The issue of Chinese only signs has created tensions in Richmond BC for several years. A bylaw in council this week sought to limit sign clutter only until a last minute motion passed to add requirment for 50% English on future signs

The issue of Chinese only signs has created tensions in Richmond BC for several years. A bylaw in council this week sought to limit sign clutter only until a last minute motion passed to add a requirement for 50% English on future signs
Photo Credit: via CBC

British Columbia: Back again- the language on signs

Chinese only signs alienate residents

The town of Richmond British Columbia has grown exponentially in the past few decades.

From what had been a relatively sleepy area decades ago of mostly “white” Canadians, some 78.000 in 1981, with a tiny minority of Chinese, and other South Asians, the city population grew rapidly and changed even more rapidly.

Richmond is now a major urban city, part of the greater Vancouver area.
Richmond is now a major urban city, part of the greater Vancouver area. © wiki commons

In the 2011 census, the white population had decreased to 56,000 while the Chinese population had ballooned to 89,000, and other South Asians added another 14,500.

Indeed the majority of residents , some 6 out of 10, were not born in Canada.

RCI- 2015 story

This influx has created tensions, not the least of which have focused on business signs.

On Monday, Richmond council voted to reconsider a bylaw mandating that any new signage in the city *require a minimum of 50 per cent of one of Canada’s official languages.
On Monday, Richmond council voted to reconsider a bylaw mandating that any new signage in the city *require a minimum of 50 per cent of one of Canada’s official languages. © via CBC

Many original residents say they feel like outsiders in their own community and country because too many signs are in Chinese only.

The issue first boiled over in 2012, when a petition was sent to city hall to force businesses to include English on signs.

Statistics Canada 2011 National Household Survey for Richmond BC © Statistics Canada

Another request for a bylaw change was rejected again a few years later. On both occasions, council said they’d prefer to work with business owners to modify signs, and lawyers suggested such a law would invite a Charter of Rights legal challenge.

A city consultation in 2016 showed a strong desire for signage regulation which required English.

Sign motion passed

This week a sign bylaw modification was proposed by council.

This however was to reduce signage clutter in the city, but with no language regulation. However a last minute amendment to require all future signs carry at least 50 per cent English.

Richmond council has been trying to encourage owners to include English on signs. The Mayor says he prefers this approach over that of enacting laws.
Richmond council has been trying to encourage owners to include English on signs. The Mayor says he prefers this approach over that of enacting laws. © via CBC

The motion passed 5 to 4 with Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie voting against it.

Mayor Brodie was quoted in the CBC saying, “”There’s the issue of community harmony: you can either lay down bylaws … or you can work with your community”.

Legal opinions are now being gathered towards a possible language segment to the city bylaws ahead of another council meeting set for June 12

Mayor Brodie said such a bylaw would take some time in any case as  exact wording would need approval, then go through a council vote, and then go to a public hearing.

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