In May 2019, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca) filed a court application challenging the constitutionality of an Alberta municipality’s bylaw which prohibits signs attached to the sides of transport truck trailers. The court application was filed on behalf of landowners and an advertising business, whom the Justice Centre is representing pro bono, against Foothills County, a rural county south of Calgary that has several major highways running through it. The Applicants use trailer signs placed on private land adjacent to major highways to communicate personal, political and commercial messages to the public. 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, but, following the County’s delay in filing materials, it was adjourned to February 19, 2020. Once the adjournment was confirmed, the County began, for the fist time, to enforce the challenged bylaw by issuing $2,000 tickets and Stop Orders to remove the trailer signs. As a result, the Justice Centre sought and was granted by the court an injunction, preventing the County from enforcing the bylaw against the Applicants until the hearing.
The County claims that the trailer signs are somehow unpleasing to look at and interfere with the County’s rural aesthetics. But the trailer signs are only placed alongside major highways in the County and the County permits other types of large roadside signs.
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 trailer-sign-prohibiting bylaw be struck down, as it unjustifiably infringes freedom of expression. The case will be heard on February 19, 2020 at 2:00 PM at the Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench.
“Citizens in a free society should be able to express themselves on their own private property,” said Justice Centre lawyer James Kitchen. “Trailer billboard signs along highways are a particularly effective means of communicating with the public that should not be censored through bylaws,” continued Kitchen.