Randolf Richardson (Zhang Wen Dao)

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Richmond Signage and Competition Act legislation

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 by Randolf Richardson 張文道

On the evening of Monday, May 25, 2015, I attended a public meeting at Richmond City Hall where the topics included a bylaw that would force English on business signage, as well as a similar topic about updating the Business Permit requirements to include language use restrictions on signage.  It was decided not to amend the general bylaw against Chinese signage because that would likely be struck down in the courts by a potential Constitutional challenge for freedom of expression - I agree with this perspective, and I also agree with the decision - but the new idea of forcing this restriction in as a new requirement for Business Permits is just a different approach.

But now council is considering updating the Business Permits bylaws because they consulted with a lawyer who apparently thinks that this won't violate Canadian Charter-protected rights, but I disagree because I believe that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms still does apply, and if it's added as a Business Permit requirement then that raises an additional concern with the Competition Act as introducing yet another potential for challenge because such a requirement may inadvertently have the effect of coercing business owners into violating the law.

After reviewing the relevant portions of The Competition Act, this is how I suspect that this might work:

Sections 52 and 74 of the Competition Act include a stipulation that businesses cannot mislead the public, and a summary conviction of such an offense carries monetary penalties of up to CAD$200,000 and/or punishments of 1 to 14 years in prison.  These are serious consequences, and since the charges that lead up to them are treated as criminal charges they could additionally result in the offenders (in this case the business owners) receiving an official criminal record.

Why this is applicable:  If a municipal bylaw were to require business owners to include on signage languages that they and/or their staff don't understand sufficiently enough to provide services to potential customers, then they would therefore be misleading the public by misrepresenting the services that their business provides.  The spirit of the Competition Act appears to be to prevent all types of misrepresentations that could mislead the general public, so these laws are important aspects of Consumer Protection in Canada.

Possible damage to the public:  On a business's signage, potential customers see a language that they understand, and so they choose to enter the premesis expecting service in that language.  However, when the potential customer engages with staff who don't actually understand the language, the effect of having been mislead by the signage that misrepresented the business has occurred.  At the very least, both the consumer's and the staff's time has now been wasted (some consumers may have the attitude that "it was interesting to experience the inside of the premesis" but the fact remains that they were mislead by the signage).

Not only is this not fair to the business owners, but it is also not fair to consumers who are being inconvenienced by signage that failed to comply with The Competition Act.

From a sociological standpoint, it's also important to keep in mind that people in general, some of whom are business owners, have varying levels of profficency in any number of languages, and the ability to learn other languages also varies widely, thus requiring business owners to provide support in a language that they are not comfortable supporting - assuming they have even a basic profficiency in it - is, in my estimation, an inappropriately coercive approach to solving a problem, regardless of the fact that it really isn't a problem anyway (one of the local newspapers reported earlier this month that out of 1,550 businesses inspected, only 15 had signage without any English, which equates to less than 0.01% -- that's less than one hundredth of one percent).

The issue of imposing restrictions on business owners by requiring the inclusion of English on signage (which will probably also incur additional unnecessary business costs in the absense of intent to target an English-literate demographic) is an absurd waste of government resources, and enforcement of these rules will probably discourage some people from starting businesses in Richmond.  In a sense, it also appears to be a form of "meddling in business" insofar as the freedom of business owners to choose their target demographics is concerned since such a regulation implicitly equates to dictating a demographic choice for all businesses.

One of Canada's greatest advantages is the diversity that includes multiculturalism, and imposing restrictions on this wonderful national characteristic of Canada is a violation of everyone's Charter Rights to free expression.  We should all be concerned when our rights, particularly those pertaining to freedom, come under threat because it's easier to defend the rights we have now than it is to recover them after they've been lost.  If you care about your rights, then being informed about what those rights are is imperative because it provides you with the necessary knowledge for raising objections to any attempts to take them away.

Remember that the words, from our national anthem, "The True North, Strong and Free" codifies one of Canada's most important characteristics:  Freedom, in the most genuine sense.

If you'd like to contact me to share your perspective, I'd be delighted regardless of whether you agree with me.  My contact information is available on my contact page.

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