Legal expert: Alberta man ticketed for ‘F*** Harper’ sign has good constitutional case
An Edmonton man who says he will launch a constitutional challenge after he was ticketed for having a “F— Harper” sign in the back window of his car has “a great case,” one legal expert says.
“It’s not harmful, it doesn’t target a minority group, it’s not hate speech,” David Schneiderman, a law professor at the University of Toronto and an expert on the Canadian Constitution, said in an interview with Yahoo Canada News.
“I think he has a great case.”
In August, Rob Wells was fined $543 under the Highway Traffic Act for distracting other drivers after he put a bright pink sign that read “F— Harper” in the back window of his vehicle.
Alberta RCMP subsequently pulled him over after receiving two complaints which they said was for ‘erratic driving’. Wells said they forced him to remove the sign.
“The only reason he pulled me over was because it was offensive. My question is, offensive to who[m]? [It’s] not illegal. You can’t just pull someone over because you don’t like something,” Wells told The Canadian Press after a court appearance Thursday, where he said he intended to argue the police infringed on his Charter rights.
Wells said he was both arbitrarily detained by police and also had his right to freedom of expression violated when officers made him remove the sign.
In a Facebook post after the ticket in August, Wells said he told the officer the sign had been “thoroughly reviewed by police lawyers and crown prosecutors and it was not illegal.”
He said he planned to fight the ticket.
“If I (lose), it will be the best spent $543 ever,” he wrote.
Schneiderman, who is also a former executive director of the Centre for Constitutional Studies at the University of Alberta, said he expects a provincial court judge will likely throw out the case, saying the sign on Wells’ car does not amount to an offense.
Even with the expletive, Schneiderman noted, the sign is no more distracting to drivers than other vehicles that have advertising on them.
Allan Hutchinson, a law professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall, in Toronto, said he’d like to more know about what happened between Wells and the police that day, as well as any history, before saying whether he thinks Wells has a case.
But if police pulled Wells over because they view him as a troublemaker, that’s not enough of an excuse.
“He seems to have some valid claim,” Hutchinson said.
Schneiderman said it’s important to remember Wells’ right have been infringed upon, even if the case is thrown out of court.
“We shouldn’t belittle the fact he was stopped, charged and he has to deal with this charge,” he said. “It’s not like he wasn’t harassed. He was. That’s not a good thing.”