British Columbia admitted its first Chinese Canadian lawyer in 1953, when Andy Joe was admitted to the bar by the law society. Born in Victoria in 1926, Joe served during World War II in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and was discharged in 1946.
At age 20, Joe couldn’t find a job due to lingering racism on the West Coast. “He rode his bicycle to look for work and was just told over and over again, ‘We’re not hiring Chinese,’” his former law partner and UBC alumnus David Chong told the Globe and Mail for a profile on Andy Joe. That experience prompted Joe to pursue a degree in law.
“Andy wasn’t really a lawyer’s lawyer, he was a people’s lawyer,” Chong explains. “He would often do work and not charge for it, or forget to charge for it.”
Joe also had a reputation for fighting City Hall when there was a perception that the rights of Vancouver Chinatown’s citizens were being trampled on. In one famous local case, he took on a shipping company that had refused to pay some Hong Kong crew who became his clients. “At one point, Mr. Joe had the whole Port of Vancouver tied up for weeks, because a ship had not paid its crew,” Chong recalls.
For more, watch the interview with David Chong, courtesy of Road to Justice: