Hearing set for petition against Surrey's new rules on political signs

·2 min read
Ivan Scott of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey group stands outside City Hall gathering signatures for a petition to save the RCMP in Surrey, B.C., in July 2019.  Scott is one of seven members of the group previously banned from attending public council meetings.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Ivan Scott of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey group stands outside City Hall gathering signatures for a petition to save the RCMP in Surrey, B.C., in July 2019. Scott is one of seven members of the group previously banned from attending public council meetings. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Four months after members of the grassroots organization Keep the RCMP in Surrey filed a B.C. Supreme Court petition calling for the city to rescind amendments to its political signs bylaw, a hearing has been set for April 26 and 27.

Surrey city council voted in October 2021 to amend the sign bylaw, prohibiting any display of political signs on private or public property until an election, referendum or plebiscite has officially been called.

Amendments also expanded the definition of "political" to go beyond signs supporting a candidate or party, and include those expressing support or disapproval of a politician, and support or opposition to an issue at any level of government.

Signs saying "Keep the RCMP in Surrey" have adorned many lawns in the city, as the planned transition to a municipal police force — a campaign promise of Mayor Doug McCallum — has become one of the most contentious issues in the city.

Coun. Brenda Locke has suggested it may have a connection to the sign bylaw, whose amendments McCallum and four other councillors have voted to support.

Calls to overturn ban, rescind amendments

In September last year, McCallum and four other councillors of the Safe Surrey Coalition voted to ban seven members of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey group from attending city council and public meetings in person in a bid to "protect the democratic process." Those members were Annie Kaps, Debbie Johnstone, Colin Pronger, Ivan Scott, Merle Scott, Marilyn Smith and Linda Yependberg.

Critics slammed the move, with Coun. Linda Annis saying the ban is more evidence of the mayor's "'my-way-or-the-highway' approach to city government."

A month later, in October, the city filed a Supreme Court petition to justify the group's barring from city council meetings.

Janella Hamilton/CBC News
Janella Hamilton/CBC News

On Dec. 14, 2021, six of the seven members of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey group responded with a Supreme Court petition seeking to overturn their ban from council meetings.

That same day, they filed a separate petition, calling for the court to "strike down amendments to Surrey's sign by-law," which they described as unconstitutional.

A week later, the Safe Surrey Coalition agreed to remove the ban on the seven individuals, however they did not rescind the amendments to the sign bylaw.

In its response to the court, the city said the new rules "provided greater clarity in relation to the period during which political signs may be erected without a permit and clarified the definition of political signs."

The city also said the bylaw changes do not restrict or impair the petitioners' right of freedom of expression.

CBC British Columbia has launched a Surrey bureau to help tell your stories with reporter Kiran Singh. Story ideas and tips can be sent to kiran.singh@cbc.ca.

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