The BCCLA is weighing in on reports that city officials in Vancouver, Maple Ridge and Chilliwack have been removing citizens’ political signs about the Harmonized Sales Tax Referendum placed on public property like boulevards and meridians. The BCCLA has written to the Mayors of these municipalities urging them to refrain from removing political signs for the duration of the referendum campaign.
“If municipal officials continue to remove citizens’ HST signs we fully expect to see a legal challenge . Municipalities are enforcing bylaws that will not survive constitutional challenge. A legal challenge will be costly to citizens and taxpayers and we are instead urging municipalities to do the right thing: respect political speech rights and redraft their bylaws to be Charter complaint,” said Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA. “
In the fall of 2010, the British Columbia Court of Appeal struck down a Vancouver bylaw that amounted to an absolute prohibition on political structures in public space. The Court found that a blanket prohibition on the use of public space for political speech was a violation of citizens’ rights to free expression.
Holmes: “As the Supreme Court of Canada has said repeatedly, political speech lies at the heart of freedom of expression. While it might be permissible under the Charter to regulate the time, place and manner of expression, any such restrictions have to minimally impair citizens’ right to political expression. The draconian removal of citizens’ HST signs obviously does not meet that legal test. Municipalities cannot make whatever rules they wish for public space, as if they were private owners of the property. Public space is subject to the Charter and because of that, there must be some room for political speech in public space. We understand that Surrey initially removed HST signs, but reconsidered. We commend Surrey, and call on other municipalities to do the same.”
Letter to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson
Robert Holmes, Q.C., President, (604) 681-1310
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director, (604) 630-9753