A citizen of Richmond, B.C., has helped introduce a new debate to Canada’s perennial language politics. Kerry Starchuk objects to advertisements for Crest toothpaste and other whitening products, on a number of city bus shelters in Richmond. The problem? The only language in the ads is Chinese.
In Ms. Starchuk’s view, signs should be in one or both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. She thinks that signage should be an inclusive factor; otherwise, multiculturalism is allegedly in danger. It’s a novel and mistaken way of interpreting the meaning of multiculturalism.
Last year, a petition to the city council initiated by Ms. Starchuk and another Richmond resident, Ann Merdinyan, against signs with no English or French, got a thousand signatures, but the council was not persuaded to act.
The current concern is about Chinese-only ads on public property such as bus shelters. But these advertisements aren’t health and safety announcements, or directions, or instructions on how to use public transit. They aren’t public services – which should be in at least one official language. They’re just ads. And if an advertiser wants to reach a certain language group and only that language group, why stop them? Should the law force all store signage and merchant advertising in Canada’s many Chinatowns to also be in English? This is starting to sound a variation on Quebec’s Bill 101.
Immigrants who learn to speak English or French are likely to prosper more quickly in Canada. But the natural movement toward the linguistic mainstream is enormous and swift, especially by way of the school system; public education enforces linguistic unity in the course of a generation. For example, 45 per cent of the population of Richmond is of ethnic Chinese origin, but only around 10 per cent cannot speak English. Give people routes to enter mainstream Canadian society, but don’t compel them to spend all of their time there: That’s multiculturalism.
The Richmond signs issue is a non-issue. And a municipal or a provincial sign law would be a solution without a problem.