TORONTO—Anger has erupted in Toronto’s Chinese community
after news that money donated in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake sat in
a local bank account for nearly four months.
A local Chinese organization—the National
Congress of Chinese Canadians (NCCC)—has been under fire for holding onto
roughly $1.1 million in donations, and questions are being raised about why the
group had not put the money to use earlier.
A 7.9 magnitude earthquake devastated parts
of central China when it struck Sichuan Province on May 12. Over 70,000 are
believed to have died, many of them school children. The quake was felt 1500 km
away in Beijing.
The NCCC, a nationwide pro-Beijing
association, responded quickly after the quake. With the help of Toronto Liberal
Member of Parliament Jim Karygiannis, the group was able to gain temporary
charitable status from Revenue Canada just 12 days after the disaster hit, on
May 24. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) even agreed to
Karygiannis joined leaders of the NCCC and
officials from the Toronto Chinese consulate at a press conference to announce
the donation drive. The consulate endorsed the effort.
With the charity in place, the NCCC soon
collected $1.3 million, much of it from individual donors. The group sent
medical supplies and 2,400 tents to China, but the rest of the money sat in an
account at the Toronto branch of the Bank of China, a Chinese state-owned bank
of which NCCC executive Ping Tan is a board member.
But as weeks and months passed, donors began
to raise questions about what had happened to the funds. Those questions soon
turned to sharp criticisms.
"How can you expect anything from these
people?" wrote one participant in a Chinese-language chat room.
"The rebuilding after the earthquake is close
to finished, yet they still have 80 per cent of the donations in their account,"
wrote another. "The relief fund was like saving people's lives. I cannot
understand what was in their minds."
Many others expressed similar views
A well-known Toronto Chinese charity
fundraiser was among those to raise concern. Helen Lu, a member of the Order of
Ontario and recipient of the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship says she
can’t understand why the money was held for so long.
"If you have a fundraiser you have to right
away give the money," she said.
Lu, who raises funds for the Heart and Stroke
Foundation, United Way, and other organizations, says she normally sends her
donations onto to recipients within a week.
Lu declined to offer her opinion of the NCCC
but said she questioned where the organization gets its influence. She says she
turned down an offer to serve as a consultant to the NCCC in its donation drive.
She’s now concerned that the controversy may
deter Chinese donors from contributing to other charities.
"It will make people think next time, and
worry that someone will keep the money," she said. "How come the money was still
in Canada? It was supposed to go to China a long long time ago."
The Epoch Times put
that question to Ping Tan, the NCCC executive leading the Sichuan donation
"I don’t have to tell you," Tan answered,
when reached by phone Wednesday.
He told an Epoch
Times reporter to refer to Chinese media reports.
But Chinese-language media reports appear to
leave many questions unanswered. The Global Chinese Press quotes Tan as saying
the delay came about because fundraising is complex and the nine-member
foundation committee was busy with their own work.
Accusations in Chinese Press
Other reports were searing
One article on September 8, North America Weekly Times, a
Toronto Chinese newspaper, quoted sources saying the NCCC originally intended to
invest it in Sichuan, a charge Tan later denied.
In fact, in early September a storm of
criticism began brewing in local Chinese-language press and chat rooms, where
many expressed anger that their donations had not been put to use.
But as the controversy mounted, Tan was
nowhere to be found. He was on a month-long trip to China, which included
attending the Beijing Olympic Games.
After the Olympics, Tan made a trip to
Sichuan and, according to reports, spent at least one day investigating
conditions in earthquake-torn areas.
Tan returned to Canada on Sept. 5. A day
later, Tan and the other leaders of the National Congress’s Sichuan earthquake
committee met to discuss what to do with the funds, reports said.
On Sept. 9, eight of the nine fund executives
were present at a press conference where they announced the money would be
donated to the Red Cross of China by way of the Canadian Red Cross.
On Sept. 13, at an event in Montreal the NCCC
presented a cheque for $1.1 million to the Red Cross. Ping Tan also presented an
award to MP Jim Karygiannis.
"When the Congress called on him for help, he
was there right away," Ping Tan is quoted as saying in a post that appears at
the top of Karygiannis’s election website. "He devoted considerable time and
energy to help us mount the Canada-wide relief effort."
Karygiannis’s website makes no mention of the
controversy that surrounded the donations and he did not return phone calls from
The Epoch Times as of press time.
Reached Wednesday, a Red Cross spokesperson
declined to comment on whether the delay in sending the funds was unusual, but
she noted the money would "be put to use immediately."
Nonetheless, some in the Chinese community
remain upset. Some say they contributed to the NCCC because they were concerned
of corruption in the Chinese Red Cross, where the money will now be transferred.
were left wondering why, if the NCCC had intended to donate the funds to the Red
Cross, they had waited so long to do it.