According to an article in the latest NewsNow, one resident was threatened with charges under the Elections Act for displaying a sign that was classified as an “election sign”.

The sign in question says “Who Speaks For The People of Ward 3?”

The Town’s “Sign By-law” 97-45 (link here) is the current in-force By-law regarding signs and it defines an election sign as follows:

There certainly is no municipal, regional, provincial or federal election underway nor does the sign appear to support a candidate or political party. What the sign appears to support is the exercise of Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or simply “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression”.

It is not an absolute right, as Section 1 of the Charter can curtail rights with “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” on the freedom of expression. For instance, the pre-COVID adage of “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre” serves as an example.

In this case however, should the resident decide to pursue a Charter case, Town administration and their legal team would be hard-pressed to prove that the sign By-law can revoke that enshrined right. Section 1 of the Charter sets a very high bar.

Interestingly enough, one of the Town’s legal team, Mr. John Mascarin, co-penned a legal brief in 2002 entitled “Is The Writing On The Wall For Sign By-Laws In Canada?”. In that paper, the authors reviewed a then-recent Supreme Court of Canada decision on signs and how Charter rights and municipal sign By-laws interact.

“Given that the sole purpose of municipal regulation is to place limits on the means of expression, applicants have had little difficulty meeting their onus of showing that there has been a prima facie infringement of their rights.

The difficulty from a municipal lawyer’s perspective is that, once the
onus has transferred, justifying limitations in a sign by-law is extremely difficult under the rigorous s. 1 test.”

You can read the entire paper at this link here.

The current sign By-law dates back to 1997 and since that time there have been significant decisions that affect the enforceability and application of this type of By-law. Perhaps it is time for Council to look into this specific matter and bring this document into conformity with legal practice and judicial standards.

You can read the full NewsNow article at the following link: