Powerful pair speak the same language

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2007, 12:00am


Asked to say a few words in Chinese, Vancouver's next police chief deferred to the mayor.

It wasn't the first time he had been in the company of a Caucasian who spoke better Chinese than him, Jim Chu admitted wryly.

Currently, the deputy chief in the 1,100-member police force, Mr Chu's appointment as the city's top cop, effective in August, means he will become the first Chinese-Canadian chief of a major municipal police force.

But Mr Chu, 47, who joined the force when he was 19, insists he is an officer first. His ethnicity comes second. In fact, Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan was the first to mention Mr Chu's ethnicity, in remarks on the appointment he delivered in Cantonese. Mr Sullivan learned Cantonese to help him connect with the 30 per cent of Vancouver's population who speak Chinese as a mother tongue.

City insiders have hinted that the mayor, who is also chairman of the Vancouver Police Board, was keen to be at the helm when the city appointed its first police chief with a non-Caucasian background.

There were two other internal candidates for the position, both senior officers with higher public profiles than Mr Chu. While the public got to know the other candidates through press briefings on high-profile criminal cases, Mr Chu was quietly working on the administrative side as head of the police operations department.

'When I joined the police department, there were only two officers of Chinese descent,' he said. 'It's changed a lot since then.'

Today, there are more than 80 police officers with Chinese backgrounds. Some have been born in Canada, some are immigrants who arrived recently and some, like Mr Chu, who emigrated as young children with their parents.

Mr Chu grew up in Vancouver after his parents came from Shanghai when he was three.

He played down the significance of his ethnicity, but praised his parents for the years of struggle they endured. The family lived in east Vancouver, where his father drove a taxi and fixed typewriters and calculators to earn a living.

Chief Jamie Graham has had a rocky relationship with the mayor, whose ruling party rejected his request for more officers earlier this year. While Mr Sullivan and Chief Graham publicly say they have a good working relationship, their actions tell a different story.

Both men have initiated investigations against the other after allegations of wrongdoing - the mayor for admitting he once gave money to a prostitute to buy drugs and the chief over a corporate sponsor's donation to a police conference. Neither investigation amounted to anything.

After their disastrous relationship, anything will be better.

In choosing Mr Chu, Mr Sullivan picked a man with a similar outlook to his own.

Their personalities are also much more evenly matched. Mr Sullivan likes to say that he succeeds by constantly being under-estimated by his opponents - and he likely sees a bit of himself in Mr Chu.

Both men cite public safety as their main priority. The mayor wants to reduce homelessness and public disorder, and he can't do that without a police chief on his side. Now that Mr Chu has been chosen, his job is to convince Mr Sullivan to loosen the purse strings to hire more officers.