Legal opinion to be heard in Comox election sign debate

The debate of election signs on public property in Comox is getting a fresh perspective, as council agreed Wednesday to extend an invitation to a Courtenay-based lawyer who argues banning election signs is unconstitutional.

The debate of election signs on public property in Comox is getting a fresh perspective, as council agreed Wednesday to extend an invitation to a Courtenay-based lawyer who argues banning election signs is unconstitutional.

Council debated a recommendation to the Comox sign bylaw to allow political signs along boulevards fronting private property only, and prohibit political signs at all other public locations.

Coun. Tom Grant told council he was contacted by Clive Ansley, a lawyer who represented Falun Gong practitioners in Vancouver.

Grant read a letter from Ansley, which stated the practitioners refused to dismantle structures that carried political messages in Vancouver in 2001, and upon refusal, Ansely filed a petition in the B.C. Supreme Court.

Following an appeal, the court found that the bylaw on which the City of Vancouver relied upon was unconstitutional and therefore of no force and effect because it prohibited the erection on public property of all structures bearing political content.

Coun. Russ Arnott said he could not support the recommendation, adding he would like to see some changes.

“I just feel there is room for manoeuvering here. I don’t believe this is a good way to move and I think if we would have looked at rewording this recommendation, it might have been a little bit easier for all of us,” he noted.

“The last couple years were kind of an anomaly where there seemed to be a federal election every time we turned around. I think we see some stability with our federal government … so I think that was just a bubble and I don’t see it’s the end of the world having some signs out for four weeks,” added Arnott.

Coun. Hugh MacKinnon agreed with him, while Coun. Ken Grant added he finds the recommendation unfair, particularly to those seeking to enter municipal politics for the first time.

“I also don’t believe this is a very democratic process. I think anytime that you’re doing something that benefits the people who are sitting at this table, we should really take a look at why we’re doing it, and I don’t think it’s fair,” he said.

Coun. Patti Fletcher argued the recommendation was initially brought to council’s attention because of the numerous complaints from town residents.

“(The recommendation) was done with the best of intentions. From my perspective, I almost saw it as the public property is neutral. Let the public’s property be neutral, and on private property put as many (the public) wants,” she added.

Coun. Marcia Turner suggested a motion to invite Ansley to the next council meeting as a delegation and postpone any further decisions until that time, which was carried. The next council meeting is scheduled for Aug.17.

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