Casual Legal: Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

By Shauna Finlay
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

The proliferation of signage on vehicles (including trailers) is something many municipalities have addressed, limited or prohibited in their Land Use Bylaws.

A constitutional challenge to a prohibition against such signage was recently addressed by the Alberta Court of Appeal. The basis for the challenge was the Appellant’s section 2(b) Charter rights.

Section 2(b) of the Charter protects freedom of expression. In this case, the Appellants argued the prohibition limited their right of freedom of expression. The municipality conceded that the prohibition infringed on the Appellant’s freedom of expression because it prohibited that form of expression.

When there is a challenge to legislation on the basis that it offends the Charter, and the legislation is found (or it is conceded) it does offend the Charter, section 1 of the Charter is applied using the Oakes test. Section 1 of the Charter provides that the freedoms listed are guaranteed subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The Oakes test sets out how one determines if the limits (in this case, the prohibition on signs on vehicles) are justified. The test requires the following three questions to be answered:

  • Does the legislation (in this case, the bylaw) have a pressing and substantial objective?
  • Is the bylaw rationally connected to this objective? 
  • Is there proportionality between the restriction and the objective? In other words, is the restriction no more than is reasonably necessary?

In this case, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the lower court which found the goal of preserving the visual environment was a substantial objective and the prohibition on vehicle signage was a proportional limit to the freedom of expression.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.