City council in Richmond, B.C. has turned down a request to increase the amount of English on the city’s business signs.
The request came in the form of a petition bearing about 1,000 names.
Richmond has gone through major demographic changes over the last couple of generations, and about half the population is of Chinese decent. For some residents, the change has been hard to accept, especially as signs go up in Chinese only.
The petitioners’ request to have the city regulate signs – and force some English or majority English lettering – was thoughtful and measured. What could be more Canadian than identifying a concern and then using the proper channels to ask nicely? No one screamed, hurled insults or threw stones.
Thankfully the council decided the city should stay out of the sign debate. Councillors have instead stepped aside, allowing the market to continue to determine the language on commercial signs.
If a business owner in Richmond chooses to post information in English, French, Chinese or pig latin, that’s up to them. Competition will sort out those business owners who make the wrong decision because they will lose customers.
Consumers will support businesses they like and will avoid those they do not. And if anyone out there feels strongly about signs being in Chinese, they are free to spend their money elsewhere.
That said, it’s also fair for people to feel a disconnect as changes occurs rapidly. We all like to feel we’re part of the neighbourhood and community where we live. But no matter how valuable that feeling of belonging may be, it can never trump the freedom all Canadians should have when it comes to their preferred language.
“When you drive down your own street and you can’t read many of the signs … something’s wrong with that,” Kerry Starchuck, one of the Richmond petitioners, told a reporter for the Vancouver Sun.
Starchuck can have her opinion, but what she is experiencing is not wrong, it’s just different.
It’s impossible to address language issues in this country without bringing Quebec into the frame. In that province, there are laws that place limits on the use of languages other than French. Those laws are distasteful to many Canadians and often breed tit-for-tat arguments: if Quebec can limit English, why does the rest of Canada allow French?
First off, two wrongs don’t make a right. Secondly, the goal of Quebec’s language laws are commendable, even if the tactics are less than ideal. Quebec is the only place in North America where French is the predominant language, and maintaining its use is a reasonable desire. We would be worse off as Canadians if French disappeared.
In the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, Chinese may be growing in leaps and bounds, but it does not mean English is in danger. I’m sure the vast majority of the people there can operate in two (or more) languages.
Forcing people to use a particular language just because you want them to is arrogant. The people of Richmond should call their city councillors and say “Thank you” for the good decision – using whatever language they like.
Above: Signs in English and Chinese at businesses along Number 3 Road in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.The Radisson Hotel can be seen at back left. Richmond has a large Chinese immigrant population. Richmond is close to Vancouver International Airport.
Image credit: Don Denton/TCPI/The Canadian Press