A group of Richmond residents collected 1,000 signatures supporting their position that the majority of signs in any one area of the city should have at least one of Canada's official languages — English or French.
Petitioner Anne Merdinyan spent months taking photos around Richmond to illustrate the prevalence of Chinese-only signs outside local businesses, on restaurant menus and in pamplets and inserts received in the mail. She presented the photos in a slideshow to council.
Merdinyan said Chinese-only signs are doing non-Chinese residents a disservice.
"We, the new visible minorities, are experiencing exclusion," she said to a city council chamber packed with Richmond residents.
"Maybe I want to do business with them," Merdinyan said. "Why I have to be an outsider? What's the reason?"
On Monday, Coun. Chak Au suggested the city investigate the issue further. However, every other councillor defeated the proposal, saying it's up to store owners to decide what kind of signage they want, and it's up to shoppers to decide if they want to go elsewhere.
Richmond resident Randolf Richardson was at the meeting and said he was happy with council's decision.
"There are also requirements in our charter that require certain government departments and the education system to provide English and French language support because those are official languages in that regard," he said.
"But that doens't extend to imposing those languages on people, private citizens or private property. And what I see these shopkeepers doing is exercising their right to freedom of expression."
Coun. Derek Dang said non-English signs are actually quite rare — a recent count only found three Chinese business signs that had no English.
Dang said he's afraid the push against Chinese-only signs may be a case of veiled racism.
However, he said he thinks those who support mandatory English signs are in a slim minority.
"I don't believe that is a common theme throughout our city, and hopefully it's not around the Lower Mainland either," he said.
Dang also said Richmond's small business owners should be able to decide how they want to advertise, even if it hurts their businesses in the end.
"If they only want to cater to one group of people, [they] are actually doing a detriment to their own business, and I just think it's foolhardy, quite frankly," he said.
According to Statistics Canada, about half of Richmond's population speaks only English at home.