A real estate agent running for Vancouver city council with the NPA promoted his company on YouTube for almost two-and-a-half years with a so-called Chinese “blessing video” starring African children.
Only after it went viral on social media Sunday did Morning Lee remove the 15-second ad from public view.
The “Voices of African friends” video was uploaded to the Best Choice Real Estate Group/Morning Li Team YouTube account on March 27, 2020, and shows 19 African children told by an off-screen voice to repeat Mandarin phrases translating to: “Benefit the people, benefit the people, co-operate once, friends for a lifetime.”
The children are standing around a chalkboard. The Chinese characters read: “Anything is possible, be a friend for lifetime, call.” In English, it reads: “Morning Li Team” and included the office phone number for Best Choice and related firm Royal Pacific Realty.
It is not clear when or where the video was produced or by whom. It is a similar style to videos sold for US$10 to US$70 through a child exploitation industry that was exposed in June’s BBC Africa Eye “Racism for Sale” documentary.
In an interview, Lee said the video was produced without his consent, but he did not explain where it came from and why it had been displayed since March 2020. Asked how much the video cost, Lee said: “I cannot answer that how much, because I did not pay anything.”
“Some of my team members did that,” Lee said. “I asked who did that? But nobody told me who did that. And so I did not know anything about that. But recently, yes, I saw the news. I saw something happened in Africa. So I think it's not good. So that's why I deleted it.”
By early Monday, the link went to a screen that said the video was unavailable. “This video is private.”
Lee later issued a statement that said “child exploitation or jokes about it of any kind should be banned and prosecuted. I condemn all related things.”
He remains on the NPA website as a candidate for the Oct. 15 civic election. Neither mayoral candidate Fred Harding nor party president Dave Mawhinney responded for comment.
BBC reporter Runako Celina noticed personalized greeting videos on a Chinese social media account called “Jokes About Black People Club” and traced them to Malawi. She found a 26-year-old Chinese national named Lu Ke producing videos featuring children paid a pittance to work long hours in front of the camera when they should have been attending school. In one video, the unwitting children were coached to call themselves black monsters with low IQs in Mandarin.
Lu Ke was arrested in Zambia and extradited in July to Malawi to face child trafficking and money laundering charges.
Lee did not say precisely when he became aware of what the BBC exposed or how many people could have seen the video for his company, which he said was also posted elsewhere. He said he has 30 people on his team and “they did it for a surprise to me.”
“I don't know anything about that,” Lee said. “They did not ask me, hey Morning, you need to reimburse this money. No. Nobody asked me.”
Lee is licensed by regulator B.C. Financial Services Authority (BCFSA) as Li Huimin for Morning Lee Personal Real Estate Corporation with the Royal Pacific Realty (Kingsway) Ltd. brokerage through Dec. 21, 2023. Best Choice Real Estate Group is not listed in the online database.
“BCSFA is aware of allegations towards real estate licensee Morning Lee (Huimin Li) however we cannot comment on the allegations or confirm whether a complaint has been received, or if an investigation is underway,” said BCFSA spokesperson Audrey McKinnon.
BCFSA advertising rules say that social media platforms used to market services or properties must follow the same guidelines as all other print advertising. A team name must be BCFSA-approved and may be used in advertisements, but the brokerage name must also be prominently displayed and easily readable.
“Translations of brokerage names into other languages is not acceptable,” the rules say. “Your name and the name of your brokerage and personal real estate corporation/team must be reflected as registered by BCFSA.”
In 2018, when he ran unsuccessfully for council with Vancouver 1st, he registered as Morning Li. For the 2022 ballot, he uses Morning Lee and Chinese characters corresponding with his birth name, Li Huimin. He said he now uses Lee because too many people mispronounced Li as “lie.”
“Who is Morning ‘lie’? Morning doesn't lie!” he laughed.
It is not the first time during this campaign that Lee's YouTube channel has sparked controversy. In a November 2021 Chinese YouTube video, he advised landlords to “assert ownership” and deal with a bad tenant by defecating in the tenant’s toilet. Lee told Glacier Media on Sept. 16 that he was joking. Last week, he filed a handwritten, self-represented defamation lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court. None of the allegations has been proven in court and Glacier has not responded.