This sign was put up as a billboard by Pattison Outdoors in Edmonton, Alberta. However the Edmonton Transit System has declined to put the sign into all the buses in that city. It looks as if they will have a fight on their hands however; one of the people behind this sign campaign is lawyer Andre Schutten who says that, since the transit commission is a government entity, it is not allowed to discriminate against public messages as long as they meet the code of advertising. And apparently, this sign does meet that code.
ETS wanted the billboards changed by removing or replacing the word “kill.” After consulting with the original designer of the billboard, the ARPA (Association for Reformed Political Action) group concluded that there was no suitable substitute for the word “kill” and that any change to the wording of the poster would neuter its effectiveness. Furthermore, it was clear that the use of the word “kill” was accurate and true.
Now the law is on the side of ARPA. If ARPA was dealing directly with Pattison and they were denied the ability to place an ad on a private Pattison billboard, ARPA would have stopped their claim immediately. As a private entity, ARPA respects their right to only publish whatever they are comfortable publishing. Incidentally, Pattison has published this exact billboard on their private billboards in other locations across the country.
But ETS is a government entity. As such, it may not censor the expression of views it doesn’t like. The charter (section 2(b) to be exact) protects every Canadian from unreasonable interference by the government in the expression of their opinions, even – no, especially – controversial opinions.
In fact, just five years ago, our Supreme Court ruled against the Vancouver Transit Authority, stating that Vancouver bureaucrats had no grounds to refuse to publish political messages on their advertising space. Such a refusal was a violation of the charter.
But don’t expect the Edmonton municipality to change their tune. The only recourse available for volunteer groups is to apply to a court for a judicial review. City employees know that such a process is long, expensive and not without risk. And even if a group were to win, the city can just appeal. After all, it doesn’t cost the councillors a dime. They will happily use your tax dollars while trampling your freedoms.
I hope they will have the ability to pursue this campaign. After all, if the Charter guarantees such rights, it shouldn't result in a municipality's being able to curtail that freedom.