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Bus shelter ads fuel language debate

A bus shelter advertisement from SUCCESS at Cambie and No. 5 roads is promoting counselling services for gambling addiction.  - Matthew Hoekstra
A bus shelter advertisement from SUCCESS at Cambie and No. 5 roads is promoting counselling services for gambling addiction.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra

A public advertisement from a government-funded charity entirely in the Chinese language is further “fragmenting” a city with Canada’s highest proportion of foreign-born residents, says a longtime resident.

SUCCESS, a social service agency that offers immigrant settlement services, recently launched a new bus shelter advertisement offering support for people with a gambling addiction. But the ad features only Chinese characters, apart from a name and phone number, which leads to a Chinese voice message.

Kerry Starchuk, who unsuccessfully lobbied the City of Richmond last year to regulate language on signs to include English, called the ad disappointing and more commonplace.

“SUCCESS is to be helping the immigrants integrate into the community. When I found out this was in Chinese, I don’t think this is helping them integrate at all,” she said. “You’re not helping the immigrants, you’re enabling them.”

Private corporations are also targeting Chinese-language speakers in exclusive advertising. Starchuk, a Blundell area resident, recently received a letter from Shaw advertising its services using only Chinese. Ads in other public places around Richmond show firms such as Rogers, Fido and Telus using the same tactic.

“We are seeing the shortcomings of multiculturalism,” said Starchuk.

SUCCESS has no intention of alienating anyone with the ad, said CEO Queenie Choo in an interview Thursday. She said it’s meant to specifically target Chinese-language speakers, who the program is aimed at helping in the event of problem gambling.

“The intent is to really get to those people who may not be able to appreciate the English advertising. We wanted to really reach out to those people so that they would be able to get help.”

Choo believes Chinese storefronts should also include English on their signs, but insisted the SUCCESS ad is different, as it aims to help a hard-to-reach population loath to admit a gambling problem.

“It’s very difficult to reach out,” said Choo. “It’s a very sensitive issue to people.”

SUCCESS had revenues of $21.6 million in 2013, according to tax records filed with the Canada Revenue Agency. Nearly three-quarters of its funding came from government. Beyond settlement services, the charity also offers services in language training, employment, counselling, economic development, health care and housing.

Henry Beh, executive director of the Richmond Chinese Community Society, said all his society’s correspondence is bilingual—English and Chinese. The society assists Chinese Canadians “in the process of integration and assimilation” with mainstream society.

Beh noted there’s no law requiring agencies to post bilingual signs or advertising, but he believes both languages should be used.

“We’re trying to show that we respect each other,” he said.

One year ago, a delegation armed with a 1,000-name petition urged Richmond council to put a stop to the proliferation of signs with only a foreign language. Council took no action, but later did throw a bone to the group with its Richmond Social Development Strategy.

Intended to guide the city on social development matters over the next decade, the strategy listed an ongoing measure to prevent and respond to racism: “[T]hat any wording on business signage and/or city documentation prominently includes the English language.”the strategy listed an ongoing measure to prevent and respond to racism: “[T]hat any wording on business signage and/or city documentation prominently includes the English language.”

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