08/27/2014 12:01 EDT | Updated 10/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Vancouver Real Estate Racist Covenants Remnant Of Dark History

To many people, Metro Vancouver stands for diversity, but there's a dark history behind how some local neighbourhoods and property owners dealt with minority groups.

Early immigrants to B.C. faced not only the hardship of settling into a new home but also racist policies — Chinese and Indo-Canadians did not have the right to own property and only got the right to vote in 1947.

In Vancouver, West Vancouver and Victoria, owners tried to use restrictive land covenants to keep minorities from buying land — and many of those covenants remain in place to this day.

Realtor Wayne Hammil recently spotted a covenant in a land title dating back to 1928 when he was putting a Vancouver home up for sale.

"One of the clauses in the restrictive covenant makes reference to not selling to certain ethnic minorities in the world," said Hammil.

The covenant prevents the sale or rent of the land to people who are of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, African descent or it says any other Asiatic race.

"[There's a ] total irony because most of the buyers are from mainland China," said Hammil. "If this was enforced it would preclude them from purchasing the property."

Easily voided - but hard to get removed

Ron Usher, general counsel for the Society of Notaries Public of British Columbia, says Section 222 of the Land Title Act makes the discriminating covenants void.

"I would imagine though there are probably hundreds if not several thousand lots covered by this," said Usher. "Where they find these, they've already put on the title the 'Except for Clause X' notation."

Usher says it's simple to have the offensive portion of the covenant voided through a phone call to the province's Land Title and Survey Authority.

The race-based covenants are still embarrassing because of what they stand for, he says, but getting them completely removed from the land title can be an expensive process.

Meanwhile, Hammil said his clients are trying to get the covenant removed as soon as possible from the land title.

"It's more uncomfortable and a little awkward than really substantive," said Hammil, who says the covenant serves as a reminder of how far Vancouver has come.


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