British Columbia

B.C. student's accused killer to start Beijing trial

The trial of a Chinese national accused of killing an international student in Burnaby, B.C., nearly a decade ago is set to begin on Tuesday in Beijing.
Amanda Zhao, 20, had been studying English in B.C. for 15 months when she disappeared. (CBC)

The trial of a Chinese national accused of killing an international student in Burnaby, B.C., nearly a decade ago is set to begin on Tuesday in Beijing, Chinese authorities say.

Ang Li is scheduled to appear before the Beijing People's First Middle Court on Tuesday to face a charge of murder in the death of Amanda Zhao, according to two NDP MLAs from British Columbia who have been active in the case.

Zhao, 20, was reported missing on Oct. 9, 2002. Hikers found her body 11 days later, stuffed in a suitcase in a wooded area near Mission, B.C., about 80 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Li, her boyfriend, was the prime suspect, but he left for China soon after her body was discovered.

For nearly a decade, Zhao's family has pleaded with both Canadian and Chinese authorities for justice, said NDP MLA Jenny Kwan.

"They've waited nine years since the death of their daughter to finally get their day in court," said Kwan, who broke the news of the forthcoming trial on Monday in Vancouver.

The case was caught in legal limbo until recently, as Canada and China wrangled over jurisdiction and human rights issues. Canada demanded China waive the death penalty before Canadian authorities would share evidence against the accused.

NDP MLA Mike Farnworth said once China agreed the death penalty would not apply, everything changed.

"That paved the way for the sharing of information, the evidence with Chinese officials and that's resulting in the decision to go ahead with the trial in China and the real prospect of justice for the Zhao family," said Farnworth.

The two NDP MLAs were active in keeping the investigation alive past international roadblocks, and helped bring Zhao's family to Canada to plead for justice.

In 2009, police in China arrested Ang Li and Zhang Han, Li's cousin, based on evidence provided to them by the RCMP.

Han, who shared the apartment with Zhao and Li, had pleaded guilty in a B.C. court to being an accessory after the fact for helping dispose of Zhao's body, but a Vancouver judge threw out his confession. He then returned to China.

Came to Canada to study English

Zhao came to B.C. from China to learn English and had studied in Vancouver for about 15 months when she went missing in 2002.

Li said his girlfriend went to the grocery store and never came back. At the time, Li blamed himself for her disappearance when he spoke to reporters.

"It's my fault not to accompany with her to the Safeway," Li said at the time.

When hikers found the young woman's body, Li fled back to China.

An autopsy determined Zhao had been strangled. Li was charged with second-degree murder but could not be brought back to Canada to face the charge because China and Canada do not have an extradition treaty.