Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Illegal billboards and the Ontario Superior Court

Read more articles by

One of the galvanizing issues that helped start Spacing was the incremental intrusion of billboards and advertising into the public realm (what we call “ad creep”) without an ounce of public consultation. When Dave Meslin passed the torch on at the Toronto Public Space Committee people like Jonathan Goldsbie, Allison Gorbould, and Rami Tabello ran with the campaigns to try and keep the ad industry honest.

Tabello really took hold of the issue by starting and is widely known in the ad industry; representatives often send him tips about the illegality of signs erected by competing ads companies. He’s also received a handful of legal threats and his actions led Strategic Media to take the City of Toronto to court when the City tried to take down their illegally installed signs.

Tabello and the City have good reason to celebrate today as the Ontario Superior Court ruled in their favour. From Tabello’s press release:

The City of Toronto has won a major victory in the Ontario Superior Court against billboard company Strategic Media.

The Court ruled that the City may proceed with removing Strategic Media’s illegal billboards while Strategic Media continues with its constitutional challenge against the City’s signs by-laws.

“This is a huge victory for the City of Toronto,” says Rami Tabello, coordinator of “Because Strategic Media’s suit was brought for the purpose of delay — so they can earn revenue on their illegal signs while the case drags through the courts — this decision represents a complete victory for the City.”

In paragraphs 33 and 40 of the decision, the Court found that there is “specific public interest in this case in the form of the complaints by a public interest group” which “inundated” the City with sign complaints. “The Ontario Superior Court explicitly ruled that our complaints against illegal billboards are in the public interest, and this has helped the City’s legal case immensely. Apparently, it pays to be a pest.” has filed complaints against about 650 illegal billboards in the City of Toronto; about 35 of those signs belong to Strategic Media. In addition, has determined that all of the signs depicted on are illegal.



  1. Congratualtions! Well done.

    Thanks for helping to keep our city good-looking and psychologically safer!

  2. That’s awesome. I’m sure there’s still a huge fight ahead, but it’s a great first step!

  3. I was surprised to learn that well-intentioned business people advertising with these companies have no idea that many of these signs are illegal. Hopefully this will publicize it a little.

  4. Congratulations Rami and the others involved in this effort!!!! I am sure there are thousands of people that are silently chearing this victory and the great work that is being done. Thank you!

  5. Congratulations. A lot of hard work went into this victory. Much appreciated. I will really enjoy the empty space.

  6. Looking at Illegal Signs, it’s quite sad to see some of the advertising which some firms try to pull off. Green areas are sometimes cleared of vegetation and trees for billboards, and sometimes billboards are installed on old facades, covering the windows. Good thing we have those regulations, and public space activists to pressure for enforcement.

  7. Hard to say thanks enough to Rami and his allies for acting so clearly and correctly in the public interest.

  8. Score one for delicate leftist sensibilities that are injured by the sight of naked commerce! Property rights and free speech aren’t that important unless it’s your own property and speech being infringed upon, right?

  9. How is this a free speech issue? Nobody is banning billboards, just illegal ones. That Straw Man doesn’t work here.

  10. If someone got sent to jail for possessing a joint, would you say it’s not a personal freedom issue, just one of law enforcement?

    The anti-sign law is a bad one because it infringes on the rights of property owners and advertising companies.

  11. Do you see any limits on property rights in a city? Are building codes a violation? Are zoning requirements? Or is a truly wild west ideal what you want? What’s not an infringement on their property rights?

  12. I am sure that the rule-free Ayn Rand paradise where Mark Wickens lives has as more bill boards than people, all advertizing “Welcome to Ayn Rand’s Cannibal Island!”

    Here on the civilized part of the planet, there are rules. enforceable rules.