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Richmond council shows no appetite for language debate

An appeal by two local residents who gathered a 1,000-signature petition denouncing the proliferation of Chinese language signs on storefronts, bus shelters, and real estate signs failed to sway members of council to take action.

In front of a packed house at a council committee meeting Monday, the majority of council showed they were going to avoid reacting to the debate’s most recent iteration.

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt said if consumers are miffed about the signs, they can speak with their wallets, and simply spend their loonies and toonies elsewhere.

“I believe that every business has the right to try to attract the customers of their choice. If they don’t want me to come into their store because they have not informed me of what kind of business they offer, then I will talk with my wallet and with my feet, and I won’t go into it.”

As it did in the mid-1990s, and again in the mid-2000s, the debate on language content on signs has proved irksome enough that it prompted Kerry Starchuk and Ann Merdinyan to appeal to council.

And as quickly as the TV cameras and reporters came, they stampeded away after hearing the committee accept the petition for information, and defeated a bid by Coun. Chak Au, who made a motion to have staff analyze the issue more closely.

In a letter to the editor last January, Starchuk wrote: “The complex signage issue in Richmond regarding the increasing prevalence of signs with Chinese characters has really bothered me, enough to become engaged in seeking answers on why and how it can be resolved. Astonishingly, it’s been a discussion in the city for 17 years.”

Au sought to have a deeper discussion about the language debate, and wanted staff to look at signs at businesses, on buildings, and in advertising.

But Halsey-Brandt, a council veteran of these past debates, said she didn’t want to go there, again.

Instead, if a merchant wants to advertise mostly or solely in Chinese, she said she can choose to spend her money elsewhere.

Starchuck said she was urged to gather signatures after speaking to Richmond’s MPs about the issue.

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