Richmond Signage Bylaw Debate Put on Hold

Nearly 100 per cent of signs are already “compliant” with current expectations
Tristan Johnston, Coordinating Editor

Signs in Richmond have been a source of controversy, but only an estimated 0.8 per cent don’t have any English or French. (Tristan Johnston)

Out of an estimated 1500 signs in Richmond, only 13 reportedly don’t have either English or French on them. This figure has been used as good reason to both create a bylaw to put the languages on Richmond signs and to leave it alone. Now, Richmond City Hall has put the ongoing signage debate on hold, but it will be reviewed six months from now.

Richmond City Councillor Linda McPhail says that, after reaching almost 100 per cent compliance without a bylaw, any legal change is unnecessary. She also notes that the council lawyer said that creating a law would open them up to a legal challenge on the basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“We’ve had 100 per cent compliance,” says McPhail. “We had directed staff to go on a community harmony, education, and outreach path, so they’d been doing that for several years and it has been very successful. That’s why I was not in favour of language being added.”

McPhail says that she weighed the successful community outreach against the possibility of getting a court challenge and doesn’t see a point to changing the bylaws.

Carol Day, another member of Richmond’s City Council, is in favour of making a bylaw, believing that after spending the last few years working in education and outreach and getting nearly 100 per cent compliance in regards to language, a new law would seal the deal. Day acknowledges the concern raised by the city’s lawyer, but believes that they would win in court, and notes that language is a provincial jurisdiction.

“We’ve demonstrated that we are capable of figuring out this issue, why not take it to the next level?” she says. “The reasons for making these changes would be economic, social or safety, and we have all three of those,” she said, elaborating on a possible way to argue favourably if there was a court challenge.

Day argues that having two languages on signs would be better for business and social harmony, and that it’s important that emergency services can read signs in the event of 911 call.

In Canada, English and French are the official languages. This means that in environments like federal courts and passport offices, you are entitled to French or English language services. However, this doesn’t apply on a provincial level. B.C. isn’t required by any law to release French versions of bills or acts of parliament, nor will you ever be required to speak French if you work in provincial or municipal government.

Both Day and McPhail recognize that concerned citizens have spoken to Council about how unwelcome they sometimes feel in Richmond, whether they’re English speakers, Chinese speakers, new immigrants who have difficulty with either language, or Cantonese-Canadians who feel alienated by simplified Chinese script.

“It makes me really sad that, no matter what side you were, people were feeling unwelcome in their community,” says McPhail.

For now, Council will put bylaw discussions on pause, but will be considering policy options and the cost of hiring a bilingual sign inspector.

“We’re doing such good work with what we’re putting into place,” says McPhail. “These things take time, as well.”