Instead of relaxing and celebrating Canada 150, Andreas and Dorte Kargut and their two sons moved away from the Wellington Court townhouse complex in Richmond, destined for a new start in Vernon.
“Our home was no longer a home, it was just a place where we lived,” Andreas Kargut told theBreaker.
In late 2015, Kargut made national news after he filed a discrimination complaint to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. The strata council for the 54-unit complex held meetings in Mandarin and refused to hire an English translator. The new slate came to power with 30 proxy votes, and it refused to respect the English-speaking minority.
Kargut and six neighbours thought they had reached a truce last summer after settlement negotiations. But the strata council balked at the annual general meeting over the cost of a translator and reverted to Mandarin-only meetings for its convenience. Kargut said he was the target of unjustified threats and insults.
“They labelled me a racist, as a crook, none of which are true,” Kargut said. “I was only trying to make the public aware that we used to have harmony until one person came in with a whole bunch of proxy votes and had convinced the council to decide to be non-inclusive towards English-speaking Canadians.”
He appealed to civic, provincial and federal politicians, but none was willing to help his cause. He wrote letters twice to then-Housing Minister Rich Coleman, who never responded. Through the media, he shot down the idea of adding an official languages clause to the province’s Strata Property Act that would have required business be conducted in English or French.
“Here’s the housing minister not taking ownership of a serious housing issue,” Kargut said.
Kargut said his parents came from Germany, learned English and assimilated. He wonders why so many people have immigrated to Richmond from the People’s Republic of China and not embraced English.
He moved to Richmond in 1979 when it was a small, suburban community where neighbours knew each other. Today, it is home to nearly 200,000. Half the residents are ethnic Chinese.
“That has changed dramatically, especially over the last 10 years, where you really don’t know who your neighbour is,” Kargut said. “People are either buying or selling their places or possibly just buy a place and don’t live there at all.”
He said he doesn’t feel welcome in Richmond anymore and the cost of housing is too high. Moving to Ladner or the Fraser Valley were not viable options, because the commuting would have meant less time spent together with his family. Instead, he took advantage of a Vernon job opening at his telecommunications industry employer. The family will rent a house for the time being. Meanwhile, Kargut’s elderly mother, sister and brother remain in Richmond.
“There is nothing left for us here, we’ve got to look for our future and have a future to look forward to rather than dealing with the past and how wonderful of a community Richmond was when I moved here as a teenager. I spent many wonderful years in Richmond watching it grow, now watching it self destruct. It’s very tough for me.”
As for the human rights complaint, he hopes it is heard early in 2018.
“We’re fighting based on principle,” he said. “If we fight it and win it, that means other people in the Lower Mainland suffering the same issues as we are will have some sort of hope to fight it and win.”