A group of condominium unit owners in Richmond, B. C. have filed a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, claiming that they were being discriminated against because the condominium board decided that all board meetings would be conducted in Mandarin. (Richmond is a suburb of Vancouver with a population that is over 50% ethnic Chinese.)

After one Mandarin-speaking owner obtained enough proxies to change the composition of the Board, there were no longer any non-Mandarin speakers on the Board. (Approximately 30% of the unit owners do not speak Mandarin.) In response to an owner’s request to attend a board meeting, the President said that he was welcome to attend, but the meeting would be conducted in Mandarin. Even though the board was aware that the unit owner did not speak Mandarin, the meeting was conducted in Mandarin and at the end of the meeting the unit owner was asked if he had any questions.

The board claimed that holding the meetings in Mandarin was not discriminatory, as it was the most efficient way to conduct the meeting and that the minutes of the meeting would be documented in English. The unit owners claimed that as the condominium (which is referred to in British Columbia as a strata corporation) was a legal entity created by statute and not merely a casual social club, the meetings should be held in one of Canada’s official languages.

Not surprisingly, this case has garnered plenty of attention in the media. Aside from the legal ramifications of the board’s conduct, Ujjal Dosanjh, the former premier of British Columbia has publicly warned that behavior such as this is leading towards the creation of ghettos and that “the idea of a fair, just, egalitarian and inclusive Canada will not long survive ghettos”.

We expect that the decision of the Human Rights Tribunal will be eagerly anticipated across the country. With Canada’s ethnically diverse population, particularly in major urban centres, situations like this could potentially happen in other condominiums.