Alberta landowners taking Foothills County to court over removal of signs on private property

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Alberta landowners taking Foothills County to court over removal of signs on private property
WATCH: Several Alberta landowners are heading to court after Foothills County ordered them to remove trailer-mounted signs from their roadside properties. As Adam MacVicar reports, the landowners say it infringes on their rights. – Dec 19, 2019

Foothills County is ordering several landowners to remove trailer-mounted signs from their roadside properties by Dec. 24 or face punitive fines, court documents said.

Several landowners and an advertising agency have filed an injunction with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary to halt the county’s enforcement of their order until a constitutional challenge can be heard early next year.

“My family has been on this land since 1900, we’ve been here a long time and put a lot of work into it and to have somebody come and say, ‘No you can’t do this on your land,’ it’s a very frustrating situation,” Foothills landowner Ross Martin said.

Martin has had trailer-mounted signage on his land since 2017, when he was approached by advertising agency Spot Ads Inc. to use the area adjacent to the highway to advertise for small businesses. Martin receives a monthly fee from Spot Ads Inc. to keep the trailer signs on his land.

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“I’m a small landowner, I can’t go out and buy farm machinery, it wouldn’t be a profitable way to go,” Martin said. “So it’s a way to make a few dollars off my land.”

Martin said he was handed a $2,000 fine earlier this month for refusing to comply with the county’s request to remove the trailer from his property.

The fine came after Martin said he was reassured by the county that there would be no enforcement of the bylaw until the constitutional challenge was heard.

“But, much to our surprise, the following week they were driving in the driveway with a couple of cars and handing out tickets,” Martin said.

According to a Foothills County bylaw passed in July, signs attached to trailers or vehicles are prohibited unless they are advertising the business for which the vehicle is being used.

The matter will be heard in court on Friday.

If the injunction fails, Martin said he has been told the county will remove the trailers and the landowners will have to foot the bill.

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Officials with Foothills County would not provide comment to Global News as the matter is before the courts.

Jay Cameron, the litigation manager at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, is representing the landowners and Spot Ads Inc. in court pro bono.

According to Cameron, the bylaw impedes on the landowners’ property and constitutional rights.

“There’s limits that (the municipality) has to act within and one of those limits is that they have to respect freedom of expression,” Cameron said.

“The signs have expression on them, that’s a constitutional right, they’re on private property, the trailers are legal, the expression is legal, and so we say the bylaw doesn’t make much sense at all.”

Cameron said some of the landowners in the area did remove their signs upon the county’s order.

“You have a small property owner deriving a small income stream which helps offset property taxes, and you have that small property owner helping small businesses with signs on their property; that’s good for the property, it’s good for the small business owner, it’s good for the consumer who learns about the small business owner,” Cameron said.

“It’s the scrooges at the municipality who are the problem.”

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