The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has decided to hear a case of alleged racial discrimination in Richmond whereby Mandarin-speaking strata council members at Wellington Court chose to conduct meetings in Chinese, not English.
The case garnered national attention in December when the Richmond News reported strata property owner Andreas Kargut had filed a complaint to the tribunal on behalf of several other non-Mandarin speaking neighbours.
A letter, obtained by the News, dated Feb.17, from the Tribunal to AA Property Management Ltd., the property management firm that oversees Wellington Court, states the complaint is unproven and strata council president Ed Mao has the opportunity to resolve the matter via mediation before a tribunal hearing is scheduled. Mao also has until March 23 to apply to have the case dismissed.
Kargut said he feels “a huge sense of relief” the tribunal will hear his case, which he described as precedent setting.
“We are trying to preserve our official languages. If we lose or let this stuff happen and wait five years without anyone filing a human rights complaint, one of the Chinese languages would have such a strong hold that there would be no going back and English would really be stomped out all together,” said Kargut.
“This is Canada and we have to preserve our official languages. We have to be vigilant about this as Canadians,” said Kargut.
Detailed in his tribunal complaint, Kargut, and six other property owners, contend a group of Mandarin-speaking owners ousted anyone from the strata council who didn’t speak their language.
“They’re trying to build a monocultural community and hoping that people who don’t speak their language and don’t have their cultural background will move out,” he said.
Kargut called Mao’s actions “arrogant.”
Mao has refused to speak to the News about the allegations, referring the matter to the strata’s property manager, Aaron Leung.
The next council meeting is on Feb. 23 and Leung told the News last month most of it would be conducted in English, with AA Property acting as a translator.
Kargut contends all proceedings must be in English.
He said it should be incumbent upon immigrants to learn, and especially conduct their business with others in, English.
Last year, Mao and the rest of the present council gained control of the 54-unit townhouse complex with over 30 proxy votes, said Kargut.
While legal, Kargut said he questions the ethicalness of their actions.
The “takeover” has also led to questionable money-saving decisions by the council, said Kargut.
Aside from English being spoken at council meetings, Kargut is asking for a resignation of all the members, a written apology and financial restitution.
The complainants have not decided how much money they are seeking but Kargut said it would be “enough to wake them up.”
He said win or lose he would be taking his fight to Victoria, in order to change the B.C. Strata Property Act to have English requirements included.
Kargut said Canadian legislative bodies have ignored language requirements for too long.
“They’re in fear of being politically incorrect.”
However, as it stands now, Kargut has garnered at least verbal support from MLA Linda Reid, and MP Joe Peschisolido.
Reid said council meetings ought to be in English. She said as Speaker of the House she will advocate for change in the act.
Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Homeowners’ Association, told the Richmond News he’s never seen a case like this. While he’s seen “three or four” instances in Richmond over the past five years concerning language problems, all of them have been resolved “quickly” with translation services.