Vancouver candidates allowed to have names on ballots in non-Latin script

·3 min read
A voter casts their ballot in the 2014 municipal election at an advance polling station. In that election, only one candidate was allowed to use non-Latin characters on the ballot. (CBC - image credit)
A voter casts their ballot in the 2014 municipal election at an advance polling station. In that election, only one candidate was allowed to use non-Latin characters on the ballot. (CBC - image credit)

Candidates in Vancouver's upcoming civic election will be allowed to have their names written in Chinese or Persian script on the ballot after a judge adjourned an application by the city's election officer, which would have disallowed names in non-Latin characters.

"Today's Provincial Court Judge ruling means the Vancouver Election will proceed with the names of the 15 candidates as submitted in their nomination documents," the city said in a statement.

Judge James Wingham ruled it would be "unfair'' to proceed with the application under the strict timeline set out in the Vancouver Charter and adjourned the hearing to a later date, sometime after the municipal elections.

"We're really happy to see that the Chinese names will remain on the ballot because the judge saw the issues as so complex, so complicated there is no way a ruling could happen today," Non-Partisan Association's mayoral candidate Fred Harding said Friday.

Vancouver's Chief Election Officer, Rosemary Hagiwara, filed an application in provincial court on Tuesday to disallow Chinese and Persian characters being used by 15 candidates.

The application included respondents such as the Non-Partisan Association's mayoral candidate Fred Harding (傅爱德), incumbent NPA councillor Melissa De Genova (鄭慧蘭), and veteran Vision Vancouver school board trustee Allan Wong (黃偉倫).

It said all of the respondents submitted their "usual name" to be used on the ballot papers in both Latin characters and either Chinese or Persian.

Ten of the submissions were from the NPA, two from Vision Vancouver, and one each from Forward Together, COPE and OneCity Vancouver.

Vision Vancouver
Vision Vancouver

The case pitted candidates arguing that non-Latin character names are essential for connecting with voters against allegations of cultural appropriation.

Chief Election Officer Rosemary Hagiwara argued that none of the respondents who have previously stood for municipal election used non-Latin versions of their names in earlier nomination papers.

Harding said ahead of the ruling that he's had his Chinese name for many years because half of his family on his wife's side are Chinese.

Hagiwara's affidavit said that when Harding initially submitted his nomination on Sept. 6, he did not include Chinese characters in his usual name, but three days later, he revised his nomination to add them.

Justin McElroy/CBC
Justin McElroy/CBC

She also said Harding did not include Chinese characters when he ran for mayor in 2018.

Vision Vancouver said in a statement prior to the ruling that Wong and council candidate Honieh Barzegari (هانیه برزگری) were dismayed by the possibility that their "unique and usual names" printed in non-Latin characters would be removed from ballot papers.

But the party also accused other candidates of "cultural appropriation" by adopting Chinese names to seek an unfair advantage at the polls.

Future elections uncertain

COPE school board candidate Suzie Mah (馬陳小珠) said she is happy she'll be able to use her Chinese name on the ballot.

"I was born with a Chinese name, it is a usual name that I use, and I was very shocked to find out that this would have been challenged," she said.

Mah added that it's unclear whether non-Latin versions of names will be allowed on future ballots.

"This case is going to continue and go forward, and I believe that we do need a resolution to this, particularly for the next election," she said.

Hagiwara said in her affidavit that she was not aware of any candidate seeking to use non-Latin characters on ballot papers before 2014. Only one candidate in each of the 2014 and 2018 polls had used non-Latin characters on the ballot, she said.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

In the last municipal elections in 2018, the City of Vancouver allowed only OneCity councillor candidate Brandon Yan (甄念本) to use his Chinese name on ballots while denying other candidates' requests to do the same. The city's decision led to a legal challenge from school trustee candidates Sophie Woo and Ken Denike.