A recent controversy over Chinese-language commercial signs in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond is a symptom of a problem, but the much more important problem is not being discussed.
The Richmond Intercultural Advisory Committee, a group sanctioned by Richmond City Council, recently made ten recomendations to City Council.
According to Shashi Assanand, the head of the committee, the general intent of the recommendations was to ensure inclusiveness for all residents of the area. English had to be affirmed as the common language in order to achieve that goal. One of the ten recommendations was that commercial signs should contain English.
Richmond is a suburb of Vancouver. It has a population of about 168,000. According to recent statistics, over 40% are Chinese and another 20% are other non-English speaking nationalities. Most of this combined 60% are foreign-born and recent immigrants. They have become the majority in the area.
News media in the area have portrayed the sign recommendation as a parallel to the province of Quebec’s sign legislation. Laws in Quebec require comercial signs to be in French. English can appear on the signs, but it must be less than half the size of the French letters.
“The sign debate misses the main point,” says Dan Murray, speaking on behalf of Immigration Watch Canada. “The point is not that Chinese business owners should be required to put English on their signs. There is no question they should have to do that. But they should not be portrayed as victims for having to do that.”
“The real victims are the long-time residents of Richmond. They are the ones whose interests should have been considered foremost. From their cultural perspective, the point is that the federal government’s recent immigration policies have allowed Canadian-born to become a minority in the Richmond area. The big question that has to be asked is this: Should our federal government have been much more sensitive to the interests of people who have lived there most of their lives?
“The clear answer is that it has treated the Richmond area with disrespect bordering on contempt. Richmond has been considered as just one more acultural, partially-filled space that can take unannounced numbers of people, in particular, immigrants who have historically voted for the federal Liberal Party. The federal Liberals depend on the recent immigrant vote in about 40 ridings in Canada to maintain their hold on power. The federal Liberals have deliberately maintained a policy of annually bringing in about 1/4 million immigrants purely for electoral purposes. There are no economic or demographic reasons for bringing in all these people. Many local people feel that their living areas are being overwhelmed and colonized. The Chinese signs are a symptom of what they see as being overwhelmed and colonized.”
“The blunt truth is that Richmond is not the only place where all of this is happening. It is occurring in many other suburbs of Vancouver by other groups. Something identical is also happening in many other parts of Canada. When were the people of Canada asked whether they wanted this to happen?”
Recently, a debate has raged in the Vancouver-Richmond area over whether or not to build a $1.5 – $1.7 billion transit system to handle the increased population, the traffic gridlock and accompanying housing densification. Most of the population growth has been driven by immigration. The project was recently approved.
Critics have also frequently complained of increasing traffic gridlock and congestion in other Greater Vancouver areas. These areas have also seen very high immigration and are now also being targetted for other multi-billion dollar transportation-improvement projects. Critics argue that these projects and their huge public costs would never have been required if immigration levels had been sensible. A number of areas outside Vancouver have also been a long-time site of considerable tension between housing developers and farmland preservationists.
Traditionally, Canada has had a policy of lowering immigration in times of significant unemployment. Currently, Canada has approximately 2 million unemployed (officially and unofficially), a figure which critics claim is significant. Canada’s current immigration policy is to bring in between 250,000 and 320,000+ people per year, regardless of unemployment levels.
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