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Vancouver election chief challenges use of Chinese and Persian names on ballots

Vancouver's chief election officer has filed a court application seeking to declare that 15 candidates in upcoming municipal votes are not entitled to have their names on the ballot papers using Chinese, Persian or other non-Latin characters.
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Vancouver City Hall is seen in Vancouver, on Saturday, January 9, 2021. Vancouver's chief election officer has filed a court application seeking to declare that 15 candidates in upcoming municipal polls are not entitled to have their names on the ballot papers in Chinese, Persian or other non-Latin characters.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver's chief election officer has filed a court application seeking to declare that 15 candidates in upcoming municipal votes are not entitled to have their names on the ballot papers using Chinese, Persian or other non-Latin characters.

Rosemary Hagiwara filed the application to provincial court on Tuesday, naming respondents who include the Non-Partisan Association's mayoral candidate Fred Harding, incumbent NPA councillor Melissa De Genova, and veteran Vision Vancouver school board trustee Allan Wong.

The application said all of the respondents submitted their “usual name” to be used on the Oct. 15 ballot papers in both Latin characters and either Chinese or Persian.

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

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

The matter is set to be heard by the provincial court in Robson Square on Thursday morning.

Harding said in an interview his Chinese name wasn't something "plucked out of a hat."

He said he has had a Chinese name for many years because half of his family on his wife's side are Chinese.

"So telling me that this is not my usual name, you can understand this is like, 'You really don't know me,'" said Harding.

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.

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

Harding said that although the NPA had access to lawyers, none could respond to the matter by Thursday morning.

Vision Vancouver said in a statement that Wong and council candidate Honieh Barzegar 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 using "cultural appropriation" by adopting Chinese names by which they are not commonly known, to seek an unfair advantage at the polls.

COPE school board candidate Suzie Mah said in a statement she felt "shock and disbelief" at being included among the respondents because her Chinese name was chosen by her parents and is part of her identity.

"The reason for using my Chinese name as well as my English name on the ballot is important to me. This is not about gaining extra votes with the Chinese community," said Mah, adding she was not someone who sought to “make up a Chinese name” to use in the election.

Mah said in an interview her Chinese name was well-known among the Chinese-speaking community.

"I think that in the future if we want people to run for office and we want people to be part of democracy, voting has to be accessible. When you put in another barrier for people to take to run for office, it is very disturbing," said Mah.

She said time was too short for her to seek legal advice before the hearing.

Hagiwara said in her affidavit that she is 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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2022.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story; An earlier version did not include OneCity Vancouver in the list of civic parties with a candidate submitting a usual name in non-Latin characters.

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