Sign ‘ball’ back in resident’s court

A with glasses and a beard holds up a sign that reads: "who speaks for the people of ward 3?"
Main Street East resident John Smees with his advocacy sign, which has been placed on his front lawn for about three months. The Town has threatened “further action” if not removed by Friday.

By Mike Williscraft

While those involved in council’s Grimsby 5 have bemoaned legal fees at several points, it appears they better reload the Town’s litigation coffers.

On the heels of spending in excess of $8,000 for Coun. Randy Vaine’s complaint about phone calls Mayor Jeff Jordan made regarding confidential emails which found their way to the home of Coun. Kevin Ritchie, now the Town has escalated the ongoing advocacy lawn sign situation to another level.

Main Street East resident John Smees arrived home last week to find a letter had been hand-delivered by Henry Boese, Grimsby’s coordinator of municipal law enforcement and property standards.

The letter, states in part, that Smees’ sign, which reads, “Who speaks for the people of Ward 3?” be removed by March 19 under threat of “further action may be taken by the Town.”

What started out as a citizen being concerned over his Ward 3 representation by Coun. John Dunstall and Vaine could now escalate to a Charter of Rights and Freedoms law suit.

“I have had a lot of calls of support,” said Smees on Saturday.

Smees used to have two signs on his lawn. While the council concern sign remains, his “Heritage not Condos” sign was destroyed by vandals.

The situation started messy with Boese incorrectly reporting to town clerk, Sarah Kim that a complaint had been received about an “election” sign. Once it was realized it was not an election sign, the matter shifted from Kim’s plate to the correct person who oversees the bylaw department, director of planning Antonietta Minichillo.

During debate at the March 1 meeting, council was told an education campaign was underway to let residents know such signs were in violation of the town’s bylaws.

When it was noted by Coun. Dorothy Bothwell that the town’s bylaws were in contravention with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it did little to sway the majority of council.

When a similar matter arose in Barrie in May 2019, the municipality clarified that a sign must be on a property owner’s land, not on the municipal road allowance. Smees sign is set back from the road and on his land.

As well, in Peterborough in 1993 the Supreme Court found a municipal bylaw prohibiting all postering on public property as an infringement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Both these cases were cited by Coun. Dorothy Bothwell during the council debate to no avail.

Now, under threat of further action, Smees said he, too, may issue a legal challenge.

Since NewsNow initially broke this story, many residents have stepped up to offer financial support of a legal challenge and at least two lawyers have offered their services in support of fighting the Town on this issue.

Smees said, while he is concerned with what is happening over a simple lawn sign done to draw attention to representation issues, he said his true concern goes beyond that.

“My real concern is for the people of the Town,” said Smees, noting there have been many issues where actions taken and conduct displayed by five councillors have been detrimental to the community.

In this case, with Dunstall, Vaine, and Councillors Dave Kadwell, Kevin Ritchie and Dave Sharpe voting against an adjustment of the bylaw to allow for advocacy signs, it makes all lawn signs illegal under the town bylaws.

Even the Save & Rebuild WLMH as well as Save The Woodlot signs can now be construed as illegal – if a complaint is filed.

Many who have contacted the NewsNow office have noted that Coun. Sharpe is now in violation of the Town’s bylaws with his anti-lockdown sign which has been on his front yard. However, the Town had not received a complaint about that sign.

Local residents have contacted the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who may get involved to defend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms contravention.

Smees said he had not decided if he would take in the sign this Friday or not, but either way he said he would fight on against the Town.

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