Spot Ads et al v. Municipal District of Foothills

 

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Spot Ads et al v. Municipal District of Foothills

 

On December 20, the Justice Centre was granted an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ruling that prevents Foothills County grinches from removing signs on private property beginning on Christmas Eve. Justice Centre lawyers appeared before Justice Glen Poelman in Calgary to apply for an injunction against Foothills County.

The injunction granted allows Spot Ads Inc., and Alberta landowners to keep personal signs on their private property attached to the sides of trailers, while a constitutional challenge is ongoing against a County bylaw which prohibits such signs. The Justice Centre, representing the landowners pro bono, was forced to seek court intervention to protect the free expression and private property rights of landowners. The County had issued fines in the amount of $2,000 for each sign. The County scrooges also issued Stop Orders demanding the removal of the signs, and threatened to 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 originally 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, and, implicitly, somehow more unpleasant to look at than the other large billboard signs the County permits. Further, the County permits trailers without signs to be parked within view of the highway.

The 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”.

Landowners exercise their property 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, claiming instead that the signs are an eyesore and therefore must be taken down.

Signs attached to the sides of trailers are common along Alberta highways, as are other large billboard signs. 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, 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.

The application for an injunction was heard in Chambers Friday, December 20, 2019 at the Calgary Courts Centre. The Justice Centre argued 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. A judge agreed, granting the injunction to prevent the County from taking action until the matter is heard on February 19, 2020.

 

 

 


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