Just one day after the City of Surrey removed “about 400 signs in about 25 minutes,” city staff promised last week the anti-HST signs would be returned.
The issue came to light Friday when Fight HST campaigner Aart Looye blasted the city for removing the group’s signs posted for the provincial referendum, which begins its mail-out this week.
“We bought them with the $250,000 we were given by the (provincial) government under the Election Act,” Looye told Peace Arch News. “And as soon as they were up, somebody from the city, well, they stole them, as far as I’m concerned.”
According to Looye, the group was told Friday morning by the mayor’s office that the signs – which bear the message, “Vote Yes to Extinguish the HST” – violate Surrey’s sign bylaw, which was interpreted to permit election signs but not referendum signs.
“They’re really splitting hairs here – this whole (referendum) is being done under the Election Act,” Looye said, adding that each sign is worth between $5-$6.
“Add it up, and that’s thousands of dollars that the City of Surrey has stolen from us, and they better give them back.”
Contacted Friday afternoon, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts was surprised to hear any of the signs had been taken down.
“I have not been advised that the city is taking them down and there has been no direction to take them down,” Watts said.
The mayor said it is her understanding that both sides of the HST referendum are entitled to express themselves through signage.
“It falls under the purview of the Election Act, I do believe,” she said.
Tara Foslien – the mayor’s office communications representative – contacted Peace Arch News later that day to confirm the signs would be returned.
Foslien said the signs had been taken by city staff because “there was a grey area about whether they fit into our sign bylaw.”
As of this week, Looye said, the city returned 129 signs. The rest are unaccounted for.
“The city said those are the only ones they took down, so I don’t know what happened to the other ones – whether it was the city or somebody else,” he said, adding that more signs were taken down in South Surrey on Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
“Somebody out there obviously doesn’t agree with us,” he said. “But there’s not much else we can do – we aren’t going to antagonize (the city) anymore.”
Looye said one South Surrey Fight HST member, 75-year-old Sybil Rowe, was putting signs along 32 Avenue last week when she was approached by a “very large, intimidating” bylaw officer and told to cease her actions. However, Looye said that by the weekend, she had replanted her signs.
Watts said the city would act “only if we receive a complaint that there is a sightline issue, or the signs are blocking something.
“No signs are coming down unless they pose a sightline problem on a road or something,” Watts said. “Going forward, as long as both sides follow the rules laid out, they should be able to have signs.”
Looye noted White Rock still refuses to let Fight HST erect signs on city property.
“We can’t even find a place in White Rock to put them up. We’re upset that it’s come to this – you’d hope that cooler heads would prevail,” he said. “What I’d like to do is put one right on White Rock City Hall’s front lawn and say, ‘hey, whaddya think of that?’”
Mayor Catherine Ferguson said the referendum signs are treated the same as election signs, and allowed only on private property.
– with files from Alex Browne