Richmond, B.C., opts for persuasion over bylaws in campaign against non-English signs – British Columbia

After four years of protests and contentious council meetings, the debate over how Richmond, B.C., should deal with business signs that don’t include English came to a quiet conclusion.

In a virtually empty council chamber, one of Metro Vancouver’s largest municipalities unanimously voted to continue the current policy, under which if a sign contains less than 50 per cent English or French, city staff are instructed to “encourage and educate” businesses, in the hopes they’ll add English to their Chinese signs.  

Only now, it will be formalized in writing. 

That’s in contrast to other regions in Canada which have used laws, not diplomacy, to encourage the use of Canada’s official languages on signs.

“It’s taking the verbal policy, the attitude of our city council in the past, and simply putting it into a written policy so it’ll be preserved in the future,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.  

It was 40 years ago that Quebec passed Bill 101, regulating language use in that province, and there’s been no shortage of controversy on language policy in the decades since. 

A longtime mayor with moderate views, Brodie has taken pains to show he understands both sides of the argument. 

“You’ve lived here all your life, and you have a store that has no English on the signage, you may well feel excluded and feel you’re no longer part of the community,” he said. 

Most of the complaints about signage concern real estate billboards and flyers — areas out of the city’s control — and most people acknowledge there’s little the city could do, even if it wanted to take action.

But Richmond’s way of placating some longtime residents was a solution seemingly straight out of the political satire in Yes Minister. When action was demanded, action was taken … in the form of a bureaucratically worded motion that preserves the non-binding status quo.    

Which may have been the point, given the lack of drama at Monday’s meeting. 

There have been over 300 sign complaints in Richmond in the first half of 2017, but many of them are real estate signs or flyers, which are out of the city’s jurisdiction. (Christer Waara/CBC)

“The media is overemphasizing this written policy. The real message doesn’t have to be in writing, but in order to better preserve it in the future, you put it in writing,” said Brodie.

Toronto-area communities took a different path

In the 2016 census, 62.4 per cent of Richmond residents said their first…

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