The Hamilton Spectator
Tuesday, July 29, 1997

Mobile sign bylaw moves to high court

Industry won't give up fight

by Eleanor Tait

BURLINGTON -- The mobile sign industry plans to take Burlington's sign law to the highest court in the land.

"It would not behoove us to give up at this stage", said Don McPhail. "We'll be taking it to the Supreme Court. That court has always had an interest in Charter arguments and any infringement of freedom of speech."

McPhail owns Ad-Vantage Signs which, with Mobile Ad Canada Limited and the Canadian Mobile Sign Association, was shot down in an attempt to have the bylaw quashed.

The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled the bylaw infringes on the rights of the industry but "the infringement in this case is reasonable and demonstrably justified".


It's the second time the three have lost in court. An earlier challenge to the Divisional Court was also tossed out.

They maintain sections of the bylaw infringe on the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

The Court of Appeal ordered the three to pay the city's costs which have yet to be determined.

But McPhail said that's of little concern.

"Cost is secondary. If you stop pursuing justice because you can't afford it, where is the little guy going to go?"

In their ruling, the three justices of the appeal court said Burlington's bylaw "represents a rational attempt to strike a balance between the right of businesses to identify themselves and convey messages and the right of the public to establish and maintain standards of aesthetics and to deal with the safety concerns of motorists and pedestrians".

Burlington lawyer Doug Brown said he was pleased by the court ruling and hoped it would bring an end to the saga started four years ago when the city decided to regulate portable signs.


It struck a special committee, which included representatives of the mobile sign industry, to research other bylaws. Public meetings were held to get input before the bylaw was adopted. It regulates all types of signs on property throughout the city but mobile signs have been the most controversial.

"I think the court recognized that so long as you do not try to prohibit them, you can regulate these signs", said Brown. "Portable signs are certainly needed by the business community but we do not need them to proliferate through the community.

McPhail contends Burlington's bylaw is the toughest in the province with its 45-day a year limit on use of a sign at any one location. He also objects to a requirement the portable signs be located on the property to which the message on the sign relates.

"We're optimistic the Supreme Court will rule in our favour. It's not the sign companies that are hurt in this, it's the merchants", he said.

Copyright © 1997 by The Hamilton Spectator. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.