Home / Challenging Anti-Asian Racism at the Cullen Commission

Challenging Anti-Asian Racism at the Cullen Commission

Person among crowd in sunglasses and a white face mask holding a black and white sign that says "#Stop Asian Hate" with a drawn fist. Two blurred people are at the foreground of image, one in black shirt.
Credit: Jason Leung

Anti-Asian racism has played a significant role in public discourse about money laundering in British Columbia. There is a disproportionate focus on money from China in news stories about money laundering and a strong tendency to conflate foreign money with dirty money. Consider, for example, the following statements from witnesses who appeared at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia:

“A glimpse into Chinese money laundering helps us understand the struggles within an authoritarian state awash with cash, and how it dumps some of its problems on countries like Canada.”[1]

“China is an authoritarian state that has lots of issues with corruption. Is the money coming into Vancouver the kind we want to be encouraging? And are we doing everything we can to make sure we leverage this investment to benefit British Columbians as much as possible? Or is this just benefiting the super-car dealerships on Burrard Street?”[2]

Some have argued that many of BC’s challenges, from unaffordable housing[3] to the overdose crisis, are caused by Chinese money laundering. The BCCLA is challenging this narrative at the Cullen Commission.    

At the hearings, we questioned witnesses and obtained evidence on two important issues. First, contrary to popular belief, foreign investment is not a major factor driving BC’s skyrocketing housing prices.[4] Second, rather than targeting money laundering and foreign ownership, the government should focus on providing subsidized housing. This is what would actually support British Columbians living in poverty and experiencing homelessness.[5]

In February 2021, Professor Henry Yu testified at the Cullen Commission and provided critical insight into how anti-Asian racism, white supremacy, and Canada’s immigration laws have shaped our conversations about “dirty money”. Professor Yu pointed out the irony of BC’s obsession with Chinese money laundering, given that the province is located on stolen Indigenous land.[6] In response to questions from the BCCLA, he provided evidence on how Asian people were historically excluded from BC’s real estate market and the real-life impacts of anti-Asian racism in public discourse about money laundering.[7] As Professor Yu explained, one of the consequences of frequent news stories about Chinese money laundering “is that we begin to see a set of people as a problem” [8], which is a slippery slope.[9]  

Following the conclusion of Professor Yu’s evidence, Commissioner Cullen said:

I think your evidence … has been very helpful in reminding us that some of the evidence that we have heard in the course of our hearings may play into racial or ethnic stereotypes instead of simply allowing us to make a careful analysis of complex issues… And I think for that I am grateful to you for your evidence.[10]

Image of elder on a bench with a blue face mask an pink bucket hat. They are holding a sign and yellow rose. The has a drawing of a three people, with flowers surrounding them, and other drawings of people in community helping each other. The sign says "Love our People, Heal our Community." They are wearing a purple jacket, with blue gloves.
Credit: Jason Leung

In April 2021, the BCCLA questioned Attorney General David Eby at the Cullen Commission about his role in a controversial study on foreign ownership. The study concluded that 66% of detached homes in Vancouver’s west side purchased in a six-month period were bought by Mainland China buyers. However, the study did not look at the citizenship or residency status of the buyers, but rather at whether they had non-anglicized Chinese names. Of course, you cannot tell someone’s citizenship or residency status from their name alone. In the course of questioning by the BCCLA, Minister Eby apologized for his participation in this study and its impact on the Chinese community.[11] He also agreed that broad statements he had made in the past about Chinese investment in Vancouver had helped perpetuate a harmful narrative that implies that foreign money is dirty money.[12]

The Cullen Commission hearings will end in July 2021. Until then, the BCCLA will continue to fight against racism and for equality at this public inquiry. 

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[1] Arthur Cockfield, “The High Price of Chinese Money Laundering”, The Globe and Mail (February 8, 2019) <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-high-price-of-chinese-money-laundering-in-canada/>; see also Cullen Commission Transcript – April 9, 2021, p. 171.  

[2] Minister David Eby quoted in Sam Cooper, “Vancouver real estate a buyers’ market — for mainland China: study” Times Colonist (November 2, 2015) <https://www.timescolonist.com/news/b-c/vancouver-real-estate-a-buyers-market-for-mainland-china-study-1.2101326>; see also Cullen Commission Transcript – April 26, 2021, p. 186.  

[3] Cullen Commission Transcript – February 18, 2021, pp. 98, 115-116, 133-138.

[4] Cullen Commission Transcript – February 17, 2021, pp. 180-186; Cullen Commission Transcript – February 18, 2021, pp. 44-46.

[5] Cullen Commission Transcript – February 18, 2021, pp. 124-126, 153-155.

[6] Cullen Commission Transcript – February 19, 2021, pp. 30, 99-100.

[7] Cullen Commission Transcript – February 19, 2021, pp. 117-129.

[8] Cullen Commission Transcript – February 19, 2021, p. 123.

[9] Cullen Commission Transcript – February 19, 2021, p. 125.

[10] Cullen Commission Transcript – February 19, 2021, p. 130.

[11] The Georgia Straight reported on this apology and the BCCLA’s cross-examination here: https://www.straight.com/news/attorney-general-david-eby-expresses-regret-over-his-role-in-2015-study-on-non-anglicized-names.

[12] Cullen Commission Transcript – April 26, 2021, pp. 181-189.