Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Is Richmond BC, Canada,Getting Serious Yet

Is Richmond BC, Canada,Getting Serious Yet
Only a few years ago former Richmond city bylaw manager Wayne Mercer said every month he would tell yet another "anxious and insecure" Richmond resident that the city intended to do "nothing" about Chinese-only and Chinese-dominant signs.

After years of dismissing residents’ worries about the expansion of Chinese-language signs in Richmond, the city is hiring a new staff person to press for more signs to include English.
Richmond last week quietly posted a full-time job for a sign inspector. The inspector’s duties will include educating business owners about the city’s policy, which says signs should contain 50 per cent English lettering.
“I think the issue is being taken more seriously than it once was,” Coun. Alexa Loo said this week.
Loo, who was elected to council in the fall of 2014, previously said it was “ridiculous” that Chinese-only signs were on the rise in Richmond, despite ethnic Chinese now making up one out of two residents.
Richmond’s council, Loo said, is slowly becoming convinced community“harmony” is threatened by a proliferation of signs that cannot be read by those who do not read Chinese.
The city’s decision to hire someone to educate businesses about English on signs is a significant change.
Alexa Loo, who was elected to council in the fall of 2014, previously said it was "ridiculous" that Chinese-only signs were on the rise in Richmond, even though half the population is ethnic Chinese.
Alexa Loo, who was elected in 2014, previously said it was “ridiculous” that Chinese-only signs were on the rise in Richmond, even though half the population is ethnic Chinese.
Only a few years ago former Richmond city bylaw manager Wayne Mercer said every month he would tell yet another “anxious and insecure” Richmond resident that the city intended to do “nothing” about Chinese-only and Chinese-dominant signs.
Joe Greenholtz, a member of Richmond’s intercultural advisory committee, also brushed aside the concerns of people who felt alienated by Chinese-only signs.
Longtime Richmond residents who complain about signs, Greenholtz wrote in 2012, are simply “feeling the pain of being irrelevant in their own backyards for the first time.”
At the time, Greenholtz, an immigration consultant, argued the sign issue was solely a matter of commerce, but more recently he acknowledged community cohesiveness is also at stake.
The city’s records show Richmond residents were going to council to express concerns about Chinese-only signs as far back as 1997.
It was only in recent years that some residents became more vocal, launched petitions and eventually brought international attention to Richmond, whose population is 62 per cent foreign born.
The tide began turning late last year when retiring Richmond councillorEvelina Halsey-Brandt admitted she had been mistaken in believing the sign controversy would “solve itself.”
Halsey-Brandt urged the new council to find a way to ensure a large portion of the 200,000 residents of Richmond don’t end up “feeling that they don’t belong in their own city.”
Between 1981 and 2011, Statistics Canada figures show the ethnic Chinese population of Richmond expanded by 80,000. In the same period, the white population had a net loss of 28,000 people. (See interactive chart below)
In response to increasing debate, a group of prominent Metro Vancouver Chinese business leaders gathered in Richmond in May and urged all immigrants to “follow Canadian customs” and include English in their signs.
For his part, Richmond Coun. Chak Au says he has been waiting for years for other council members to come around to his viewpoint.
“I was the only one four years ago who was saying we should go to bilingual signs,” Au said.
“In the beginning, the others didn’t want to do anything.”
"I was the only one four years ago who was saying we should go to bilingual signs," Counc. Chak Au said. "In the beginning, the others didn't want to do anything."
“I was the only one four years ago who was saying we should go to bilingual signs,” Counc. Chak Au said. “In the beginning, the others didn’t want to do anything.”
Many Richmond residents remain disappointed the city’s new inspector is being asked only to “encourage” business owners to make signs 50 per cent English.
Richmond activist Kerry Starchuk, who has been interviewed by media from Europe and Asia, said this week the city and province aren’t being nearly proactive enough.
“This is just as minimal as what can be done,” she said.
Without enforceable municipal and provincial legislation, Starchuk believes, almost nothing will change in regards to the proliferation of Chinese-only or Chinese-dominant signs, as well as Chinese publications and Translink ads.
For their part, Au and Loo want to avoid formal sign bylaws. They believe it’s more “harmonious” to have a staff member try to persuade businesses to include English, to improve cross-cultural communication.
Au and Loo also worry Richmond could open itself up to a charter challenge if it requires English.
Even though the province of Quebec has laws preserving the French language in signs, Loo said Quebec has more constitutional authority than B.C. The executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which has threatened to take Richmond to court over the sign issue, told The Vancouver Sun in July that individual rights trump community concerns.
Some BCCLA board members, however, have since questioned Josh Paterson’s position.
In addition to hiring a new sign inspector, Richmond council has asked staff to put together a new bylaw that will ban “clutter,” examining signs from all the city’s retail outlets and restaurants.
“In some ways that’s the dominant issue,” Loo said.
Most of the city’s Chinese-only signs, especially in real estate, are temporary, electronic or sandwich boards.
Richmond council hopes its anti-clutter bylaw, which should be ready in 2016, will ensure “you can’t just leave your whole front window blocked up with signs,” Loo said.
dtodd@vancouversun.com