The mother and her two kids have no trouble with English. They speak the language fluently.
English is not their first language. It’s Mandarin.
In 2016, the kids were taken into government care by the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Mom was allowed supervised visits, subject to certain conditions, including having to speak with her children in English only.
The woman was originally from Beijing. She works with the Canadian federal government with some rank.
She doesn’t think it’s right that she cannot talk with her kids in Mandarin. She filed a complaint of discrimination based on race before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
Whether or not the government can prohibit a parent from talking to their children in their first language if that language is not English is something that the tribunal has to decide.
Meantime, the ministry sought a dismissal of the complaint on grounds that it has no prospect of succeeding.
According to the ministry, there was no discrimination because the family can speak English.
However, tribunal member Pamela Murray was not convinced.
In reasons for decision issued Wednesday (May 22), Murray rejected the government’s request to dismiss the complaint filed by the woman, who was anonymized as M.L.
“Assuming that M.L. and her children were fluent in English, that the family has English skills does not answer the question of whether requiring them to speak English had an adverse impact on M.L. because of her race – or ancestry or place of origin, although I acknowledge the complaint does not refer to the latter protected characteristics,” Murray wrote.
The ministry had also argued that language is not a protected characteristic in the human rights law.
Although Murray noted that language is indeed not a free-standing ground for discrimination, it can be protected “only if language is tied to a prohibited ground – such as race, colour, or place of origin”.
“I cannot find that there is no reasonable prospect that M.L. would be able to show she was adversely impacted in the services provided by the Ministry by the requirement that she only speak English to her Children,” Murray wrote. “Where the Ministry uses its powers to remove a child from a family, that can have a lasting impact on the parent and the child.”
Murray also noted that language is an “important aspect of cultural expression”.
“Our language has a connection to our race but arguably more commonly to our ancestry or place of origin,” Murray explained. “Passing down one’s language to children can be seen as an important part of preserving a family’s connection to its roots.”
The woman did not respond to the ministry’s now failed application to have her complaint dismissed.
Murray noted that the human rights code requires complainants to pursue their cases diligently.
Murray ordered the mother to get in touch with the tribunal’s case manager by June 22, 2019 to confirm that she is interested in proceeding with her complaint. Otherwise, the tribunal member will dismiss the complaint without notice to her.