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Why changes could be coming to the way cities approve public banners

A file photo showing an anti-abortion banner hanging in downtown Kamloops.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought

KAMLOOPS - At the intersection of Fortune Drive, Tranquille Road and 8 Street in Kamloops, there's an opening between two city-owned poles which is usually home to banners put up by the public.

But not any more and it could remain empty for a while. The City of Kamloops has halted processing or approving any pending or future requests for flying flags or banners on city property in light of a recent court decision.

Permits for hanging banners in the city already approved will still be put up for their respective dates, but changes could be coming to the way the city approves or rejects applications for banners and signs.

According to the City of Kamloops, it is undertaking a review of its policies and procedures to ensure they abide by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This comes after a B.C. Court of Appeal decision based out of Vancouver last month, about how authorities decide what kinds of signs and messages are approved or disapproved. 

“(The decision) underscores the need for carefully drafted policies regarding any restrictions and requirements the City wishes to impose in its efforts to protect vulnerable persons and provide safe community space that values respect for others,” the City of Kamloops website states. “The B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision also highlights the importance of implementing a rigorous and transparent process for ensuring that competing rights and community objectives are respected and proportionately balanced in accordance with Charter values.”

The City of Kamloops appears to be the only jurisdiction out of the four main Thompson-Okanagan cities which makes it clear they’re halting the process of approving banners or flags for specific interests, but the decision will have an impact. The decision emphasizes the importance of local governments taking not only advertising standards, but the Charter into consideration while approving or denying advertising.

If a local government doesn’t have clear policies or practices for approving or rejecting advertisements, it can end up costing plenty of time and money in litigation to solve it.

In the decision, the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform appealed a decision that denied it advertising space for a pro-life or anti-abortion advertisement on Translink public buses.

The centre argued Translink didn’t consider a Charter right to freedom of expression when it denied the advertisements and despite being denied once, won a small victory in the province's highest court.

In early January of 2015 the centre inquired about advertising with Translink’s advertising agent, but received a response that any graphic images of fetuses will be declined. The centre took issue with that, stating it was under the impression discrimination based on content was not allowed.

In 2017, a chambers judge ruled in favour of TransLink in the case which would have barred the centre from advertising on public buses but the B.C. Court of Appeal found the decision "must allow an advertiser to understand why its advertisement has been rejected."

The court said in its decision that in denying the centre’s advertisement request, the marketing coordinator didn’t acknowledge the centre’s right to freedom of expression or explain how the denial represents a proportionate balance between those Charter rights and Translink’s objective.

The appeals court sent the decision back to Translink to decide — and explain its decision. It's not yet clear exactly what obligations this might put on municipalities which allow or disallow advertising in public spaces — even, apparently, banners and flags. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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