‘Problematic’ group doesn’t reflect B.C.’s Korean Canadian community: ambassador


By Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Vancouver: South Korea’s top diplomat to Western Canada is encouraging Vancouver’s Korean-Canadian community to take action against a handful of “problematic people” involved in a bitter legal battle over the leadership of a Lower Mainland cultural group.

Consul General Kie Cheon Lee is speaking out about a long-standing power struggle over who leads the Korean Society of B.C. for Fraternity and Culture, and said the dispute reflects poorly, and unfairly, on the community as a whole.

“About 15 to 20 problematic Korean Canadians are damaging the reputation of the entire Korean-Canadian community,” said Lee.

The society oversees programs for its members, such as English lessons and computer classes, and also hosts social events and sports lessons at its community centre near the Downtown Eastside.

Over the years, more than a dozen members of the civic association have volleyed a litany of competing lawsuits against one another, with accusations ranging from libel to embezzlement to fraud.

Allegations contained in the series of lawsuits have not been proven in court.

The Canadian Press reported late last month about the society’s legal wranglings. Since then, Lee said he has broached the topic three times while speaking at events throughout Metro Vancouver.

Korean Canadians feel ashamed about the story reaching mainstream media because it shines a spotlight on divisiveness in the community, he said.

As a representative of the Korean government, he stressed that the responsibility to bring about change doesn’t fall to him but rather to the local community members.

“It’s your duty to get rid of problematic people,” Lee said, addressing his comment to Korean-Canadian Vancouverites.

The small group in question has been operating for so long now _ 20 to 30 years _ that the dispute has become an entrenched part of Vancouver’s Korean-Canadian community dynamics, he said.

Lee described the Vancouver situation as uniquely divisive, adding that Calgary’s Korean cultural society is considered one of the most exemplary Korean groups in North America.

Tristin Lee, a lawyer and active volunteer in B.C.’s Korean-Canadian community who moved to Canada when she was 14, said it was sad for her _ as someone of Korean descent _ to see the dispute highlighted in mainstream media.

“I really do believe it’s a small group of people,” she said.

“I think it’s a generational issue. Not only is it generational, it’s really, unfortunately, a couple individuals who didn’t see eye to eye.”

Andrew Kim, a next-generation leader among Vancouver’s Korean Canadians, said he felt a sense of shame when he read the article but also insisted the group did not represent the broader community.

“My own personal response was, ‘Oh, damn it, we’ve been found out. Mainstream Canadian society knows what’s going on,”’ he said.

“But at the same time, I don’t think most of us associate ourselves with the inner politics of that group.”

Kim spoke of a generation gap, highlighting the difference between the handful of members involved in the Korean Society of B.C. for Fraternity and Culture and younger generations participating in other cultural associations.

“As much as I am a Canadian, being Korean is important to me too, and how Korean-Canadian society is portrayed in the Canadian media is of some concern to me,” said Kim, who came to Canada in 1994 at the age of nine.

He’s at the forefront of a push to create the Konnect Community Foundation, an alternative Korean-Canadian organization targeting a younger generation and focused on volunteerism and charity. The group is expected to launch in 2016.

“There are (Korean Canadians) doing good things individually. Why not unite them?” he said, explaining the motivation behind establishing the group. “It’s as simple as that.”


© 2015 The Canadian Press