Equality official under fire for helping church to oppose reform of anti-discrimination laws

Josiah Chok provided sample letters and urged churchgoers to 'offset' lobbying by gay-rights groups during public consultation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 6:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 12:01pm

A top official at the equality watchdog has been stripped of his role in a review of anti-discrimination laws after it was reported he organised members of his church to make submissions to the consultation to counter those by gay rights supporters.

The Equal Opportunities Commission will also launch an internal investigation after Apple Daily revealed that Josiah Chok Kin-ming, its chief equal opportunities officer, spoke at a church forum and handed out sample letters of opposition to reform.

The reports left gay rights groups outraged, and one called on Chok to quit.

An EOC spokeswoman said the decision was made "in order to alleviate public concerns regarding a possible conflict of interest, or queries regarding the EOC facilitators' impartiality in our Discrimination Law Reform public consultation".

Chok's views did not reflect those of the EOC, she said, adding that the body was trying to find out exactly what was said at the August 16 forum.

The EOC last month launched a three-month consultation on proposals to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of marital and residency status. It did not include legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation - subject to a separate study in which Chok is not involved - though gay rights groups had made submissions in support of some of the proposals.

Chok reportedly told churchgoers that the draft laws discriminated against chuch groups. He later told reporters his comments were his own opinion and did not conflict with his role at the EOC.

Commission convenor Dr John Tse Wing-ling said Chok's behaviour was "inappropriate" and that there was an obvious conflict of interest.

"A top official's job is to collect public opinion, not to create and to organise opinions," Tse said.

Tse said an official should never comment in public on a matter that was subject to consultation, and that a church forum was clearly a public occasion. "A top official does not have personal opinions on public occasions," said Tse. "What was done was … inappropriate."

Gay advocacy group the Big Love Alliance urged Chok to quit.

"This personal interest of his would make the public consultation biased," group ambassador and singer Anthony Wong Yiu-ming said. Although Chok had stressed he attended the church forum in a personal capacity, his action was in clear conflict with his role at the equality watchdog, added Brian Leung Siu-fai the groups chief campaigner.

Wylie Yeo Wai-wai, of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group Women Coalition, demanded that the EOC make the results of its investigation public and decide on whether Chok should be fired.

Lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan said she would raise the matter at the Legislative Council's constitutional affairs committee.