Alberta County sued over Grinch-like plan to remove signs from private property on Christmas Eve

CALGARY: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms ( has filed a court application seeking an injunction against Foothills County on behalf of Spot Ads Inc. and resident landowners who have Spot Ads and personal signs on their private property attached to the sides of trailers. The court application is needed to prevent the County from removing the signs while a constitutional challenge is ongoing against a County bylaw that violates free expression by prohibiting signs attached to the sides of trailers.

In violation of the free expression and private property rights of landowners, the County has issued fines in the amount of $2,000 for each sign. The County scrooges have also issued Stop Orders demanding the removal of the signs, or else the County will remove the signs in a Grinch-like move starting on December 24, 2019.

The Justice Centre filed a court challenge to the constitutionality of the County bylaw that prohibits trailer signs in May 2019. The County refrained from enforcing the challenged bylaw until November 2019, when, due to its own delay in filing its materials, the original date for the court to hear the constitutional challenge had to be adjourned to February 2020. Shortly after the adjournment was set, the County began sending aggressive letters to landowners, threatening fines if the trailer signs were not taken down.

The County permits large, roadside billboard signs, but arbitrarily prohibits similar signs if they are attached to the sides of trailers on private property. The County claims that the signs attached to trailers are somehow unpleasing to look at. Further, the County permits trailers without signs to be parked within view of the highway.

Spot Ads provides affordable, alternative roadside signage to businesses and organizations seeking to advertise their services or communicate a message to the public, but don’t want to pay for conventional billboard signs. Landowners exercise their property rights and free expression rights to lease small, unused portions of their land for the placement of the signs, thereby generating much-needed income to off-set ever increasing property taxes. A win-win for advertisers and landowners during tough economic times. The County, however, doesn’t view things that way.

“An abundance of signs, as one of society’s most important and effective means of communication, is a defining characteristic of free societies such as Canada,” stated Jay Cameron, Litigation Director for the Justice Centre.

“A blanket prohibition against a particular type of sign, when various similar signs are permitted, violates freedom of expression. The bylaw doesn’t only impact commercial advertising, it also prevents landowners from attaching signs to trailers on their own private property to communicate messages to the public or express their political beliefs,” continued Cameron.

The application for an injunction will be heard in Chambers Friday, December 20, 2019 at the Calgary Courts Centre. The Justice Centre, which is representing the landowners and Spot Ads pro bono, will argue the County’s imposition of fines and threats to enter private property to remove the signs violate free expression and the landowners’ private property rights.

“Alberta landowners have a right to freedom of expression protected by the Charter, and a right to enjoyment of their private property under the Alberta Bill of Rights,” concluded Cameron. “The Municipality has procedural requirements which it has not fulfilled in issuing the tickets and threatening to enter the Landowners’ property. It is not above the law.”