Brampton election sign ban faces legal challenge from civil liberties advocates

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Published December 1, 2022 at 11:51 am

election signs milton
Photo by Saim Sohail

Constitutional rights watchdogs are taking aim at Brampton’s election sign ban, saying new bylaw changes infringe on residents’ Charter rights.

Brampton City Council approved the ban earlier this week following an unprecedented number of complaints and fines for illegally placed lawn signs. Enforcement officers seized nearly 6,400 signs from candidates running in the Oct. 24 municipal election for more than $150,000 in fines.

The new rules ban residents from placing election signs on their lawn, and only permit election signs to be placed in windows or in windows in doors for all future elections.

The City says window signs will still allow residents to express support for candidates while preventing sign tampering, illegal placement, visual clutter, driver distraction, and public safety issues.

But the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) says it’s ready to challenge the bylaw changes which it says are “an unjustified restriction” on residents’ freedom of expression, and “their constitutionally protected right to engage in political speech.”

“To the extent that it prohibits individuals from putting municipal election signs on their own property, it is an unjustified restriction on the right of those residents to freedom of expression, in particular, their constitutionally protected right to engage in political speech,” CCF Litigation Director Christine Van Geyn said in a letter to the City.

RELATED: Brampton municipal candidates fined $158,000 for election sign clean-up

Van Geyn says the Brampton election sign ban is an infringement of Section 2b of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and said the CCF has “extensive experience successfully litigating on this issue.”

“We have spoken to residents of Brampton who are interested in working with our organization to change this law…it’s in everyone’s interest, including the taxpayers of Brampton, that council reconsider the Sign Bylaw to achieve compliance with the Charter,” Van Geyn said in the letter.

The motion to change Brampton’s sign bylaws was brought forward by Coun. Rowena Santos. In making her case for the ban, Santos pointed to a report on the City’s struggle with election signs back in May of 2021 which recommended outlawing lawn signs in favour of window displays, and increasing restrictions on signage.

Santos noted high clean up costs for the city, excessive signage, complaints, driver distraction, and tampering among reasons for making the changes.

In 2007, the City of Vaughan found itself in a legal challenge over lawn signs.

Ontario’s Superior Court quashed part of a municipal bylaw restricting the election signs to be posted a maximum of 21 days within a 30 day election period, ruling that Vaughan’s application of the bylaw to private property was unconstitutional.

City staff told council last week that it’s possible the bylaw could be challenged for provincial and federal elections, but that the City is allowed to regulate signage under the Municipal act.

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