Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mayor's Sign 'Policy' Still Unclear

Nanaimo Info File Photo Council May 11

At the May 19th Special Open City Council meeting, Mayor McKay asked a member of the gallery to put their sign down. He asked the person three times, and the person respectfully refused. It went no further, no call to the police to have the offender removed, but asking the person three times, by name would seem to be laying the ground work for something more formal.

Another member of the gallery was granted delegate status to speak to the issue of signs not being allowed in a Council meeting. The delegate's opinion is that displaying a sign at council is something covered under the Charter as a means of Freedom of Expression.

Councillor Brennan asked the delegate if they were aware that the Legislature, Canadian Parliament and the Court House do not allow signs in the gallery. She seemed to be inferring that would justify a similar ban in Nanaimo Council Chambers.

Mayor McKay asked the delegate if he was familiar with the 'Captive Audience Doctrine', with which the delegate was unfamiliar. Mayor McKay did not elaborate but seemed to infer this gave him the authority to ban signs in Council Chambers. It was later learned, that Mayor McKay had sought legal opinion on the matter which he chose not to share with the rest of council.

When the delegate said he disagreed with the Mayor's opinion that the Captive Audience Doctrine supported his decision to ban signs, the Mayor responded something to the effect that 'oh well, I guess we will get it on'.

I have asked Mayor McKay to clarify if it is now city policy to ban signs from Council meetings being held at the Conference Centre, as of yet I have had no reply.

Captive Audience Doctrine

From what I have been able to research, there is no case law which would seem to support the Mayor's decision to ban signs at Council meetings. In fact some of the support for the Freedom of Expression in publicly owned buildings would appear to support being able to display signs at Council meetings as a form of expression.

At paragraph 243, Justice McLachlin (as she then was) referred to Irwin Toy and recognized the values that act as the backdrop for the guarantee for freedom of expression, namely “(1) the seeking and obtaining of truth; (2) participation in social and political decision-making; and (3) the encouragement of diversity in forms of individual self-fulfillment and human flourishing by cultivating a tolerant, welcoming environment for the conveyance and reception of ideas”.

This simple finding would seem to strongly support the use of a sign as a means of expression protected by the Charter. Value (2) and (3) seem to be a most accurate description of the historical and actual function of an open city council meeting.

But hey, I ain't no lawyer in spite of my father's advice to pursue that career path when I was a much younger fellow.


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