News East-West Service
VANCOUVER: Thanks to the influx of huge numbers of people from Hong Kong before it reverted to China’s control in 1997, Vancouver now has a huge thriving Chinese population. In fact, the city has jokingly been called Hongcouver.
And in the neighbouring Richmond, the Chinese now make up more than half of its population. Since most businesses, shops and restaurants in some areas are owned by the Chinese, Chinese-language signs bound. Fair enough.
But recently, some non-Chinese residents of Richmond collected about 1,000 signatures asking the city council to force Chinese businesses to use English or French signs as well. English and French are Canada’s two official languages. These petitioners wanted `Chinese-only’ signs banned by the city.
But the city council – rightly – rejected the petition, saying it cannot force the Chinese to use non-Chinese signs on their businesses and shops. Yes, you cannot take away the Chinese’s – anyone else’s – right to free expression. People can put up signs on their shops in any language they wish.
In fact, petitioner Anne Merdinyan went overboard when she presented a slide of photos to the Richmond city council to drive home her point. “We, the new visible minorities, are experiencing exclusion,’’ she said.
As usual, all mainstream journalists – including Chris Selly of National Post – have rightly supported the city council, though the reason for them to take this stand is political correctness.
Sure, the Chinese are not putting up Chinese-language signs to deliberately offend non-Chinese. In fact, many of them might not be well versed with English (forget French). To these petitioners, these Chinese-only signs smack of `Johnny-come-lately’ mentality on the part of the Chinese. So in this sense, these non-Chinese petitioners are as right as the Chinese shopkeepers.
It is human nature to react negatively to something that people don’t understand, something they feel will overwhelm them. And their fear is not wrong- because they don’t understand that there is nothing offensive about the use of Chinese signs.
Another reason for these petitioners to move the city council is their fear that they are being overwhelmed by newcomer Chinese in their city. Now you may call it racism or whatever, but the ugly truth is that local-time residents in any city in the world will resent the large-scale influx of newcomers. This is human nature.
But a little consideration to the sensitivities of those in whose midst immigrants people come to live in Canada will go a long way towards removing misunderstandings. The Chinese shopkeepers of Richmond must take the sensitivities of non-Chinese residents into consideration.