City Hall: The beginning of the end for street furniture?

Cross-posted from Eye Daily.

Rami Tabello the hardworking activist behind the ingenious website is being threatened by outdoor advertising companies, some of the same ones competing for the mulitmillion dollar contract to supply Toronto’s street furniture for the next 20 years. (Read this recent Eye Weekly story for background on Tabello’s work with illegal signs; and check out the Toronto Public Space Committee website and resent posts on the Spacing Wire for details on the street furniture program.)

Last June, Tabello received a letter from a lawyer representing Clear Channel threatening legal action if he didn’t stop asking the city about the firm’s ads. Today, Tabello received a warning from Astral Media that potentially slanderous posts on his website are under legal review.

“Instead of threatening to sue penniless, grassroots activist groups, Astral could try protecting its reputation by removing some of the hundreds of illegal billboards that it operates in the City of Toronto,” Tabello wrote in a press release he sent out this morning.

This doesn’t look good for the city’s ad-funded street furniture program. Councillors are already talking about whether the city should be signing a 20-year contract with companies that show such little respect for city bylaws and the rights of citizens to gather information on the goings-on at City Hall. Wrote Jeff Gray in today’s Globe:

Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), a key ally of Mayor David Miller, said that in his view the letter should jeopardize Clear Channel’s chances at the city’s massive 20-year street-furniture contract.

“If this is the way that they are going to do business, i.e. suing private citizens exercising their rights, it is not a sign of a company that the city should be looking to do business with,” Mr. Mihevc said.

Councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) who is also on Mayor David Miller’s executive committee, called the letter “reprehensible” and praised Mr. Tabello’s activism.

John Barber also wrote a scathing column on Clear Channel in today’s Globe and Mail. It’s an immensely satisfying read:

Hello, ClearChannelSucks.Net? Have we got news for you up here in Toronto! It seems your favourite communications conglomerate has once again shown its dark side. The company that fought the war on terror by suppressing John Lennon’s Imagine is now trying to silence its critics in Canada with crude legal intimidation.

Could this be the beginning of the end of the street furniture program? Even Christopher Hume says the city should scrap the three proposals and start all over again.

“The city is inundated with ads,” he wrote in yesterday’s Toronto Star, “the last thing we need is to make a bad situation worse.”

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