Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, October 25, 2014

But Is It Canadian?

"You put up an information sign in a neighbourhood that only passes information to the
Chinese-reading population, that tells me something is wrong with what we're doing and we need to re-evaluate it."

Evelina Halsey-Brandt, Richmond councillor

"I want my community back ... it's very difficult when you can't read the signs and communicate."
Kerry Starchuk, Richmond resident

"With a population of half our people or more being of Chinese origin you can't be surprised you'll see some Chinese language."
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie
Retail signage along Westminster Highway in Richmond, BC, has a mixture of English and Chinese signs as well as Chinese-only signs on March, 18, 2013. In a unanimous decision last week, Richmond has directed its lawyers to figure out whether it could legally start cracking down on Chinese-only signs.
Richard Lam / Postmedia News   Retail signage along Westminster Highway in Richmond, BC, has a mixture of English and Chinese signs as well as Chinese-only signs.
"We, the new visible minorities, are experiencing exclusion", complained Richmond resident Ann Merdinyan, standing before a slideshow of some of the city's Chinese-only signs. A caption underlining a photograph of a Chinese-only bus add reads: "WHY? ... Is this INCLUSIVE TO ALL? another caption reads, delivering a clear and concise message.

The initial complaints from some of the residents of Richmond, a suburb of greater Vancouver, British Columbia, were given short shrift by the city's mayor when Richmond City Council was presented with a thousand-signature petition a year and a half ago seeking to have the city sign on to a bylaw that would enforce advertising by local businesses in one of Canada's official languages.
Not interested, no need, was that response.

Several weeks ago, however, the matter brought again to city council, the  initial decision was soundly reversed and in a unanimous decision was reached among all present to tread into muddy waters. City lawyers were authorized to determine whether Richmond would be within its legal right to crack down on Chinese-only signs. 

Richard Lam / Postmedia News
Richard Lam / Postmedia News   Signage along Park Road in Richmond, BC
"I don't think they're purposely trying to exclude anyone. I'm a second generation Taiwanese-Canadian and I don't use these services [commercial services aimed directly at Chinese clients] either", noted Judy Chern who has lived all her life in Richmond and possesses only a passing knowledge of Chinese written characters. "There aren't really that many signs that are Chinese-only in the city overall."

Ms. Chern pointed out that the Chinese signs posted within the city are mostly placed on businesses that offer goods and services of no interest whatever to non-Chinese. They are private businesses that have made a decision to communicate through Chinese-only signage with their client base only, and it seems like a sound business decision.

"I firmly believe that Chinese-only signs only serve to exclude the rest of the community and this is very un-Canadian" an independent candidate, one of many vying for a council seat in the November 15 election, stated of her opinion of what many consider to represent an "unwelcoming environment" of Chinese-only signage.

Ms. Halsey Brandt, a soon-to-retire councillor, had originally swept aside the complaints she received about such signage. She had no wish to come down heavy on shopkeepers about the language they chose to use on their private-business signs. What changed her mind, she explained, was when she came across an all-Chinese sign on the front of a development site in progress.

Richard Lam / Postmedia News
Richard Lam / Postmedia News   A for sale sign with information only in Chinese sits on a property along Cook Road in Richmond, BC
Another Chinese-Canadian independent candidate, Henry Yao is in support of a "well-redeveloped regulation" for signage. His reasoning is partly related to the umbrage he sees directed toward the Chinese community and he has hopes that the dispute could be resolved amicably and end the "racism, discrimination and anger", that he feels the sign dispute has spurred.

It does make sense, surely, that private shopkeepers feel inclined to address clients whose cultural background motivates them to be interested in Chinese pharmaceutical products, language, DVDs and products directly related to feng shui. When city councillor Bill McNulty last year conducted a casual search of his own he discovered a mere half-dozen signs exclusively Chinese.

The practise may not be polite, diplomatic or particularly neighbourly-inclusive, but it represents a business decision with a solid judgement base. The Richmond Chamber of Commerce feels justified in maintaining that the city's sign issue should be left to free enterprise to shake out. Those local businesses who feel what they have to offer would be of no interest to the two million Vancouverites who have no experience with the Chinese language should be free to continue as they have.

"We've always had the same position on this ... we don't feel a bylaw is the right answer", explained Gerard Edwards, chair of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. This opinion is one shared by the Canadian Federation of Independent businesses. "The market can correct itself pretty fast on this type of thing", offered Dan Kelly, the group's CEO.

A case in point is Richmond's Aberdeen Centre, a Richmond mall that while it is a hub of Asian stores and restaurants, chose to expand its client base and in so doing mandates that all signage be at least two-thirds English. "I trust the entrepreneur to know what is in the best interests of the business", explained Mr. Kelly.

As for Richmond council candidate Carol Day: "This is about self-segregation: Many people who come to Richmond decide that they don't want to integrate. I believe that they're cheating themselves out of a much more enriched life. [But] you can't force this on people", said Ms. Day, who, ironically enough is herself a professional signmaker.

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