Publisac distributor sues Montreal for new bylaw banning distribution of unsolicited flyers

·2 min read
As of next spring, the city announced that Publisacs will be prohibited by default, except for residents who have expressly requested to receive them by means of a sticker on their door or mailbox. (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada - image credit)
As of next spring, the city announced that Publisacs will be prohibited by default, except for residents who have expressly requested to receive them by means of a sticker on their door or mailbox. (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The company that prints and distributes local weeklies to households throughout Quebec is suing the City of Montreal over its decision to ban unsolicited leaflets and flyers arriving at Montrealers' doorsteps.

TC Transcontinental says the new bylaw infringes on the company's freedom of expression and citizens' right to information. In a lawsuit filed on June 15 at the Montreal courthouse, the company accused the city of acting in a "discriminatory" and "abusive" manner, and said the bylaw is inconsistent with the provisions of the Environment Quality Act.

In April, the city announced that as of next spring, weekly flyer-stuffed plastic bags containing circulars, coupons and local newspapers — dubbed Publisac in Quebec — will be prohibited by default, except for residents who have requested them by means of a sticker on their door or mailbox.

Currently, residents only have the option to refuse Publisacs — an opt-out model that Transcontinental hopes to maintain.

"A membership plan, such as the one the City is trying to impose on consumers, merchants and distributors, clearly violates the Canadian Charter and the Quebec Charter by constituting a serious violation of the right to freedom of expression and the right to information," the lawsuit reads.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

Mayor Valérie Plante has said the bylaw will come into effect in 2023.

In April, Plante said some 800,000 flyers and other unsolicited advertisements are printed and distributed to Montreal households each week. That adds up to more than 41 million flyers annually that end up in recycling bins or in the dump.

Montreal plans to require the advertisements be delivered in paper bags rather than plastic ones. The city is aiming for zero waste by 2030.

Company appeals decision in Mirabel

In conjunction with this case, the Montreal-based packaging and printing company is also appealing an April 20 Superior Court decision upholding a similar ban in the City of Mirabel, adopted in October 2019. At the time, it was a first in Quebec.

While waiting for the Court of Appeal to consider the case, Transcontinental has stopped distributing Publisacs in Mirabel. The announcement was made on April 25.

Since then, Canada Post has taken over the distribution of printed advertising in the municipality, resulting in the loss of 16 jobs associated with Publisac.

The Crown corporation is the only other entity that has the capacity to distribute local and regional weeklies to residents' doorsteps, but its rates are prohibitive, costing up to three times as much as the price charged by Transcontinental.

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