Murdered student's parents must wait for justice

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2007, 12:00am


It would be difficult to conceive a more tragic impasse than that facing Amanda Zhao's family since her murder five years ago.

Zhao was the only child of working-class Beijing parents Yang Baoying and Zhao Zisheng.

Cashing in their life savings and borrowing money from friends and family, Zhao's parents sent her to Vancouver in 2001 to study English. They hoped that they would be able to follow.

But in October 2002, Zhao, 20, was reported missing by her boyfriend, Ang Li. The two shared a basement suite with Zhang Han, Li's cousin. All three were students.

Li told the police that Zhao went to a nearby supermarket to buy cooking oil. When she did not return after a few hours, he said he and Zhang went to look for her and then reported her missing the following day.

'I hope she will be found,' a tearful Li said outside the couple's suite a couple of days after her disappearance. 'I believe she'll be alright.'

A few weeks later, Zhao's body was found stuffed in a suitcase and dumped about 45 minutes away from the suburban basement where the three students had been living. She had been strangled.

Police had their suspicions about Li - but not enough evidence to detain him in Canada. Just days after the discovery of the body, police learned Li was flying out of the country and they rushed to the airport to talk to him, even escorting him to the departure gate as they discussed the case. But they could not stop him flying to Beijing - where, presumably, he has remained ever since.

Seven months later, he was charged in absentia with Zhao's second-degree murder. His cousin was also charged as an accessory after the fact for allegedly helping dispose of the body. Authorities had hoped that the charge against Zhang would lure Li back to Canada to defend his relative's name - presuming, of course, that Li was innocent and had nothing to fear. It didn't happen.

As Zhang's case was coming up for trial, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge threw out the charge after allegations of improper interrogation tactics. Zhang is now also free.

No one has ever been found responsible for Zhao's murder and five years later, her family's grieving continues.

Her mother, Yang Baoying, wrote a letter to the Canadian government's Department of Justice last month saying 'every day is torture'.

The Canadian government's 'cold-bloodedness, non-interest' and insecure approach to apprehending the young woman's murderer was outrageous, Ms Yang wrote in the letter on behalf of herself and her husband.

'The days of our lives are numbered. And if you don't bring justice to our daughter, we will not die in peace.'

Not only have the young woman's parents been left with no recourse, they have received little help from either their own or Canadian government.

Within Canada, there are jurisdictional squabbles about which level of government is responsible. The provincial government says it has done its part and it is now up to the federal government to pursue the matter with China.

'We have laid second-degree murder charges against Li,' says British Columbia's Attorney General, Wally Oppal. 'But there's no legal way we can bring him back here.' Canada and China have no extradition treaty.

'Don't let us wait, wait, wait forever,' her mother begged in her letter. 'There should be an end to that wait.'