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New sign from Richmond council on language debate
Richmond city council has taken a small step into the language debate surrounding signs, six months after refusing to budge in the face of a 1,000-name petition.
Civic politicians recently approved the Richmond Social Development Strategy—a 96-page document intended to guide the city on social development matters over the next decade—but not before addressing the matter of foreign language on signs.
As an "ongoing" measure to prevent and respond to racism, council's planning committee added the words: "[T]hat any wording on business signage and/or city documentation prominently includes the English language."
"It is a recognition that this is something that the city, as a leader, should have a role to play," said Coun. Chak Au in an interview.
In March, a delegation armed with a petition appealed to council to put a stop to the proliferation of signs with only a foreign language. Kerry Starchuk and Ann Merdinyan showed council dozens of examples of storefronts, bus shelter advertisements and real estate signs with neither one of Canada's official languages visible.
The drive drew significant media attention, but council took no action and decided against supporting a motion from Au asking for a closer analysis.
Now a city strategy calling for signs that prominently include English is evidence the matter is being viewed as a priority, said Au, who stopped short of saying a bylaw regulating language could be next.
"I don't think we're there yet. This motion is basically to say OK, we need to start the process to have it as a public strategy to address this issue."
Staring down a divisive issue, Au said he's recently been working to "build bridges" among cultural groups, including facilitating a meeting with Chinese mall managers who discussed the language issue just weeks ago.
Au said it's still a frequent topic of conversation that produces wide ranging views—and more discussion is needed.
"It won't just go away," he said. "Even though last time we said nothing needs to be done, I don't agree."
But Starchuk and Merdinyan told The Richmond Review other promises of action have gone nowhere. They noted city hall's 2004-2010 Richmond Intercultural Strategic Plan and Work Program suggested a city bylaw requiring local businesses to have "some basic level of signage in English," but a bylaw never materialized.
"City hall has underestimated the damage that has been done to the community of Richmond in its reluctance to confront the issue of language on signs publicly displayed—and the damage continues," they said in an e-mail to the Review.
Since raising the issue in March, they've only seen the use of foreign-language-only signs grow.
"As longtime—hopefully permanent—residents we believed that mayor and council had the best interests of the community at heart, but as the complexity of issues increases we are left out of the plan, just being the recipients of empty words."