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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered



  1. Congratulations on all your hard work in getting to the truth in this matter. I wish more urbanites would go this length to ensure that corporations toe the line when it comes to respecting the city by-laws and preserve what natural areas we are still allowed to enjoy unblemished

  2. Billboard location and permit status should absolutely be released as an open data set. Public access will open up new possibilities to improve enforcement, compliance and data management. Kudos on highlighting a public interest and public space issue desperately in need of a little more open government. Have you submitted this request to the City of Toronto’s open data team as well?

  3. Thanks Dave for this interesting article. I look forward to Instalment 3.

    Here are few things to consider.

    The burden of proof for legal non-conforming status should be on the owner of the sign, not the City. This is the standard applied to non-confoming properties and buildings in the Zoning By-law – prove it remove it or get a variance approved. The City of Toronto has established a Sign Variance Committee that could address such applications.

    Secondly, it is possible to remove legal non-confoming signs. The City of Vancouver sought and received an amendment to the Vancouver Charter from the BC government in the early 2000’s to do just that – with a 5 year grace period. Many billboards were removed by the owners as a result and the City had to do very little enforcement to make it happen. A note of caution however – When the City tried to enforce removal of a roof top sign on the Lee Building it had to go to court twice and finally to the Supreme Court of Canada before the sign came down. However that case did establish a good precedent for the enforced removal of non-conforming signs.

    In Metro Vancouver municipalities, only the City of Vancouver permits billboard at all. The only exceptions are a few big electronic billboards in some of these other municipalities that got individual Council approval and which generate revenue for the municipality.

  4. Thanks for fighting these difficult battles. I’ve had a similar frustration trying to remove ‘no trespassing’ signs or gates blocking POPS privately owned publicly accessible parks & walkways. Staff were instructed by council to provide the addresses of over 400 identified POPS, but staff argued that it would release only a ‘refined list’ that merited signage, about 100.
    I spent over a year of phone tag attempting to get overworked staff to verify numerous suspected POPS locations. Finally a NY planner went to archives to investigate a single address (Humberstone walkway between Everson and Oakburn). It was confirmed to be POPS, and a letter was sent to the townhouse community management. The planner informed me that the compliance request was ignored, then, like others, the planner stopped responding.
    ‘No trespassing’ signs remain and it is one of the vast majority of POPS locations that city staff deemed unworthy to reveal in its public list.
    My take: city staff are under-resourced, while developers & property managers (like signage reps) are organized and influential.

  5. Maybe what is needed is a chain saw or cutting torch!

  6. Now is the time to put the question to every candidate for mayor and Councillor in the up coming election. Put them on the spot and hold them to it after election.

  7. Permit on the sign is the right idea, Dave, similar to what’s required on things like clothing donation collection boxes.

    Problem is signs are a mess in general. All of the A-frame signs that businesses put out… all of the sandwich boards for new condo developments… those are all required to have permits and the permit number is supposed to be shown on the sign. Never happens, and enforcement is pretty much non-existent.