Photo by Chung Chow
Richmond’s new signage bylaw is now in effect.
Opting for the human approach to
solving the Chinese-only language issue, instead of enacting a municipal bylaw
that likely would contravene federal law, city spokesperson Ted Townsend said, “Since
the launch of the outreach program, 100 per cent of new approved signs have
voluntarily complied with the preference to include English.”
The new bylaw mandates the hiring
of a permanent, full-time sign inspector who speaks both English and Mandarin.
Townsend says it will “continue the city’s successful outreach program designed
to educate businesses and ensure compliance with signage regulations.” The new
bylaws will now include fixed and portable signage such as real estate signs,
not just those at a business.
The city requires a permit for
the large signs outside a business so this gives the sign inspector time to
discuss the existing bylaw, the new bylaw and Canadian attitudes towards
At a language signs forum, city hall representatives said that many Chinese-only signs were erected without the required city permit. That means a sign-inspector can discuss and educate about the need for English on signage during the permitting process, whether the application is retroactive or in anticipation of a new sign.
Says Townsend: “The sign
inspector will also raise awareness of city’s current preference that all signs
A local ESL class chose this
topic for a group discussion last winter.
Even though all in that class were Mandarin-speaking, each brought an
independent essay expressing strong feelings that English should be the main
language on all signage, not just on stores. One of the participants mentioned that her children could
not find the restaurant to pick up their parents’ take-out order because the
sign had no English on it.
The reason most often cited in
the ESL class’s essays was that Chinese-only is bad for business.They suggested that unilingual
Mandarin-speaking shop owners could have a sheet with commonly used phrases
translated between Chinese and English for prospective customers, just as is
common on menus in restaurants offering Chinese delicacies.
At a previous city-wide forum
held over a year ago, to educate and listen to the citizens of Richmond about
the issue of English on signage, it emerged that windows cluttered with many
hand-made signs in Chinese, evoked some of the strongest feelings amongst English-speaking
Richmondites. These hand-made, or small computer print-out signs on small
pieces of paper, obliterating the window, provoked a vehement response.
The new bylaw hopes to address that issue of cluttered windows through education and bylaw enforcement. Even the former signage bylaw did not allow as much clutter as has been often seen.
According to the city, the new
bylaw includes a number of major changes, including:
-decluttering rules, which will limit the percentage of storefront windows that can be covered by signage;
-updating the existing sign bylaw dating back to 1990 to modernize language and definitions,and meet current business needs, technology advancements and trends;
-clarifying rules for temporary signs, such as signs for new businesses, signs for community events or signs on construction sites;
- specifying the number, location and duration of display of each type of sign permitted;
- introducing new permit fees to recover processing costs and match current norms across the region;
-increasing penalties for sign bylaw infractions and introducing an adjudication process to deal with disputes.
In a press release July 11, the
City of Richmond said, “The new bylaw regulations are not retroactive; they
apply to all new signs and all temporary or portable signs (i.e. real estate
and open house signs) going forward. This should address the majority of
complaints that have been received by staff over the last year.”
City spokesperson Townsend said “Since the launch of the outreach program in 2015, 100 per cent of businesses have voluntarily complied with the preference to include English on all new signs.”