03/13/2015 12:09 EDT | Updated 05/13/2015 05:59 EDT

Richmond's Chinese-only signs stir up language controversy

About 100 people turned up a public meeting in Richmond last night to voice their opinions on Chinese-only business signs.

The City of Richmond is looking for solutions to keep the peace between English and Chinese speaking residents who have varying views on the issue, which has sparked debate in recent years.

Some people at the forum said they felt they were being excluded and suggested the city should consider a bylaw mandating signs be at least 50 percent English.

However last fall city staff  looked into whether creating a bylaw to require English-only signs would be enforceable and they found that could violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Municipalities have the right to regulate signs that pertain to rezoning and development permit applications, but that regulation cannot be used to control business licences, or sign permits, they found.

In the past three years, only 50 of 1,180 permits issued were for signs that were only in a language other than English, according to the staff.

Others at the forum wanted to see a more educational approach to the issue, which they said is symptomatic of a lack of integration and communication between communities.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie was at the forum and said the city is trying to find cultural harmony, but it will take some research.

City staff are also hosting an online forum to get more comments and are looking into how other cities handle the issue. Their report to council is expected in the next couple of months.