Richmond man files complaint over Mandarin-only strata meetings
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, December 23, 2015 9:12AM PST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 23, 2015 2:52PM PST
RICHMOND, B.C. - A condominium owner in Richmond, B.C., has filed a human rights complaint against his strata council's decision to run meetings entirely in Mandarin.
Andreas Kargut said the strata's refusal to conduct the meetings in English discriminates against some residents, despite meeting minutes and other documents later being translated.
“I felt really discriminated against,” said Kargut, who served on the Wellington Court strata council from 2003 to 2014.
He said the complaint, submitted to the province's human-rights tribunal, was a last resort after his protests fell on deaf ears.
The strata council ignored a recommendation from the building's property management company to hire an independent translator for all meetings and instead enlisted the services of someone who was unable to handle the task, he added.
“I think (translators) run at about $100 an hour,” Kargut said.
“It would've been a small price to pay. A lot of the really good ones, they actually know how to moderate a meeting to make sure everybody has their turn to speak.”
No laws require English be used at strata meetings and Mandarin is spoken by as many as 70 per cent of those living in the complex, which is near Vancouver International Airport.
Ed Mao, head of the Wellington Court strata, said council never said it would exclude English, but members find it more efficient to use Mandarin during meetings.
“It is only the council meetings, when we discuss stuff on the matters, that we find it more efficient to use Mandarin,” said Mao. “That's all.”
The city has been the focus of complaints in the past, with some Richmond residents protesting against Chinese-only signage used by a small percentage of businesses.
Under the Human Rights Code, strata councils are required to accommodate members with respect to any service they provide.
That duty extends only to the point of undue hardship, for example if a resolution incurs unreasonable costs.
While language is not explicitly referenced in the code, the law does safeguard freedom from discrimination based on ancestry, race and place of origin.
Strata lawyer Patrick Williams described the Wellington Court case as interesting and “kind of a reverse thing.”
“It's reverse to the extent that it's a person speaking English who's potentially being discriminated against, as opposed to a person speaking something other than English,” he said.
While there is nothing in B.C. legislation that identifies English as the province's official language, Williams said Kurgat could still argue there's an implicit safeguard.
“There's at least an implication that English is the acceptable spoken language in British Columbia,” he said.
“The Human Rights Tribunal may zero in on that and say that you must have at least English available because all policy and legislation, including the Human Rights Code itself, is in English.”