LONDON: The Justice Centre has sent a warning letter to the City of London warning that attempting to censor a small business owner’s sign is a violation of her freedom of expression. The City has already issued the woman an $880 ticket for posting a sign explaining that the business does not ask questions of customers who are not wearing a face covering.
Heather Rulton owns and operates a small business in London, Ontario called Spirituality in You Healing Center. The shop, located in East London and nestled among pawn shops and cheap motels, has a clientele that includes homeless and marginalized people. Ms. Rulton placed a sign on her front door to assure customers who are unable to wear a mask that their human rights would be respected while shopping in her business, and they would not be asked their reasons for not wearing a mask. About 95% of the people who attend Ms. Rulton’s business do wear a face covering or mask.
Ms. Rulton has complied with the City’s requirement to post a sign on the front door of her store which states in bold lettering, “Face Covering or Mask is Required.”
Stage 3 Rules list numerous exemptions from wearing masks, including for individuals with “a medical condition that inhibits their ability to wear a mask or face covering”.
Despite this, the City of London has ticketed Ms. Rulton for posting her own sign communicating respect for those exempt from wearing a mask. City bylaw officers have threatened to return to Ms. Rulton’s store every day and issue $880 fines to her or the employees of her small store unless Ms. Rulton removes her sign. The City claims that Ms. Rulton is not complying with the Reopening Ontario Act, though it has not told Ms. Rulton what specific section her sign is allegedly violating.
The Justice Centre has sent City of London Supervisor and Municipal Law Enforcement Officer Wade Jeffery a letter warning him that the City is violating Ms. Rulton’s freedom of expression, which is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The letter demands that the City immediately cease the attempt to censor Ms. Rulton and her sign, and requests that the City confirm it will do so no later than today, Friday, October 23, 2020. Regardless, Ms. Rulton intends to fight this ticket and any further tickets in court.
“Ms. Rulton is committed to complying with all the applicable requirements in her small business,” states Marty Moore, staff lawyer with the Justice Centre. “The City’s overbearing threats and ticket are serious violations of Ms. Rulton’s freedom of expression. The City is interfering with her ability to communicate in a straightforward way the respect she has for the human rights of her customers, many of whom are homeless, and some of whom are unable to wear a mask.”