A provincial court judge adjourned a Thursday hearing to decide whether Chinese, Vietnamese and Farsi characters can appear on the Vancouver civic election ballot to Friday morning and may force city hall to delay printing the ballots.
Several candidates who packed the courtroom for more than an hour told Senior Judge James Wingham at Robson Square that they did not have enough time to consult a lawyer after being served the city’s application on Wednesday. Four of them claimed they had not received the court filing.
Chief election officer Rosemary Hagiwara applied to the court before the city’s Sept. 13 deadline, triggering the statutory 72-hour period in which a challenge must be heard and decided. Her application emphasized she was not challenging any candidate’s entitlement to run in the Oct. 15 election, but whether they can use the “usual name proposed in their nomination documents.” The Vancouver Charter does not specifically require that a candidate’s full name or usual name be in the Latin alphabet.
Fifteen of the 138 candidates registered by the Sept. 9 deadline included non-Latin characters on their nomination forms, declaring it to be their “usual” name.
City lawyer Grant Murray told the court that the city’s election law sets a 4 p.m. deadline on Friday to finalize the list of candidates. A lottery draw is scheduled to begin an hour later to decide the order of names on the ballot. But Wingham said that may not matter.
“I'm not an arm of the government. I'm an independent judicial officer,” Wingham said. “This legislation, in my view, may have the effect of impacting my judicial independence.
“I'm just giving you a heads up that if I'm hearing complicated arguments — to expect any judge to hear a complex argument which might finish at quarter to four tomorrow afternoon, and then give a decision in 15 minutes, is unreasonable.”
The judge sealed the court file after NPA candidates Melissa De Genova and Elaine Allan complained for security reasons about their home addresses being visible on their nomination papers. City hall keeps unredacted copies for public inspection during business hours, but the online versions are censored.
Ten of the 15 candidates subject to Hagiwara’s challenge are running with the NPA and added Chinese characters to their forms after a campaign worker noticed OneCity council candidate Iona Bonamis included Chinese characters on hers, translating to her maiden name, Tao Sie Wing.
Bonamis was represented in court by retired lawyer Ruth Herman. Lawyer Susanna Quail appeared for candidates Tesicca Truong (Forward Together), Allan Wong and Honieh Barzegani (Vision Vancouver). Quail said her clients preferred to be heard immediately and was concerned the case wouldn’t be over by 4 p.m. Friday. “We’re here, we’re ready to go,” Quail said.
NPA school board candidate and divorce lawyer Rahul Aggarwal represented himself and sought an adjournment. He suggested the Charter of Rights and Freedoms could override the city’s election laws.
The NPA mayoral candidate introduced himself as “Harold Christopher Harding, also known as Fred Harding,” but he did not tell the judge his Chinese name.
“Had this been handled properly four years ago, we wouldn't be in such a time crunch to bring Charter issues to the table,” said Harding, a Beijing-based business consultant. “There is no lawyer available to us who can discuss the Charter issues.”
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 included Chinese characters beside his name. Neither was elected.
Harding was one of several 2022 candidates who did not include Chinese characters in their 2018 nomination papers. He finished sixth place in the mayoralty contest.
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.