Councillor Chak Au wants Chinese-only signs gone in Richmond

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      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.”

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      3 Comments

      Brad Salzberg

      Nov 12, 2014 at 3:25pm

      Malcolm Brodie: “It would be very, very difficult to craft a bylaw which would withstand a challenge under the charter. What we need to do is find the owners of the Chinese signs and persuade them proactively that they need to get some English on to those signs,” he says."

      Current Signage Bylaw in Richmond Hill, ON, Canada:

      RICHMOND HILL- ONTARIO, CANADA

      BY-LAW 52-09

      SECTION 5.0- PROHIBITED SIGNS

      SECTION 5.1(i):

      TEXT OF SIGN CONTAINS LESS THAN 50% OF THE ENGLISH OR FRENCH LANGUAGE.

      CPP

      Nov 12, 2014 at 8:32pm

      Finally some common sense on Richmond council - Brodie lost my vote, I went in on advance voting just to vote him out. I have no problem with Chinese I signs - I expect in Canada that the same sign has english or french. Nothing worse than a politician pandering for votes and acting without integrity to represent everyone in a city. Brodie is tired, bored and needs to move on after 14 yrs.

      HL

      Nov 13, 2014 at 8:27am

      City Council (or specifically Councillor Au) just doesn't get it, do they? This is not something within City Council's jurisdiction and would be unconstitutional i.e. violation of freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's incredulous that anyone on council would even bring this up despite members of the audience at the public meetings held last year at City Hall bringing to council's attention the (un)constitutionality of such proposed measures.