Give York Chow a fair chance

Alice Wu says everyone deserves a fair chance, uncoloured by bias, not least the head of our Equal Opportunities Commission

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 2:04am

Three years ago, when Lam Woon-kwong was appointed the head of the Equal Opportunities Commission, he was criticised for his close links to the government and his lack of some sort of human rights credentials. Now that he has concluded his tenure at one of the most controversial positions in local politics, it's fair to say that those criticisms were unfair, to say the least.

Was it surprising that he turned out to be one of the least controversial? Yes, he had had his own personal dramas, but he managed mostly to keep them away from his office in government. And in hindsight, he seemed the most "human" of all prior chiefs of the commission.

The commission has seen its share of controversies, including the discovery of spending irregularities by Lam's predecessor, and a series of scandals related to a former chief's firing of a senior aide.

For the most part of his little-more-than three years at the helm, Lam was able to steer the spotlight away from the commission itself and back onto its work. He was vocal, especially on gay rights, and critical of government policies (most memorably calling budget handouts "poisons"). In this sense, Lam left an even more significant legacy: proving critics wrong, that a government background is not necessarily an obstacle to the commission's work.

When his successor, former secretary for food and health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, was appointed, we heard the same criticisms from the same people - that Dr Chow didn't have human rights credentials, and that he was too close to the government to be "watchdog" material.

And yet, on the first day of his new post, he took on the flaming hot issue of voting rights and stood against political heavyweight Maria Tam Wai-chu, insisting that the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does apply to Hong Kong, weighed in on the milk-powder restriction controversy and criticised the government for failing to meet the educational needs of ethnic minority students.

The doctor is also ready to dispel the "belief" that his faith will hurt gay rights. This "belief" itself may be a sort of religious discrimination, treating Dr Chow unfavourably because of his Christian views. Assuming that Dr Chow would side with a preconceived stance is a bias and a prejudice.

And Dr Chow knows he is not an anomaly - Reverend Phyllis Wong and Reverend Maggie Mathieson's letter to the editor affirmed their stance for equal rights for people of different sexual orientations and explicitly supported anti-discrimination legislation that upholds inherent dignity. Championing gay rights by antagonising Dr Chow because of his faith, based on nothing more than stereotypes and assumptions, draws attention away from the real work at hand.

And who knows, Dr Chow, with his faith, may just be the right person for the job, if he is given the time and room to do it. So for the rest of us, the big lesson here continues to be this: don't assume. That is the perhaps the greatest obstacle to equality.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA