The ability to remove signs during the 2010 Winter Games are meant to tackle ambush marketing rather than free speech, Whistler's mayor said this week.
The province is moving forward an omnibus bill that will, among other things, allow municipal employees to remove signs from private properties with a day's notice.
Known in the legislature as Bill 13, the Miscellaneous Statues Amendment Act, it includes amendments to B.C.'s Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act that will apply to Whistler, Vancouver and Richmond between Feb. 1 and March 31 of 2010.
The amendments ask that municipal officers exercise their authority in a reasonable manner but they're only being asked to notify private property owners of entry - they won't have to ask their permission.
Mayor Ken Melamed is assuring Whistler residents that the law won't change community bylaws but they will give the municipality "additional enforcement powers" to combat ambush marketing.
"Under the existing timeframes the Games would be over by the time we could remove offending signage," he said. "I think somebody phrased it as an erosion of freedom of speech. I would suggest that there's no erosion because the sign bylaw doesn't change.
"It's not prescriptive about what it says, it's just signs in general that are inappropriately mounted or placed in and around the municipality."
Whistler activist Sara Jennings said last week that Bill 13 amounts to an erosion of civil liberties and that even Olympic supporters ought to be upset by the legislation.
Melamed said if signs conform to the municipality's bylaw then municipal officials will likely leave them be.
"I think if somebody in a remote subdivision in Whistler wants to hang a banner on their house, I'm not sure how concerned people would be," Melamed said. "Let's remember a lot of our enforcement is complaint-based. Our bylaw guys won't be driving around subdivisions looking for signs on houses."
And what's to happen if "No to 2010" signs show up on properties near the village?
"I think they'd do the same thing if they saw 'Yes to 2010,'" Melamed said. "If it was consistent with our sign bylaw it would be okay."
Whistler's Consolidated Sign Bylaw provides a very specific list of signs permitted on properties throughout the community. They include election signs, window signs, real estate signs and display boxes.
Prohibited signs under the bylaw include banners, pennants and flags other than national, provincial or municipal flags. Other prohibited signs include balloons or other "gas-filled inflatable devices." Signs can't be mounted on roofs, decks or balconies.
The current enforcement regime allows municipal officers to remove signs from properties with two days' notice and impound the signs for 30 days before selling them, auctioning them or demolishing them, with all proceeds going back to the municipality.
Bill 13 allows municipal authorities to satisfy any of four conditions to enter a private property and remove a sign: they can get the owner's consent; the owner can get 24 hours of entry notice and the reasons for it; entry can be made on a warrant under the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act; or a municipal official can provide "reasonable grounds" for believing failure to enter could endanger the health or safety of the property owner.
Melamed also said that signs aren't the only way to protest the Olympics.
"People still have many opportunities to express their views," he said. "This is just relating to a sign bylaw, so you know, there are places that people can protest. Social media provides an opportunity for people to get their message out like never before, handheld devices, YouTube - there's so many ways people can express their views."