Critics slam Surrey's new rules on political signs as 'a smack to democracy'

·3 min read
Cloverdale resident Ben Cooner says he has no plans to remove the 'Keep the RCMP in Surrey' sign from his lawn, despite an amended bylaw. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News - image credit)
Cloverdale resident Ben Cooner says he has no plans to remove the 'Keep the RCMP in Surrey' sign from his lawn, despite an amended bylaw. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News - image credit)

New rules in Surrey about the display of political signs on residents' private property are prompting outrage from some residents.

Council voted Monday night to amend the city's existing sign bylaw, prohibiting any display of political signs on private or public property until an election, referendum or plebiscite has officially been called.

The amendments also expand the definition of "political" beyond signs supporting a candidate or party in an election. Political signs will now include those that express support or disapproval of a politician, and support or opposition to an issue at any level of government.

"If this isn't a smack to democracy in Surrey, I don't know what is," Coun. Brenda Locke, who did not vote in favour of the amendments, told CBC News.

She said bylaw officers were already enforcing the new rules on Tuesday, and some signs had been removed.

Coun. Linda Annis, who also voted against the amendment, described the bylaw as "absolutely, fundamentally wrong."

The planned transition to a municipal police force, fulfilling a campaign promise by Mayor Doug McCallum, is one of the most contentious issues in the city. He and four councillors voted to support the amendments.

Annis said the mayor doesn't want to hear from anyone who disagrees with him, noting that he's banned people from council and residents can't call in any longer to speak at council meetings.

"He's just shutting the door on anyone that doesn't agree with him," she told CBC's The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn on Wednesday.

Locke said the "Keep RCMP in Surrey" signs that adorn many lawns across the city, as well as those calling for a referendum on the issue, are included under the new rules. She suggested there may be a connection.

"This is a mayor who has been trying to shut down the citizen petition … which is directly related to whether or not we keep the RCMP or we go to a city police," she said.

McCallum has locked horns with the Keep RCMP in Surrey campaign in the past. A special prosecutor has been called in to assist RCMP with their investigation into McCallum's claims that a supporter of the group verbally assaulted him and ran over his foot outside a grocery store — allegations the group has denied.

The mayor's office did not respond to requests for comment, but Coun. Laurie Guerra, who is a member of Mayor Doug McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition, said the intent of the amendment is to standardize the rules for all political signs, whether it's elections, referendums, petitions or plebiscites.

"It wasn't to specifically go after anyone. There are sign bylaws in every city as far as I know in the Metro region," Guerra said.

Guerra disagreed with the characterization that the amendment was an erosion on democratic values.

"To me, [that is] political posturing and nothing more."

Janella Hamilton/CBC News
Janella Hamilton/CBC News

Longtime Cloverdale resident Ben Cooner said he will not remove the "Keep the RCMP in Surrey" sign from his lawn.

"There's nothing racial or offensive to anybody that drives by. It's something I feel, that other people in the area in Surrey feel," he said.

Resident Dave Tomlinson was also shocked by the move.

"We have no voice. He's not letting the general population have a voice with what we believe is right," he said, referring to McCallum.

Bill Tieleman, spokesperson for the Surrey Police Vote campaign for a referendum, said he suspects the amended bylaw will face a constitutional challenge in court.

"It shows, really, that this city council majority are deathly afraid of a referendum," he said.

Under the Surrey bylaw, political signs must also be removed within 14 days after a vote.

LISTEN | Surrey Coun. Linda Annis says bylaw change appears to violate freedom of speech:

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting