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Judge adjourns city hall challenge, allowing Chinese characters on Vancouver election ballots

The Vancouver election candidates who claimed their usual names are in Chinese, Farsi or Vietnamese will be allowed to include them on the ballot. Fifteen of the 138 candidates who registered by the Sept.

The Vancouver election candidates who claimed their usual names are in Chinese, Farsi or Vietnamese will be allowed to include them on the ballot.

Fifteen of the 138 candidates who registered by the Sept. 9 deadline included non-Latin characters on their nomination forms beside their legal names. Chief election officer Rosemary Hagiwara contested the nomination filings and referred them to the Robson Square Provincial Court for a judge to decide.

On Friday, Senior Judge James Wingham did not rule on Hagiwara’s application, but decided to adjourn it indefinitely because the city’s statutory 72-hour appeal period infringes his judicial independence and the rights of the 15 candidates.

“There are 15 respondents in this case, some are represented by counsel, some are self-represented and some wish more time to obtain counsel,” Wingham said. “Given the time limits, for service and hearing, they have not surprisingly been able to do so. To proceed with this application today would amount, in my view, to a denial of natural justice for those respondents.”

The adjournment means Friday’s 5 p.m. lottery for the order of names on the ballot proceeds.

Bruce Hallsor, lawyer for NPA city council candidates Elaine Allan and Ken Charko, told court that he needed more time to prepare for the case and noted that the Constitutional Questions Act’s 14-day notice period conflicts with the city’s short window. He sought adjournment to Oct. 7, eight days before Oct. 15 election day.

Wingham went one step further and granted an indefinite adjournment, just a day after adjourning Thursday’s hearing so that respondents could consult a lawyer.

Susanna Quail, the lawyer for Forward Together city council candidate Tesicca Truong and Vision Vancouver school board incumbent Allan Wong and city council candidate Honieh Barzegari, had asked Wingham to proceed for her clients’ sake. Wingham said all arguments and evidence should be heard together by the same judge “unless that judge, of course, reconsiders the issue of severance.”

“The result of an adjournment will be that the ballots will have the names of the candidates as they appear on their nomination document,” he ruled. “In that sense, there's limited, if any, prejudice to the respondents, including Ms. Quail’s clients.”

Earlier, Quail told Wingham that she did not disagree with Hallsor’s analysis of the law, but questioned the motivation by nine of the 10 NPA candidates who are not Chinese to use Chinese characters.

“To say that someone who is not not usually known by a Chinese name, can invent a Chinese name and put it on the ballot as part of their campaign marketing strategy, that’s not appropriate,” Quail said in court. “To uphold the integrity of this election process, which is, of course, a cornerstone of our democracy, it's necessary to put those boundaries in place.”

Hallsor argued that Vancouver is a multicultural city where there are ethnic Chinese people who don’t speak a Chinese language and don’t use a name in Chinese characters.

“If somebody's Caucasian and they have relations with Chinese people in ordinary life, and they use a Chinese name and they made this declaration and there's no evidence yet entered to the contrary, then these people should have the same rights as anyone else,” Hallsor said. “It would be contrary to the ethnic and multicultural nature of the City of Vancouver to say otherwise.”

The ruling is a big win for NPA mayoral candidate Fred Harding, who will be the only mayoral hopeful to use Chinese characters beside his name on the ballot. After Park Board Commissioner John Coupar quit the mayoral campaign in early August, the party switched gears and is making a major effort to engage eligible voters and donors who originate from Mainland China.

Harding moved to Beijing in 2017. When he finished sixth in the 2018 mayoral race for the Vancouver 1st party, he did not use Chinese characters on the ballot. The Mandarin speaker is married to Chinese singer Zhang Mi, a supporter of the Chinese Communist Party, and is often called “China’s son-in-law” in Chinese language media reports.

None of the candidates in the 2017 city council by-election used a name in another language and only in two previous elections did candidates list a non-Latin alphabet name on the ballot. In 2014, Audrey Siegl of COPE included an Indigenous name. In 2018, Brandon Yan of OneCity had Chinese characters beside his name. Neither was elected.

Vancouver appears to be an outlier, because senior governments do not allow names in other alphabets or scripts on election ballots.

Matthew McKenna of Elections Canada said by email: “Currently, we can only print ballots with information in both English and French, as they are Canada's official languages.”

Andrew Watson of Elections B.C. said the Election Act requires candidate names for provincial elections be shown on ballots in the Roman alphabet.

“Other types of characters such as Chinese or Arabic characters are not permitted. The use of Roman characters allows candidate names to be sorted alphabetically by surname, which is a requirement of the Act,” Watson said.