any light on whether Canada has ever formally asked China to send Mr. Li here for trial. "I cannot confirm or deny that. We adhere to state-to-state confidentiality."

Chinese authorities have been less reluctant to speak about the matter.

In the past, they have asked Canada to provide information that would permit them to prosecute Mr. Li in China, and, at one point, they asked for permission to send their own investigators to Burnaby to look for evidence.

Citing state-to-state confidentiality once more, Mr. Girouard would not say if the request was granted.

Because there is no extradition treaty between Canada and China, it is necessary for Canada to reach a special agreement with Chinese officials on Mr. Li's fate, the group of NDP politicians told reporters.

"But we have very grave concerns [that this is not a priority with the federal government]" Mr. Siskay said. "Their response to date has been very inadequate."

In the meantime, Ms. Zhao's parents, who scraped together $60,000 to send their only child to Canada, remain emotionally and financially devastated by their daughter's murder.

Their pain has been made worse by the fact that Mr. Li remains at large, with neither country putting him on trial.

Ms. Kwan said she has asked the province's victim compensation fund to assist the murdered student's family to come to Canada to seek answers from federal officials.

"Instead of their daughter coming home with a better life, her daughter came home in a body bag," Ms. Kwan said. "It's extraordinary that they feel they have to come all the way to Canada to pursue justice for their daughter."

In a bitter letter sent last month to the federal Department of Justice, Ms. Zhao's mother said she was outraged by "your cold-bloodedness, your non-interest and no-sincerity approach to apprehending the murderer.

"Every day is a torture," she wrote.

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