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Does Bill 13 tackle ambush marketing of free speech?

Amendments to Whistler sign bylaw address ‘new marketing strategies and technologies’



The Resort Municipality of Whistler has revised its sign bylaw to include technologies it didn't consider when it was first drawn up in 1987.

Council last week passed amendments to the Consolidated Sign Bylaw that add "new marketing strategies and technologies" to the prohibitions already in place.

Among other things, the amendments add visual projections, lighting and electrical systems to a bylaw that hasn't been updated in 22 years. They also prohibit "illuminations, inscriptions, material, media, notices or objects" that promote a "product, activity, service or idea."

Sandra Smith, bylaw supervisor for the municipality, said in an interview that the "signage officer" designation is also being changed because the position no longer exists as envisioned in the 1987 bylaw. Council now has the power to appoint employees as signage officers.

"We're updating the sign approving officer designation so that council can designate different people to be sign removing officer," Smith said, adding the amendments also extend the period for special event signs to be displayed.

"We're extending the period a little bit longer so we can allow different types of special event signs because of the length of the Games."

The provisions for special event signage will only be in effect for the period of the Olympic Games.

Whistler's sign bylaw has been a central focus in the municipality after the province introduced legislation that slashes in half the time it allows officials to legally remove signs from private properties.

Two weeks ago the province introduced Bill 13, an omnibus bill that allows municipal officials in Whistler, Vancouver and Richmond to remove signs from private property with a day's notice. Under Section 8 of Whistler's existing sign bylaw, municipal officials can remove signs from properties two days after owners receive notice.

The Bill met with condemnation from activists such as Whistlerite Sara Jennings, who worry that it "erodes civil liberties." Others, like Pique columnist G.D. Maxwell, have remarked that giving municipal officials the ability to enter private properties and remove signs on short notice violates the Charter right to freedom of speech.

Whistler, however, claims that Bill 13 is meant to tackle "ambush marketing" and will not make anything illegal that wasn't legal before. The municipality claims it merely allows the local government to quickly deal with illegal signs or "unsightly graffiti."

"We want to make sure people have the right to express themselves freely," Smith said. "Really our concern is for a commercial aspect of marketing and that's what our changes are all about. We're certainly very sensitive to the Charter of Rights (and Freedoms)."

Whether Bill 13 actually impacts the Charter right to freedom of expression remains open to question. David Eby, executive director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said any infringements on freedom of speech would depend on implementation by the municipality.

"The shortened notice periods are a concern," he said. "We would want to look at the exact wording of bylaws that were passed by the cities in response to this new power before we made pronouncements on whether or not it was constitutional."



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