Court to hear free expression challenge to bylaw prohibiting trailer signs on private property

Feb 18th, 2020

CALGARY: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca) will be in a Calgary courtroom Wednesday February 19, regarding a constitutional challenge against Foothills County, a rural municipality south of Calgary that has tried to enforce a bylaw prohibiting signs attached to the sides of trailers, parked on private property.

In May 2019, the Justice Centre filed an application on behalf of Spot Ads, an advertising business, and local landowners whom the Justice Centre is representing pro bono. The Applicants use trailer signs on their private land, adjacent to major highways, to communicate personal, political and commercial messages to the public. The Justice Centre will argue the County’s trailer-sign-prohibiting bylaw infringes freedom of expression as protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A court date was set for the hearing of the challenge to the bylaw in early December 2019, but, as a result of the County’s delay in filing materials, it was adjourned to February 19, 2020. Once the adjournment was confirmed, the County began, for the first time, to enforce the challenged bylaw by issuing $2,000 tickets and demands to remove the trailer signs. As a result, the Justice Centre obtained an injunction, preventing the County from enforcing the bylaw against the Applicants until the hearing.

The County claims that trailer signs are somehow unpleasant to look at or block the view. However, the County permits other roadside signs, and permits trailers without signs to be parked within view of the highway, all while arbitrarily prohibiting signs if they are attached to the sides of trailers on private property.

Roadside signs, including trailer signs, are common along Alberta highways. 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. A blanket prohibition against a particular type of sign infringes freedom of expression. The bylaw doesn’t only impact commercial advertising, it also prevents landowners from using trailer signs on their own private property to communicate messages to the public or express their political beliefs.

The Applicants are seeking a declaration that the bylaw prohibiting trailer signs be struck down as unconstitutional, as it unjustifiably violates freedom of expression. The case will be heard February 19, 2020 at 2:00 PM, at the Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench, 601 – 5th Street SW.  The hearing is open to the public.

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