ANCOUVER – A British Columbia man who filed a human rights complaint against his townhouse council for conducting Mandarin-only meetings says he wants the law changed to prohibit the use of unofficial languages.
Andreas Kargut lives in a 54-unit townhouse complex in Richmond, where he served on various council positions between 2005 and 2014.
Kargut and six other residents filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in December because they couldn’t participate in a 90-minute meeting where only Mandarin was spoken.
Kargut said Wednesday that he was vice-president during his last year on the council but was ousted by a group that wanted to conduct meetings only in the Chinese language.
Respondents have until March 23 to decide if they want an early settlement meeting, Kargut said, before the process proceeds, possibly to a hearing.
Council president Mary Zhang said she did not wish to comment.
While council members have now decided to conduct meetings in English and minutes are provided in English, Kargut said he wants compensation because the rights of non-Mandarin speakers were violated.
“The bottom line is we’ve been oppressed for about year and a half and them just changing things right now basically is nice going forward but it doesn’t change what’s been happening,” he said.
“They want us to feel really uncomfortable for actually living there in hopes that we sell and move away so they can build a monocultural community.”
Kargut said four residents feel “demoralized” because they’ve been prevented from securing council positions by Mandarin-speaking members.
Regardless of the outcome at the tribunal, he said he’ll lobby to have “antiquated” laws changed so that only French or English can be spoken at council meetings to prevent similar problems elsewhere.
“We want financial retribution and we want them all to resign and we want them all to give us a formal apology for what they’ve done.”
Kargut said a translator was available for last summer’s annual general meeting, but the person wasn’t qualified.
Robyn Durling, spokesman for the B.C. Human Rights Clinic, which provides legal aid in such cases, said the threshold for filing a complaint in the province is very low, “no matter how wild the allegations are.”
Ontario and B.C. have similar models for complainants alleging discrimination, Saskatchewan residents can take their cases to small-claims or civil court and the rest of the provinces have human-rights commissions.
Townhouse or condominiums owners are merely observers at council meetings unless they’re speaking on a particular matter, Durling said.
Residents don’t have a right to demand a certain language be used, but can arrange in advance to be accommodated with a translator, he said.
“Human rights is not going to mandate any language in particular be spoken and certainly the Strata Property Act in B.C. does not mandate any particular language be spoken.”
Durling said a council or any business should use a language that makes sense for the majority of people involved and the province is unlikely to change the law by becoming “the language police.”
Most of the Mandarin-speaking residents at Kargut’s complex couldn’t participate in council meetings for years because they didn’t understand English, Durling said.