A group of Chinese community leaders is urging Richmond residents to send them photos of Chinese-only signs.
Calling their effort "The Signs of Harmony Project," the business, real estate and community representatives are promising to send someone to each business using such signs to persuade them to voluntarily include English in their signs.
The group, which includes four residents of Richmond and three from other regions of Metro Vancouver, is adamantly opposed to Richmond city regulating the language used in signs.
"When you regulate, you penalize. It is not business-friendly. It does not build harmony," said Kenneth Tung, a former chair of the immigrant society SUCCESS who is president of an information technology company in Richmond. The Signs of Harmony Project does not want the City of Richmond, population 200,000, to go the route of the roughly equal-sized municipality of Richmond Hill, Ont, which has a bylaw requiring all signs to be at least 50 per cent in English.
In Richmond Hill, a suburb of Toronto, ethnic Chinese people make up 23 per cent of the population. In Richmond, ethnic Chinese make up 47 per cent of residents, followed by Caucasians at 29 per cent, South Asians at 14 per cent and Filipinos at seven per cent.
"Having a Chinese-only sign does not show respect to the country you've chosen to live in," said Tung Chan, another former head of SUCCESS, who lives in Richmond. "If we can all be in harmony ... we can all be more prosperous."
The ad hoc group is promising to contact the businesses in question if residents send photos of Chinese-only signs to the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org Asked if The Signs of Harmony Project would financially subsidize a Chinese business that is reluctant to add English to its sign, David Choi, president of Royal Pacific Realty Group, said the volunteer group's intention is only to use moral suasion.
Kerry Starchuk, who is part of a group urging Richmond city council to require at least 50 per cent English on signs, has records showing council tried to urge Richmond businesses to voluntarily include English in signs as far back as 1996.
"Now it's 19 years later, and nothing has happened. So I don't think this volunteer group will make much difference with its efforts to educate," said Starchuk, who attended the news conference held in the boardroom of a Richmond travel agency.
Starchuk also disagreed with the position taken by The Signs of Harmony on the relative size of English and Chinese languages in signs in Richmond. The Chinese group would be satisfied if the sign included just a few words of English of any size, as long as the words are "visible."
Richmond council has recently begun encouraging businesses to voluntarily include "50 per cent English content" on their signs when they renew their business licences. However, no Metro Vancouver municipality has a law requiring English in signs.
A report for Richmond council, which promised last year to come up with a long-range plan to respond to the sign debate, states that in the past three years, 50 of 1,180 permits issued were for signs that were only in a language other than English.
However, Richmond staff admit that formally approved permanent exterior signs do not include the majority of Chinese-only signs in the city, many of which advertise real estate or appear in storefront windows, at bus stops, on billboards, on sandwich boards or in electronic or digital forms.
For more stories, go to www.vancouversun.com