Vancouver’s Chief Electoral Officer has filed a court application seeking a declaration that 15 candidates in the upcoming municipal elections are barred from having their names on ballots using Chinese, Persian or other characters not Latin.

Rosemary Hagiwara filed the petition in provincial court on Tuesday, naming the respondents who include Nonpartisan Association mayoral candidate Fred Harding (傅爱德), outgoing NPA councilor Melissa De Genova (鄭慧蘭) and school counselor Vision Vancouver veteran Allan Wong (黃偉倫).

The request says that all respondents submitted their “usual name” to be used on the ballots in Latin characters and Chinese or Persian.

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

Hagiwara contends that none of the respondents who have ever run for mayor have used non-Latin versions of their names in previous nomination papers.

The case is due to be heard in Robson Square Provincial Court on Thursday morning.

The Chinese name didn’t “come out of a hat”, says Harding

Harding said in an interview that his Chinese name was not something “out of a hat”.

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

“So by telling me that’s not my usual name, you can figure it’s like ‘you really don’t know me,'” Harding said.

NPA mayoral candidate Fred Harding, center, says his Chinese name was not something “out of a hat”. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Hagiwara’s affidavit indicates that when Harding originally submitted his nomination on September 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 attorneys, none could respond to the case by Thursday morning.

Candidates appalled by legal challenge

Vision Vancouver said in a statement that Wong and council candidate Honieh Barzegar (هانیه برزگری) were appalled by the possibility of their “unique and common names” printed in non-Latin characters being removed from ballots.

But the party has also accused other candidates of using “cultural appropriation” by adopting Chinese names they are not usually known by to seek an unfair advantage at the polls.

COPE school board candidate Suzie Mah (馬陳小珠) said in a statement that she was “shocked and in disbelief” to be included among the interviewees because her Chinese name was chosen by her parents and was part of his identity.

“The reason why I use my Chinese name as well as my English name on the ballot is important to me. It’s not about winning extra votes with the Chinese community,” Mah said, adding that she was not someone looking to “catch up a Chinese name” to use in the election.

Suzie Mah, a candidate for the COPE school board, says her Chinese name, chosen by her parents, is part of her identity. (COPE)

Mah said in an interview that his Chinese name is well known to the Chinese-speaking community.

“I think 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 another hurdle to jump for people people running for office, it’s very disturbing,” Mah said.

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

Hagiwara said in her affidavit that she was not aware of any candidate seeking to use non-Latin characters on ballots until 2014.

Only one candidate in each of the 2014 and 2018 polls had used non-Latin characters on the ballot, she said.

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

In the last municipal election of 2018, the City of Vancouver only allowed OneCity council candidate Brandon Yan to have his Chinese name on the ballots. (Ben Nelms/CBC)