Lawyer says ‘nothing normal’ about City of Surrey political signage by-law – Saanich News
Surrey residents challenging the constitutionality of changes to municipal by-laws governing the placement of political signs on private property are awaiting a verdict that was reserved after final arguments were heard Wednesday in British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver.
“I have no idea when I will render judgment to you,” Judge Nigel Kent said after adjourning the case. “But I will in due time, thank you.”
Attorney Kevin Smith, representing the plaintiffs, argued that the settlement as amended on October 18, 2021 presents an unconstitutional infringement on their freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“It’s not just a political disagreement,” Smith told the judge. “It’s not about a few political adversaries attacking it as part of a normal punch.
“All they’re trying to do is make it harder for my clients to participate or express their views,” he said of Mayor Doug McCallum and “his supporters of the advice”.
“There is nothing normal about this. This suppression of political dissent by government is exactly what the Charter is supposed to help prevent.
The petition was started by Surrey residents Annie Kaps, Debra (Debi) Johnstone, Colin Pronger, Ivan Scott, Merle Scott and Linda Ypenburg, all members of Keep Surrey RCMP. The amended bylaw has caused them to remove related signage from their properties, but their court petition says they are challenging the sign bylaw changes “not for personal reasons, but for the purpose of protecting speech and ‘political expression in the city’.
Smith argued that the amendments were “part of an ongoing behavior that reveals animosity, bias, and various actions taken by the mayor and his supporters to silence opposition from petitioners.”
Matthew Voell, the solicitor representing the City of Surrey, argued that the contentious changes to the bylaws were driven by recommendations from city staff and “not driven by animosity, by council, by the mayor”.
“There was no inappropriate purpose there,” Voell explained. “The request must be dismissed.
“The petitioners seem to want change in the city – they can effect change at the ballot box.”
Voell told Kent that the constitutional challenge was brought for “political purposes” and “this is a fabricated dispute.”
In the meantime, Smith said it was “crystal clear” that no permits “can be obtained, I suggest for both public and private signs”.
“No one, not even the councilors, knows what this regulation says,” he added. “There is considerable confusion, even within the city.”
Supreme Court of British ColumbiaCity of Surrey