Constitutional challenge to Alberta municipal bylaw prohibiting trailer billboard signs

Posted on May 13, 2019 in Justice Update, Latest Updates, News Releases

The Justice Centre has filed a court application at the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta on behalf of two individuals and a business challenging a bylaw of the Municipal District of Foothills.  While permitting other large, highly visible signage that can readily be seen by drivers, the bylaw prohibits trailer billboard signs on the sides of highways, even when placed on private property. 

The Applicant Spot Ads Inc. is an Alberta corporation in the business of leasing advertising space on the sides of transport truck trailers placed on private property adjacent to roadways in Alberta.  Spot Ads’ signs provide affordable space for small and medium sized businesses to advertise, and for other entities to express various messages to the public, while also providing income to private property owners. 

On February 20, 2019, a Foothills Planning and Development Officer emailed Spot Ads demanding that all of Spot Ads’ trailer billboard signs within Foothills be removed.  In addition, Spot Ads has received several phone calls from Foothills Bylaw Officers threatening the imposition of fines for non-compliance. 

Applicants Gerrit and Jantje Top reside near High River, Alberta, and are rural landowners.  The Tops hold “pro-life” views regarding abortion and publicly expressed their opinions by placing billboard signs on both sides of a transport truck trailer located on their own private property adjacent to a major highway.  On one side, the Tops’ sign states, “CANADA HAS NO ABORTION LAWS” and lists the website “weneedalaw.ca”.  On the other side, the Tops’ sign shows a picture of a young woman and the text “PREGNANT? NEED HELP? YOU ARE NOT ALONE” and lists the website “CHOICE42.COM”.  

On February 1, 2019, the Tops received a letter from Foothills Patrol Division which identified the Tops’ sign as an “advertising trailer” and a “prohibited sign” pursuant to section 9.24.10 of the Land Use Bylaw.  Foothills Patrol Division requested the Tops’ sign be removed and threatened various “enforcement measures” if it was not. 

The Applicants seek no damages, but collectively contend that section 9.24.10.b of the Bylaw unjustifiably infringes freedom of expression as protected under section 2(b) of the Charter, as set out in their Originating Application, and therefore is unconstitutional.  

“Citizens in a free society should be able to express themselves on their own private property,” said lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay.  “Trailer billboard signs along highways are a particularly effective means of communicating with the public that should not be censored through bylaws,” continued Carpay.