Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada's Exclusion Era, 1885-1945

By Lisa Rose Mar | Go to book overview

TWO
Arguing Cases
Legal Interpreters, Law, and Society

IN 1924, DAVID LEW’S CHIEF profession as a legal broker made his murder fascinating and worrisome to British Columbians. Canadians prided themselves on a justice system based on British fair play, but the investigation cast an uncomfortable light on apparent contradictions between legal ideals and local practice. On the night of 24 September 1924, at the corner of East Pender and Carrall streets in Vancouver, a Chinese man dressed in black stepped from the shadows, shot Lew dead in the street, and then fled. Shortly after the killing, rumors started that a powerful Chinatown faction had ordered his death. Witnesses were afraid to speak with police. The sheer number of suspects produced months of coverage in Vancouver’s Chineseand English-language press. Lew’s sudden end left many mysteries, but it also exposed evidence that highlights the controversial power he had accrued as a legal mediator between Chinese and Anglo Canadian society. As British Columbians discussed Lew’s life, they interpreted him as a leader who had for decades wielded a partly hidden power that influenced both the Chinese and Anglo communities.1

The story of Lew’s work as a legal broker contributes a new vision of Chinese initiative in Canadian and U.S. legal history. It extends Canadian legal history into new spaces of Chinese-Anglo relations and allows us to explore Chinese legal brokers’ daily work and Chinese migrants’ negotiations within the Pacific world. David Lew’s case also represents an often overlooked part of legal personnel history: the ethnic and immigrant interpreters who acted as legal experts.2 In British Columbia, Asians and First Nations

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