Statue of Lady Justice at Vancouver courthouse. (File photo)

Judge hears Surrey political sign bylaw staff-driven, not by ‘animus,’ council or mayor

Lawyer representing Surrey argues constitutional challenge brought forward for ‘political purposes’ and is a ‘manufactured dispute’

The lawyer arguing for the City of Surrey against a constitutional challenge of a city bylaw that prohibits the placement of political signs on private property characterized it as a “bogeyman” complaint.

“I would call my friend’s improper purpose argument the ‘bogeyman’ argument,” Matthew Voell, of Lidstone & Company, told Justice Nigel Kent in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Wednesday. “They say it was the mayor – the mayor was out to get us.”

Rather, Voell said, the contentious bylaw amendments were driven by city staff recommendations, “not driven by animus, by council, by the mayor.”

Voell told the judge the constitutional challenge was brought forward for “political purposes” and “this is a manufactured dispute.”

The City of Surrey is expected to wrap up its case on May 18, after which counsel for the petitioners will have its reply.

READ ALSO: Surrey’s political sign bylaw being challenged in court Tuesday

The petition was launched by Surrey residents Annie Kaps, Debra (Debi) Johnstone, Colin Pronger, Ivan Scott, Merle Scott and Linda Ypenburg, all members of Keep the RCMP in Surrey. The amended bylaw resulted in them removing related signage from their properties but their petition to the court states they are challenging the amendments to the sign bylaw “not for personal reasons, but in an effort to protect political speech and expression in the City.”

The petitioners have retained Farris LLP law firm to argue that the bylaw as amended on Oct. 18, 2021 presents an unconstitutional infringement on their freedom of expression under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Their case was heard in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday and continued Wednesday.

Lawyer Kevin Smith, representing the petitioners, argued that the amendments were “part of a continuing pattern of behaviour that discloses animus, bias and various steps by the mayor and his supporters to silence the opposition of the petitioners.

“We say it’s possible for the court to conclude on the evidence a pattern of behaviour around the coming into force of the amendments suggests that their true purpose was not a legitimate legislative aim but rather to suppress political opposition from the petitioners and others in Surrey,” Smith told the judge.

The amendments to the city’s 1999 bylaw were passed on a 5-4 vote, with Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Allison Patton, Laurie Guerra, Mandeep Nagra and Doug Elford voting in favor and councillors Linda Annis, Jack Hundial, Steven Pettigrew and Brenda Locke voting against.

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