Post No Fines: Court calls anti-postering bylaw invalid

For years, Montreal artists trying to promote shows with little budget and activists trying to get people out to rallies and events have dealt with one constant hurdle: a City of Montreal “anti-littering” law that prevents anyone from hanging up anything in public space. Now, thanks to activist Jaggi Singh not giving up the fight and a decision by the Quebec Court of Appeals, that may very well change soon.

In 2000, Singh was fined for hanging up a poster promoting the Anarchist Bookfair. He fought the ticket and lost, so he took his case to the Quebec Superior Court and lost again, he appealed. Now, a decade after the original incident, the appeals court ruled that the bylaw was, in fact, a violation of his right to freedom of expression and invalid.

Legal in Ottawa, is Montreal far behind?

As this case made its way through the courts, postering in Montreal went from an offense that was frequently tolerated by some cops who let people go with a warning to something that the city decided to crack down on hardcore, even fining venues who housed the shows being promoted.

While there were some spots people could legally poster, they were few and far between and nothing like the spots corporate advertisers could use to occupy the public headspace. In fact, when people did manage to get posters up, either on lampposts (in the “old days”) or on one of the few designated areas, the posters were frequently covered up by corporate advertisers not needing the extra publicity and not following the unwritten code of street postering ethics that says that you don’t post your event over an event that hasn’t happened yet.

Despite much saner and indie artist-friendly approaches to postering in cities like Ottawa, where there’s a legal place to hang stuff up on practically every street corner, Montreal still hasn’t left the dark ages. Maybe this ruling will force their hand and make them take people without huge corporate advertising budgets into account when allotting public space, or maybe things will stay the same.

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