Surrey residents challenging the constitutionality of city bylaw amendments that govern the placement of political signs on private property await a verdict that was reserved after final arguments were heard Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.
“I have no clue when I’ll get a judgment to you,” Justice Nigel Kent said after adjourning the case. “But I will in due course, thank you.”
Lawyer Kevin Smith, representing the plaintiffs, argued 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.
“This is not just political disagreement,” Smith told the judge. “This isn’t a couple of political adversaries going at it in the normal cut-and-thrust.
“All they’re trying to do is make it harder for my clients to participate or to voice their views at all,” he said of Mayor Doug McCallum and “his council supporters.”
“There’s nothing normal about that. This suppression of political dissent by the government is exactly what the Charter is supposed to help prevent.”
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.”
Smith argued 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.”
Matthew Voell, the lawyer representing the City of Surrey, argued the contentious bylaw amendments were driven by city staff recommendations, and “not driven by animus, by council, by the mayor.”
“There was no improper purpose there,” Voell argued. “The petition should be dismissed.
“The petitioners appear to want change in the city – they can effect change at the ballot box.”
Voell told Kent that the constitutional challenge was brought forward for “political purposes” and “this is a manufactured dispute.”
Meantime, Smith said it’s “crystal clear” that no permits “can be obtained, I suggest both for the public and the private land signs.”
“No one, not even the councillors, knows what this bylaw says,” he added. “There is considerable confusion, even within the city.”