Canadian Consulting Engineer

Crusader

"Before 1989 I was pretty happy to be just an engineer and a common Canadian -- not doing a whole lot about anything," says Bill Chu, P.Eng. "But a reckoning came at that point."The pivotal event Chu ...

January 1, 2001  Canadian Consulting Engineer

“Before 1989 I was pretty happy to be just an engineer and a common Canadian — not doing a whole lot about anything,” says Bill Chu, P.Eng. “But a reckoning came at that point.”

The pivotal event Chu refers to is the Tiananmen Square uprising in Beijing. He doesn’t see himself as a social activist, and certainly not one of any particular political stripe. Yet ever since he mobilized a protest and memorial around that tragic massacre, Chu has been on the front lines fighting for various causes.

Head of civil and structural engineering at Fransen Engineering in Richmond, B.C., Chu has lived in Canada most of his life since graduating from California State Polytechnic University in 1972. However, he was born in Canton and raised in Hong Kong, so when the Chinese troops started rolling out tanks against the unarmed youths demonstrating for democracy in Tiananmen Square, Chu was naturally on the alert. Before the soldiers fired a shot, he and others in the Chinese Christians in Action movement organized a march through Vancouver’s Chinatown. Then, after the June 12 massacre they held a memorial service at St. John’s Shaughnessy, one of the largest churches in Vancouver. More than 6,000 people showed up. Chu recalls that the crowd was overflowing into the streets and says it was at that moment he felt the need to do more. “That was the first time I felt that we have a duty to the people, to the bigger community.”

One of the causes that Chu has taken to heart is the struggle of native Canadians. His involvement started in 1990 when he heard of the confrontation between natives and a logging company on a reserve in Mount Currie, B.C. “We went up there to take a look for ourselves,” he says. What they saw — the poverty and conditions — profoundly disturbed him. The experience started a long and continuing relationship with the Lil’Wat people. He still takes bus groups to Mount Currie to spend the day, most recently a group from a local theological college. They eat together and listen to the native people tell stories.

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Another of his crusades has been against gambling. In late 1997, he and others in Chinese Christians in Action (Chu is the organization’s chair) succeeded in persuading the town councils of Burnaby and Richmond to reverse their decisions to allow the building of large new casinos. Chu says their group polled 5,000 people from a cross-section of the community and found that people in both cities (around 85% in both) were overwhelmingly against the expansion of gambling.

According to 1990 statistics, says Chu, pathological gamblers made up 3.5 per cent of the population in B.C. and 5.6 per cent in Alberta. But the problem extends much wider, he says: “Remember each of these guys will affect their families, their employers, employees, friends, relatives. So each one probably affects 15 to 20 people.”

It is Chu’s religious convictions that drive him on to crusade against what he perceives as the forces of “deconstruction” in society. “There are obviously Christian principles behind me — the knowledge that we are supposed to love our neighbours, and that love should express itself in some concrete form. It should extend not just to being nice guys but also sometimes to challenging the evils around us,” he says.

And he believes engineers have to accept moral responsibility for their actions. “I just hope,” he says, “that engineers should not see themselves solely as technocrats, that we also try to solve problems in other dimensions. It is only in that sense that we can help to improve our image as professionals.”BRONWEN LEDGER

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