TORONTO — A disheveled man appeared in court Thursday on charges of murdering a Chinese woman whose scuffle with her assailant was seen on webcam by her helpless boyfriend in China. Police refused to release any details about the crime or its possible motive.
The body of York University student Liu Qian, 23, of Beijing was found Friday in her apartment in Toronto a few hours after her boyfriend witnessed the attack, police said.
She was naked from the waist down, but there were no obvious signs of sexual assault or trauma severe enough to kill her. An autopsy on Liu’s body was inconclusive, and police say it may be weeks before the results of toxicology tests are known.
Brian Dickson, 29, stood before the court in a wrinkled white shirt and blue jeans as a charge of first-degree murder was read out. He did not enter a plea. His case was held over until April 26. The justice of the peace imposed a publication ban on nearly all other details.
Dickson was arrested Wednesday. Police only announced his name and his age and asked the media not to publish any photos of Dickson, saying it could compromise the investigation. Toronto police spokesman Tony Vella declined to elaborate on the request further.
Liu’s father, Liu Jianhui, who arrived from China after being notified of his daughter’s death, thanked authorities for their quick action.
“I sincerely thank the people concerned with my daughter’s case,” he told reporters after the arrest. “Our daughter was studying very hard.”
Police released no motive or details about Dickson, but one friend described the Toronto man as an aspiring actor.
Patricia Tomasi, a Facebook friend of Dickson’s, told The Associated Press that she acted in a play at a local theater in Toronto with Dickson in 2007.
“He doesn’t seem like the type, but that’s what they always say,” Tomasi said of the allegations. “He’s tall with boyish good looks. I don’t know much about him except that he wanted to be an actor.”
Dickson attended York University where he studied global politics, but did not earn a degree from there.
He later worked for the Atlantic Council of Canada, a NATO-affiliated think-tank where he served as an assistant to the president Julie Lindhout. According to his biography on a newsletter from the Atlantic Council of Canada, Dickson has also been a running instructor and has been involved with Developments in Literacy, a Pakistani aid organization that raises money for children in Pakistan.
A statement from the Atlantic Council of Canada on Thursday said it was not council policy to comment on staff, but it confirmed that Dickson had been an intern with the council from September 29, 2008, until March 27, 2009.
Liu was chatting with her boyfriend, Meng Xianchao, by webcam at about 1 a.m. Friday when a man knocked on the door, police said.
Meng reported seeing a struggle break out between the two before Liu’s webcam was shut off. Meng contacted other friends in Toronto who in turn called police.
The victim’s father, Liu Jianhui, said his daughter studied at Beijing City University before moving to Canada, where she met Meng. Liu Jianhui is the research director of Communist Party history at the Party School of the Central Committee of CPC, which trains party officials.
Liu Qian’s laptop computer, webcam and mobile phone were taken from the apartment the night of the attack, police said. Police said the online chat was on a live streaming camera and was not recorded, though investigators were trying to figure out if there was any way they could recover it.
York University is one of Canada’s largest universities with more than 53,000 undergraduate and graduate students. About 3,200 of York’s students come from more than 150 foreign countries, the university’s website says.
The campus is located near one of Toronto’s rougher neighborhoods.