BC ministry attempts to seize Chinese Canadian’s China drivers licenses


Edward Woo visited his ancestral home and flew a drone in Hoi Ping (Kaiping), Guangdong, China. Hoi Ping is the hometown of many early Chinese settlers in Canada who had to pay a head tax and faced discrimination in the Province of British Columbia. Image Credit: Edward Woo

Written by: Aidan Jonah

A Chinese Canadian based in Vancouver, stuck in Hong Kong, China, says he’s the victim of hostile Canadian attitudes towards China, as a British Columbia (BC) government ministry refuses to grant him a BC driver’s license. They seek to force him to surrender both his Hong Kong physical and Mainland China digital driver’s licenses and have blocked him from renewing them while out of BC.

Edward Woo, currently in Hong Kong, China, was seeking to return to his home province, British Columbia, after being out of Canada for business. Since 2013, Woo has regularly traveled between British Columbia and Hong Kong. In the two times before – 2013 and 2018 – Woo had no issues securing this driver’s license renewal, even while having the digital Mainland China license.

Woo began the process for a third time at the end of June, reaching out to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), to secure the renewal of his driver’s license.

Problems soon came up for him.

After he said that he had a Hong Kong driver’s license, Woo said the woman working for the ICBC became hostile and stated that ICBC couldn’t renew his license over the phone. This woman also demanded that he surrender his Mainland China driver’s license. Woo repeatedly explained the impossibility of this demand since it is digital, but she didn’t care.

Woo also had a physical Chinese driver’s license. He chose to return this license to the relevant Chinese authorities, saying his reason was that “they [China] are the issuing authority and not ICBC”. ICBC rejected this and still demands the Chinese and HK licenses be surrendered to them.

Section 25(4) of the BC Motor Vehicle Act notes that:

“If the applicant for a driver’s license has at any time before making the application held a driver’s license issued under this Act or in another jurisdiction, the applicant must, at the time that he or she is issued a driver’s license under this Act, surrender the last driver’s license or duplicate of it held by him or her, unless the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia on cause shown to the corporation’s satisfaction dispenses with its production.”

Woo explained that both in 2013 and 2018, he believes they exercised the latter condition, as they didn’t force him to surrender his Hong Kong and Mainland China driver’s licenses:

“Basically, I put my HK (Hong Kong) and CHN (Mainland China) card format licenses on the counter. I told them I have two additional licenses and they are not considered licenses in BC because they cannot be used in BC and I need them when I am outside of Canada. I was also basically given the opportunity to surrender them to the issuing authorities myself. Each time they just looked at it without touching it and said I can put those away.”

Having previously been allowed to surrender the driver’s license to the issuing authorities, Woo was baffled by ICBC’s unexplained change of stance.

After repeated phone calls, Woo says ICBC now ignores the digital license question, instead focusing on the residency requirement for having a BC driver’s license. In an email to Woo, an ICBC employee says:

“The requirement for residency is that a person be ‘ordinarily resident’ in BC. This means that they have to come to B.C. for a settled purpose and they intend to stay.”

That employee contradicted themselves entirely, saying that it’s impossible to renew in Hong Kong, “as you must live in BC for more than six months to be declared a resident.”

According to Section 24.1(1) of the BC Motor Vehicle Act, this is outright false. This section states that, for driver’s license considerations, “resident of British Columbia” means “a person who is ordinarily resident in British Columbia”, or “who is in a prescribed class of persons.” ICBC hasn’t replied to Woo’s request for evidence to back up this employee’s claim.

According to a 2006 Department of Justice Canada report, re-uploaded again to the DOJ site in 2021 (bolds added by writer):

“Unlike actual residence, the ordinary residence does not require a continued physical presence in a place during the currency of the period of ordinary residency. That a person has a fixed place of residence in a jurisdiction is an important consideration but not a requirement of law to establish and maintain ordinary residence in a place.101 A person does not lose his or her ordinary residence in a place by leaving for a temporary purpose.102 However, a person will lose his or her ordinary residence in a place if he or she travels to another place to live and work indefinitely even if he or she intends ultimately to return to the prior home.103”

Woo says since 2013, he had normally “travel[led] back and forth every 2.5 months with stays in China/HK for 10 days to 1 month at a time.” Woo has only been in China for an extended period from October 2022 because of the COVID situation in China, originally intending to return to BC this February (temporary travel, rather than indefinite). Woo says this factor and then problems with both his passport renewal and his wife’s Permanent Resident of Canada travel document, explain why he and his wife are still in China.

Woo has no doubt about the ICBC’s intentions: They are using “excuse[s]to decouple with China and force Ethnic Chinese people to have no relation with their ancestral home… There is no law that prevents people from having a car in both China and BC. Both cars need valid insurance and a valid license. ICBC is limiting the mobility rights of Canadian citizens who are frequent flyers.”

The ICBC was contacted both with questions from The Canada Files, and promised to review them, but never got back to TCF. ICBC did not respond to TCF’s request for comment.



The article was first published by The Canada Files.

Aidan Jonah is the Editor-in-Chief of The Canada Files, a socialist, anti-imperialist news outlet founded in 2019. Jonah has broken numerous stories, including how the Canadian Armed Forces trained neo-Nazi “journalist” Roman Protasevich while he was with the Azov Battalion, and how a CIA front group (the NED) funded the group (URAP) which drove the “Uyghur genocide” vote in parliament to pass in February 2021. Jonah recently wrote a report for the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council, held in September 2021. You can find more of Aidan Jonah’s articles on his website.



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