B.C. premier asked to remove retired judge from Chinese-Canadian committee following Uyghur comments

·4 min read
Bill Yee, left, pictured in 2015 in Vancouver at a Chinatown Merchants Association dinner with Suzanne Anton, British Columbia's former attorney general and minister of justice. (Suzanne Anton/Twitter - image credit)
Bill Yee, left, pictured in 2015 in Vancouver at a Chinatown Merchants Association dinner with Suzanne Anton, British Columbia's former attorney general and minister of justice. (Suzanne Anton/Twitter - image credit)

UPDATE: Bill Yee will not be seeking reappointment to B.C.'s Chinese-Canadian Community Advisory Committee, according to a written statement released Thursday by B.C. Minister of State for Trade George Chow. Yee's term ended in February.

A group of prominent Chinese-Canadians in B.C. is asking the premier to remove a retired judge and lawyer from a provincial advisory committee after he said in a radio interview that Canada's response to the treatment of ethnic Muslim minority Uyghurs in China is not based on fact.

"Our open letter expresses our great concern about Bill Yee's comments," said Victor Ho, a signatory to the letter sent to Premier John Horgan. Ho is the founder of a web-based company in Vancouver and the former editor in chief of the Sing Tao Daily newspaper in Vancouver.

Andrea Chun, a host with Toronto-based Chinese-language radio station A-1, confirmed that she interviewed Bill Yee on March 30 in Cantonese about Canada-China relations and Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

In the interview, Yee denied that genocide was being committed against Uyghurs by the Chinese government.

'Lies'

"These talks about genocide are completely not factual," reads a translation of the interview. "They use these lies, and those politicians, what kind of legal [facts] can prove China has committed genocide, those actions, those policies? None. That doesn't make sense at all."

Yee was introduced before the interview as a member of B.C.'s Chinese-Canadian Community Advisory Committee.

The committee was formed in 2018 by Horgan to assist the province in strengthening social, economic and cultural ties among members of the Chinese diaspora in B.C. and around the globe.

Yee is also a retired provincial judge, lawyer, and former Vancouver city councillor. He sits on the board of directors for the Chinese Canadian Museum.

On the radio program he was asked about Canadian MPs passing a motion in February that says China's actions in its western Xinjiang region meet the definition of genocide set out in the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention.

In late March, Canada joined the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union in placing sanctions on Chinese officials suspected of involvement in a years-long campaign of persecution against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang province.

The Chinese state is accused of arbitrarily imprisoning more than one million people on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, and for subjecting them to political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilization.

China has denied all reports of human rights abuses in the region, claiming the camps are vocational training centres needed to fight extremism.

People gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 22 to protest the Chinese government's treatment of the Uyghur minority in China.
People gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 22 to protest the Chinese government's treatment of the Uyghur minority in China.(Andrew Lee/CBC)

In response to Canadian actions on the Uyghur issue, Yee said in Cantonese during the radio interview that Canada's actions were not based on fact and that some Canadian politicians have an ulterior motive, such as trade with China, for the motion and the sanctions.

Yee also criticized Canadian politicians in the interview, saying Western politicians did not know where Xinjiang province was and had never been there.

He did express support for a United Nations delegation to travel to the region to study and observe the treatment of Uyghur people.

Ho said he and the other 12 signatories to the letter are outraged over Yee's comments, saying he is a "vital" public figure and his views don't represent the majority of Chinese-Canadians in B.C. and their views on human rights.

"We are urging the premier, just take out this guy from your advisory committee because that remark indicates he has no credibility … these remarks will make our Chinese community look very, very bad in Canada."

CBC News attempted to contact Yee through the Chinese Canadian Museum, but has yet to receive a response.

Comments 'concerning'

B.C.'s minister of state for trade, George Chow, responded to the letter by saying that Yee's comment are "concerning."

In a written statement he said the province supports Ottawa's position on the Uyghur issue and that Yee was expressing a personal opinion in the interview.

"We have asked Mr. Yee to clearly distinguish his personal opinions from that of the work of the Chinese Canadian Community Advisory Committee," said Chow's statement.

Appointments to the advisory committee are one year in length and those of the latest term have expired in February. Chow's statement did not say whether Yee would sit for a new term.

Chow said the province is reviewing what the committee will be working on for the year ahead, which includes canvassing outgoing members about their opinions.