[lg policy] British Columbia: Campaign to restrict Chinese-language signs in Richmond

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 13 15:28:48 UTC 2012

We all benefit from a common language

By Douglas Todd, Special to the Sun January 12, 2012

Read the opposing view here.

A Richmond woman has been getting the bureaucratic brush-off in her
efforts to restrict the predominance of Chinese-language signs in her
hometown. Despite Richmond officials acknowledging that many residents
are upset by the large Chinese-only signs being erected in the city,
Kerry Starchuk has been consistently stonewalled in her campaign,
which consists of letters to the editor and buttonholing politicians.

But there are many reasons to support Starchuk’s mission to have the
200,000-resident suburb bring in bylaws that favour English-language
signs over foreign-language ones.Forty-five per cent of the residents
of Richmond are ethnic Chinese, the highest rate in the country. The
city has hundreds of outdoor signs promoting restaurants, retailers
and services that are either only in Chinese characters, or which
dwarf an accompanying English sign.

Although these dominant foreign-language signs are permitted under
provincial legislation, presumably in the name of freedom of
expression, they constitute a misguided approach to multiculturalism.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has indirectly highlighted some of
those arguments. He has been making clear in recent months that it is
crucial for new citizens to learn one of Canada’s two official

It is not easy to become proficient in English or French. Strong
incentives are required. Needing to read the signs in your new
homeland is one of them. Six out of 10 Richmond residents are new
immigrants. And almost half of all Richmond residents do not speak
English in their homes, according to the census. But allowing
Chinese-language signs to predominate in places like Richmond sends a
message to newcomers, both symbolically and in actuality, that it may
not be necessary to pick up the language of one’s adopted country.

In most of the world, including regions of Canada, especially Quebec,
it would be unheard-of for residents to turn a blind eye to the
preponderance of minority-language signs.  La Belle Province is where
proud francophones, who value their distinct culture more than most
British Columbians do their West Coast heritage, have decided that
French must predominate on almost all signs, with English equivalents
usually smaller.

While some argue that ethnic communities in Canada should be allowed
to display their signs in whatever language they believe is most
effective in the marketplace, places like B.C. are not cultural blank
slates. English has been one of the glues that has kept the country
together. The immigration minister seems to get that. He recently
challenged prospective newcomers to “improve the integrity and
effectiveness” of the citizenship program by being more proficient in
English or French before applying to immigrate.

Perhaps Kenney is aware of numerous studies that suggest a policy
favouring English-language signs — while allowing smaller
minority-language signs to accompany them — will help improve the
well-being of everyone, including immigrants themselves.
But Richmond city officials and politicians don’t want to touch the
sensitive issue. Richmond communications officer Ted Townsend said the
city’s “intercultural advisory committee” put the issue of
Chinese-language-only signs on its agenda a few years ago.

“I believe the committee’s position was that there should be a
requirement for English on all signs,” Townsend said. “It caused a bit
of furore at the time and was generally seen as overkill. It hasn’t
come back as an issue and I think the committee may have decided to
leave it alone.”  Calgary officials have not been as cautious as those
in Richmond. One Calgary city consultative committee, headed by Tom
Leung, strongly argued against the kind of ethnic malls where foreign
languages predominate, fearing they can isolate minorities and lead to

Here are three more reasons why English-language signs should prevail
in B.C. and most of Canada:

• An emphasis on English-language signs will help reduce the
segregating effects caused by the rise of Canadian ethnic enclaves,
which have expanded from just six in 1976 to more than 260.

Canadians, old and new, need a common language to come together, learn
about and eventually love each other. By far the best way to
communicate across differences imposed by enclaves is through a shared

Like Richmond, north Surrey is another region of Metro Vancouver where
one ethnic group, South Asians, predominates. Despite this, English
remains the prevalent language of most signs in those Surrey enclaves.
That helps avoid misunderstanding and tension.

• Everything that encourages newcomers to learn English, including
having to understand signs, contributes to their financial well-being.

Studies released in the fall by Kenney’s office show that Canadian
citizens who read and speak English or French earn higher incomes.

• Learning English may be good for immigrants’ health.

That’s the surprising finding of a relatively obscure report recently
released by Statistics Canada. It revealed that immigrants who fail to
learn either English or French are three times more likely to report
ill health after four years in Canada.

“This suggests that the benefits of acquiring official language skills
may not only be social and economic, but may also be associated with
the maintenance of health,” said the StatsCan study. “Limited language
proficiency could influence health by: 1) impairing access to health
services; 2) creating economic difficulties, and 3) reducing social

Especially if it helps resolve such grave problems, there is nothing
draconian about making sure English predominates in signs in British

The expectation that English-language signs should prevail can be
introduced in a spirit of multicultural fairness, open to the
contributions of all who are choosing to make their home in this
fascinating region.

Canada’s English-language tradition can be respected at the same time
room is made to accommodate some use of Chinese and other languages,
including aboriginal.

But the bottom line, culturally speaking, is that all British
Columbians need a common language to flourish.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/life/benefit+from+common+language/5988033/story.html#ixzz1jLuZK8Is

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