News  Pop Montreal vs. Ville de Montréal

City taking festival to court over poster fines

Representatives of the popular music festival Pop Montreal are scheduled to appear in the Quebec Supreme Court on October 7 to plead not guilty to breaking a bylaw regarding the placement of posters on Montreal public property. Pop will face over $11,000 if it loses the case.

Hilary Leftick, who works for Pop Montreal and will be the festival’s court representative, told The Daily that though the bylaw against posters placed in spaces belonging to the city – which include mailboxes, lamp posts, bus stops, and other so-called “urban furniture” – has always existed, it has only begun to be enforced in the last two years. She described the enforcement of the bylaw as something that “just sort of happened.”

“[To go to court is] definitely an investment, but its important and we’d rather try and do that than pay the fines,” said Leftick, explaining Pop’s decision to take the issue to court.

Alex Norris, Projet Montréal Councillor for Mile End, defended the fines.

“The City spends $100,000 each year scraping posters off lamp posts. It’s a waste of tax payers’ money.”

Pop is not the only organization that has been hit with these fines; QPIRG McGill, along with other small organizations, artists, and businesses that use posters as a means of advertising, have been affected as well.

“We had heard that there had been a huge swell of fines both against artist-run spaces and organizations like QPIRG. But it’s also against small cafés and bars and places that do shows like Casa del Popolo and Cagibi. So we’d definitely heard of it and knew it was happening,” said Anna Malla, Internal Coordinator at QPIRG McGill.

QPIRG McGill has been fined twice for its posters, the first for $628 and the second for $528.

“[Paying the fines is] definitely not something we can afford to be doing,” Malla said. QPIRG McGill has pleaded not guilty to the fines and is currently in limbo, waiting to see if they will also be summoned to court.

Leftick expressed concern over the fines impact on Pop’s operations.

“We run a pretty bare bones budget and try to put as much of the money that we earn and get back into the festival itself. If we had $11,000, I’m sure we’d be able to do more creative things with it than pay fines,” said Leftick.

Organizations also have the option of appealing fines before resorting to trial court as Pop Montreal has done. Malla said that some organizations might be unaware of this alternative.

“I imagine that lots of organizations are getting these fines but either don’t know that they [can appeal]… . We feel that it’s important for people who might not know already to know that they can refute this. They can plead not guilty [to the fine] and refute the fines,” said Malla.

Leftick explained how areas of Pop Montreal would be more affected by the renewed enforcement of the bylaw.

“For the small shows when…you’re not charging a lot at the door, and you’re not making a lot of money, it’s hard to find a lot of advertising dollars for those shows,” she said.

The Plateau-Mont-Royal community has cause for optimism, however. Jaggi Singh, a local activist, won a case this July against the city over the placement of a poster, setting a precedent in favour of postering. Leftick has asked the city prosecutor “if he wants to withdraw the charges because of the Jaggi Singh case.”

Malla also hoped the Singh case would set precedent, describing the case as “exciting.”

“This is a basic right – to be able to put a poster up on the street and advertise an event,” Malla continued. “It’s absolutely ridiculous that people shouldn’t be allowed to put posters up.”

“The city didn’t appeal the [Singh] decision so they have to provide space to poster,” said Leftick.

Norris confirmed the city’s obligation to provide public legal spaces to place posters. He said that, in response to the Singh case, Montreal would be taking a “common sense approach” to the issue; one that, according to Norris, should have been taken earlier.

Part of that approach includes Montreal city government creating teams to create prototypes of urban furniture in various designs and sizing that are currently awaiting approval before being put into use on the streets.

Mai Mac-Thiong, a member of this team, explained its role in greater depth.

“If [the prototypes are] accepted we will make them for the boroughs. Normally it should be all 19 boroughs of Ville de Montréal …. [It] is the executive committee who will decide, but, in my opinion, there is a good chance,” he said.

“Once we have designated places [for posters], there will be no excuse. We may be more severe [with fines] for posters illegally placed,” said Norris.

Leftick outlined how Pop has been working with the City to improve the situation.

“We’re working to try and develop an action plan for everything from the design of the [posters] to where they’re placed… . I anticipate a continual process and refinement and making sure that things make sense. I think everyone wants to work together to solve the issue,” Leftick said.

“Once you’re in the court there’s nothing you can do to change it. Sometimes its better to look forward,” Leftick said.