Signs bearing only Chinese-language text aren’t that numerous in Richmond, where almost half the population is Chinese. Yet, as Coun. Chak Au noted in a phone interview with the Straight, it’s “an issue that is dividing our community that we have to address”.
Last year, the former Hong Kong academic, now a family therapist with Vancouver Coastal Health, was the only Richmond councillor who called for a review of the matter after about 1,000 residents petitioned city hall to ban Chinese-only signs.
If he wins a second term in the November 15 municipal election, Au plans to ask council to set a language standard for public signage.
“There must be English in any public sign,” Au said. “And the information in the sign should be enough to help the public to understand about [the] business or the kind of activities that is going on. So, in a way, I’m not talking about full translation, because technically it might be challenging. But I advocate that there must be enough English on the signage to inform the public what’s going on.”
A staff report on the October 27 council agenda states that more than 80 percent of 874 permits issued by city hall from 2012 to September of this year were for English-only signs. More than 15 percent of the permits were for signs in English and another language. Only 3.5 percent, or 31 permits, dealt with Chinese-only signs.
The report also notes that a visual inspection of about 1,200 business signs along No. 3 Road between City Hall and Cambie Road showed that fewer than one percent were in Chinese only.
The report further cites a legal opinion that states the city would need to establish “compelling health, safety, economic or social welfare objectives” to make a requirement of English on signs “justifiable as a limit on Charter freedom”.
According to Au, the matter is not entirely a language issue.
“It is actually an intercultural harmony and relationship issue,” Au said. “The Chinese signage is only something symbolic. We need to work harder on building up intercultural relationships in our community.”