Pitt Meadows flips on anti-HST talk

Organizer Corisa Bell never intended to bring Vander Zalm

Anti-HST organizer Corisa Bell got her day at Pitt Meadows council.

After refusing her earlier, legislative services director Laurie Darcus told Bell last week that she could speak at council, which she was to do Tuesday.

Bell had 15 minutes to make her case to be allowed to put up her “Vote Yes: Extinguish the HST” signs along city roads, on bridges and in parks, something currently against Pitt Meadows’s sign bylaw.

She also promised to pick them up after the HST mail-in referendum concludes in July.

Under the city’s sign bylaw, Sec. 5.3, election or political signs can’t be located along boulevards, medians, roadsides, on bridges or in parks, though they’re OK on some municipal properties and private lots.

Bell figures she has about 100 signs in the city along Lougheed Highway, a provincial road, as well as on people’s front lawns.

The mayor and city staff say the initial refusal to speak at council was based on the impression that Bell wanted to bring FightHST leader Bill Vander Zalm to Pitt Meadows council, or that Bell wanted to talk about the HST.

“She had mentioned inviting Vander Zalm come talk to us,” Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean said Monday.

“She definitely mentioned Mr. Vander Zalm to me in the telephone conversation.”

But he doubted Vander Zalm would want to talk to council about its bylaw.

“We just don’t want to be used as a forum for a provincial issue that is beyond our mandate,” MacLean said previously.

“When she originally talked to me on the phone, and the mayor, we were under the impression she wanted to bring Bill Vander Zalm to council to really talk about the sign bylaw, as well as the [anti-HST] campaign itself,” added Darcus.

“That’s where council had a problem, getting involved in a political debate of a provincial issue.”

Bell, though, says she never said Vander Zalm would appear at council; she just wanted to talk about the signs.

“There’s no way that I would suggest that Bill would spend his time doing that.”

But she didn’t push the matter because she was given the chance to speak.

Bell figures one of two hunches could explain the change at Pitt Meadows city hall.

One is the coming municipal election in November.

“You can bet there will be residents of Pitt Meadows who do want to have democracy.”

Or, two, the ‘No’ side could ask to put up signs, as well.

“I have a suspicion it has something to do for their own benefit.”

Bell also cheered the B.C. Civil Liberties Association for writing to Pitt Meadows last week, asking the city to reconsider the sign bylaw.

“I think it’s fantastic that people are doing that. It’s good that people speak up. Do we have a democracy or not? Let’s talk about it.”

Mike Vonn, with the Civil Liberties Association, said the letter told Pitt Meadows that the sign bylaw is violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2, on the right to political expression.

“It is sometimes difficult to bring home to municipalities … that municipal law is subject to the Charter. All municipal law must comport with the Charter.”

He said municipal space can be regulated, but any restrictions have to “minimally impair” the right to freedom of expression. And claiming that there are some locations to put up signs, while the majority of space along roads is banned under the bylaw, wouldn’t stand up in court, he added.

That was recently reaffirmed in a recent B.C. Appeal Court decision against a Vancouver bylaw that restricted the right of Falun Gong to demonstrate.

MacLean said he’s already received the letter and will refer it to the city’s lawyer.