British Columbia

Bylaw officers are removing election signs from private property, Surrey residents report

Several Surrey residents say election signs they had displayed on their front lawns were recently removed by city bylaw officers. According to a 2021 bylaw amendment, election signs are permitted on private property but not city property.

Actions appear to contradict 2021 bylaw amendment allowing signage on private residences but not city property

Robert Winston says two election signs were taken from his front lawn in Crescent Beach, in Surrey. According to a neighbour, the signs were removed by bylaw officers from the City of Surrey. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Several Surrey, B.C., residents say election signs they had displayed on their front lawns were recently removed by city bylaw officers.

Robert Winston says he put up two signs in front of his home in Crescent Beach in early September: one supporting a campaign for councillor and another for a potential mayor.

When he recently returned from a trip, he noticed both of them were gone.

"They were in the front yard," he told CBC. "One was about six feet from the sidewalk and one was about 12 feet from the sidewalk."

Winston says a neighbour who was working in her yard saw a City of Surrey truck pull up and a worker get out and take both signs, explaining they were on city property.

With a municipal election slated for Oct. 15, it's raising questions about how strictly a controversial amendment to a signage bylaw should be enforced during the campaign.

Surrey resident Maggie Blondeau says she was 'flabbergasted' when city bylaw officers came and removed her election signs. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Winston isn't the only one in the area who had campaign signs taken away.

"Someone came and removed it from my property without introducing themselves to me," said neighbour Margo Wood. 

"I was flabbergasted," said another neighbour, Maggie Blondeau, who had an election sign removed. "I've lived in Surrey for over 40 years. I've always exercised my right to put up an election sign."

In 2021, Mayor Doug McCallum and his council passed a bylaw amendment that forbids the display of political signs on private or public property until an election, referendum or plebiscite has been officially called.

It expanded the definition of "political signs" to include those support a candidate or party, or support or disprove of a politician, political party or political issue.

The amendment also says no signs are allowed anywhere on city property.

The result of 'being situated on city property'

At the time, McCallum was facing some local opposition for his plan to replace the Surrey RCMP detachment with a city police force, and signs opposing the change were popping up around town.

In a statement, the city's corporate services said any election sign removed by bylaw officers "would have been a result of the sign being situated on city property."

Other than the obvious parks, public facilities, sidewalks and medians, city property also includes "rights-of-way" — land the city may need to access to maintain or repair infrastructure under people's property, such as water pipes and sewage systems. 

"The city's mapping system easily denotes where property lines exist. If in doubt, the sign should be placed in the middle of the lawn," reads the statement.

"All candidates were advised of these requirements."

'It's all intimidation': mayoral candidate

Coun. Brenda Locke, who is running for mayor, says her Surrey Connect party was one of the first to put up signs — and one of the first to see them taken down.

Locke says it makes sense to keep political signage within private property, but she doesn't see why the bylaw needs to be enforced so strictly.

"Sometimes we're talking about inches," she said. "If a sign is almost on somebody's property, for our bylaws department to take them was is really an abuse of power."

Coun. Brenda Locke, who is running for mayor, stands in front of the B.C. RCMP headquarters in Surrey on Sept. 23. Locke says her Surrey Connect party was one of the first to put up signs, and one of the first to see them taken down. (CBC news)

Locke says she sees it as "selective enforcement" and claims city workers are being "bullied" into enforcing the bylaw to the letter.

She says her team paid $100 to get some of their signs returned from the city.

"It's all intimidation. It's all to squash the public from being able to display who they're supporting," she said.

CBC reached out to McCallum's office for comment but was referred to the city's bylaw department.

Councillor candidate says signs were vandalized

While some parties' signs have been going missing, Jody Toor, who's running for city councillor under Jinny Sim's Surrey Forward banner, says their signs appear to have been targeted by rivals.

Toor says volunteers put signs up for her team on private property and followed all of the rules, so she doesn't think they were removed by bylaw officers.

"It's disappointing to come back and see your signs have been removed, stolen, vandalized and replaced by other slates," she said in an interview.

Surrey voters are voting for a mayor, eight city councillors and six school trustees in the upcoming municipal election.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Grant is a CBC News reporter based in Vancouver, British Columbia. He previously worked for CBC in Montreal and Quebec City and for the Nation magazine serving the Cree communities of Northern Quebec. You can reach him at josh.grant@cbc.ca.

With files from Jon Hernandez

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