Protest signs are not permitted in Oak Bay according to the municipal bylaw. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Are anti-development signs illegal in Oak Bay?

Academic says Oak Bay sign bylaw unconstitutional

Election time is over and residents have seven days to remove the campaign signs from their lawns.

After seven days, they revert to being illegal again, according to Oak Bay’s thorough sign bylaw.

According to Oak Bay bylaws, election signs are one of the only free standing signs permitted on a residential yard (for 30 days prior to voting day and seven days after). The same bylaw says any sign other than a for-sale sign, or one for your address, is also illegal on residential lawns.

Which means, technically, those Stop Over Development that oppose the Oak Bay United Church’s previous development application are not legal.

READ MORE: Neighbours wake to shocking signs on their lawns

Ed Boogaars, who doubles as Oak Bay’s bylaw officer and as a building inspector, has actually confiscated a few, but only those which were clearly placed on city property such as a boulevard or right-of-way.

He said there has been some debate as to the legality or purpose of the signs.

It’s a complaint based system, after all, and without complaints from Oak Bay residents bylaw isn’t likely to take action on a matter, unless it’s a life health issue, he said.

However, the sign bylaw may in fact be unconstitutional and could be challenged, said Jenn Neilson of Victoria, whose PhD in the philosophy of law specialized in the freedom of artistic expression.

In addition to the ban of signs on lawns, the Oak Bay prohibits any person to “affix, erect, install any sign or notice on any building, tree, utility pole, fence, post or other structure on public property or on a boulevard except on notice boards provided by the Corporation for that purpose.”

Commercial properties are different, but only in that they permit signs pertaining to the purpose of the business.

The problem, Neilson explains, is that the sign bylaw is a blanket-ban on freedom of expression that goes too far, and it’s happened in both Oak Bay and Victoria, alike.

“You can’t put up a sign on your property, and you can’t put up a poster on a telephone poll, so you’re left without any options to share the message,” Neilson said.

READ ALSO: Greater Victroia developer removes parts of historic wall before of heritage protection is applied

The precedent comes from a 1993 case in Peterborough, Ont., which had a similar ban on postering. Musician Kenneth Ramsden challenged Peterborough’s ban against postering signs for his band’s concert. He won in the name of artistic expression.

“Any ban has to be rational,” Neilson said. “If posters [or signs] are banned to fix a littering problem, it can’t ban everything else, it should ban as little as possible to fit the objective.”

Even when a bylaw is fixed, or is unconstitutional, the precedent is already there and it leaves a “chilling effect” on free speech.

“Even if the bylaw is unconstitutional people won’t do it,” Neilson said.

Neilson is in the process of challenging Victoria’s postering bylaw, however, it is a much different situation from Oak Bay. In Victoria, postering is legal on 55 postering cylinders but the management of the poles has become unfair, she said.

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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