British Columbia

B.C. condo language dispute sparks human rights complaint

'Mandarin-only' meetings have sparked a human rights complaint at a B.C. condo where English speakers are feeling cut out.

'Mandarin-only' meetings irk residents, but break no strata property laws, experts say

Wellington Court condo owners are embroiled in a language debate that's dividing the small community of home owners. (CBC)

Four Richmond B.C., condo owners have filed a human rights complaint against their strata council for conducting official business in Mandarin only, which legal experts say is allowed under the current Strata Property Act in the province.

The English speakers say they feel unwelcome and are being "racially discriminated against" by the new council elected in July, which conducts the business of managing the building in Mandarin only.

"It feels like you are an outsider," Andreas Kargut, owner of one of the 54 units in Wellington Court on Heather Street in Richmond. 

Andreas Kargut says his strata council was taken over by a group who speak Mandarin only at meetings, leaving him and other owners cut out. (CBC)

"We are in Canada I hope we are all equals," he said.

English is one of the official languages in Canada. Richmond is a city in Canada. It is not a suburb of Beijing or in Taiwan.- John Gray

Strata meetings sometimes deal with approvals of expensive maintenance fixes, and Kargut says translation of meeting minutes into English is not adequate.

Kargut filed the complaint on behalf of himself and three other owners after he says the strata council president Ed Mao informed owners that, while they were welcome to observe meetings, the council had "no intention of using English in the meeting."

"He's actually a really nice fellow," Kargut said of Mao, hoping to resolve the issue that is dividing the community.

"The only thing they said to me in English was 'Hello Andreas, please sit here,'" Kargut told CBC describing the 1.5-hour meeting on Dec. 8 that he recorded.  

"That evening I filed a complaint. I said, 'You know what this really is discrimination. Where do they draw the line, this council? And how far will they go?'"

"English is one of the official languages in Canada. Richmond is a city in Canada. It is not suburb of Bejing or in Taiwan," said Wellington Court resident, Harry Gray. (CBC)

Mao refused to comment to CBC.

"English is one of the official languages in Canada. Richmond is a city in Canada. It is not a suburb of Beijing or in Taiwan," said Harry Gray, a five-year resident who applauds the complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Commission.

Gray and others feel unrepresented and left out. He said things changed a year and a half ago, when non-Mandarin speakers started feeling alienated and he hopes the building can find a way to work together.

Unprecedented case

"I'm not aware of any case in the past that is even close to this," said Patrick Williams, of Clark Wilson property dispute resolution group.

"The law as far as stratas are concerned is silent on [the language] issue," he said, adding there are no rules to force a condo council to do business in English.

"There is nothing in the Strata Property Act that dictates whether or not it needs to be a specific language."

Williams said there could be a legal case made to return to English if that was how strata council business was conducted in the past, but there are other ways to solve seemingly intractable strata stand-offs.

Williams said perhaps the strata could find a middle ground through mediation, or by using a translation service paid for by council, so Kargut and others can understand strata business.

A language dispute has sparked a human rights complaint at this Richmond condo complex. (Google street view)