B.C. condo owners file human rights complaint after board holds meetings in Mandarin

Allegations of discrimination are pitting neighbour against neighbour at a Richmond condominium complex.

A group of homeowners has filed a human rights complaint alleging they’re being treated unfairly because they don’t speak Mandarin.

Andreas Kargut and his wife have been living at Wellington Court since it was built in 2004. He served on council until last year.

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“All of us except for one got ousted,” he said of non-Mandarin speaking council members.

Harry Gray also served on strata. He was voted out at the same time. He describes the vote as a “successful, deliberate attempt” to oust non-Mandarin speakers from council.

Seventy per cent of Wellington Court residents speak Mandarin. Earlier this month, they received an email from the new council:

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“Please understand that council team for this fiscal is using Mandarin as the preferred language for communication. We have no intention of using English during the meeting on December the 8th. That’s the most efficient way for the team this year.”

“We never said that communication has to be only in Mandarin,” strata council president Ed Mao said. “It’s only the council meetings when we discuss…matters and we find it more efficient to use Mandarin, that’s all.”

“We have lost our voice and anything that happens regarding to maintenance issues, how the monies are spent, or in this case, how the monies are not spent,” Kargut said.

“They tried to save money by cancelling all the repairs, such as gutter cleaning, power washing,” Gray said.

There is nothing in the Strata Property Act that requires English to be spoken at strata meetings. And Mao says there was a lot of misunderstanding by Mandarin-speaking owners when meetings were held in English.

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“This is not about culture, this is not racist, this is not discrimination,” he said. “This is just purely a bunch a people living in one community that want to make things work,” he said.

Some of the non-Mandarin speaking owners have filed a discrimination suit with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, but they may also have another choice.

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“The other option is a court application and argue ‘significant unfairness,’ which is a provision within the legislation,” Tony Gioventu of the Condominium Home Owners Association said.

“So if a majority of owners take an action that is significantly unfair against another group of owners they can get a court injunction through Supreme Court to order a different activity.”

“The ultimate goal is to actually live in harmony and actually not have this sort of discrimination again,” Kargut said

The likeliest outcome? Council will have to do what many other stratas already do in multicultural Metro Vancouver: hire an interpreter for every meeting.

-With files from Randene Neill

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