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Postering in Ottawa

SteveThe Owl

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Hey Gang -- with the warm weather coming, it's geting too nice just to tell others about your shows via the internet. This is a piece I wrote for the Centretown Buzz last July about the evil state of affairs for people who want to use public space for advertising their show, etc., etc.

If you poster, let me know if you've had trouble with the ByLaw stormtroopers or vigilante weirdos.


Concern is growing in Centretown’s artistic community that the city’s postering by-law is stifling independent culture.

Enacted in October 2003 to harmonize previously existing laws throughout the newly-amalgamated city of Ottawa, the by-law effectively limits the placing of posters in the downtown core, or other high-traffic areas in the city, to the “poster collars†mounted on traffic-light standards or utility poles.

Otherwise, posters may be put up only on utility poles – and even then, only if there isn’t a poster collar around within 200 metres.

But a law that isn’t enforced has no teeth.

And those teeth, in the form of the city’s by-law enforcement officers, have been kept sharp this summer.

“We are starting to lay charges,†affirms Paul Hutt, Coordinator of Bylaw Services for the City of Ottawa, noting that “nine or ten†citations have so far been issued against “repeat violators of the bylaw.

Hutt says he considers this “a significant increase over last year,†when no charges for illegal postering were laid that he was aware of.

Brent Knox has been postering in Centretown for “five or six years,†usually for musical acts in local nightclubs or for protest rallies.

While he admits that he himself hasn’t had “a large problem with the bylaw,†he acknowledges that he has been warned by others in the postering community that the by-law has been more actively enforced this year.

One posterer who has run afoul of the bylaw is Melanie Yugo, who runs the spins & needles crafting and DJ night held monthly at the Clocktower Pub.

She says that she was accosted by two by-law enforcement officers on a Thursday evening last May while she was putting up a poster on a pole at the corner of Elgin and Gladstone.

“While I normally do affix posters to poster collars, this part of Elgin lacks collars,†she points out, then goes on the say that since there was already a poster on the pole and the poles surrounding it, she “assumed there would be no problem†putting up her poster.

Her assumption netted her a $360 ticket.

“Our intention was not to damage city property or to cause trouble, but to promote an arts and cultural event in Ottawa.â€

Once the officers made her aware that she had broken the law, she offered to remove the offending poster.

But, she says, “The two officers cited it was a ‘zero tolerance’ night and that I must be issued a ticket.â€

“I don’t like the term zero tolerance,†says Hutt, noting that if Yugo was fastening her poster to a traffic-light standard, “it was a situation.â€

“We certainly do have ‘blitzes’ where ignorance of the law is not an issue.†Held twice a year, once during the spring and once in the fall, these ‘blitzes’ are held in conjunction with police and fire officials to nab violators of fire codes and similar safety regulations.

“We were not aware there was a postering bylaw before this incident,†Yugo admits.

Suggesting that Yugo’s case is out of the ordinary, Hutt points out that first-time offenders do not usually face fines, and receive instead a verbal or written warning from the city.

“Our normal practice is, we call it an educational visit,†he says. The next step, Hutt points out, is taken “at the officer’s discretion.â€

Tanja Pecnik, owner of Swizzles Bar and Grill on Queen Street, says her establishment received such an “educational visit†on a Wednesday afternoon in early June when a by-law officer dropped by to warn her about illegally-placed Dusty Owl Reading Series posters from early the previous month.

Because Pecnik wasn’t on the premises at the time, the officer jotted down his office number on a slip of paper – rather than leaving an official city business card – and told the Swizzles employee to have her call him back as soon as possible, even late into the evening if necessary.

She notes that when she phoned him back, the officer was polite and professional when he issued her the verbal warning, but she observes that he sounded “like he had better things to do with his time.â€

While she says she can see the point of the bylaw in that posterers don’t always take down their posters after their event is over and done, Pecnik suggests the aesthetic issue is overblown.

“It’s the hydro poles,†she shakes her head. “It’s like defacing a dead tree.â€

Hutt points out that warnings such as the one Pecnik received – “reactive†enforcement, where officers act on a complaint lodged by citizens or BIAs – are more the rule than the ticket – or, “proactive†enforcement, through spot-checks by officers – Yugo received.

Probably the best-kept secret about the postering bylaw is that it is actually illegal to remove legally-placed posters – violators can also face a $300 fine – complaints of which Hutt admits are rare.

Knox notes that his posters are frequently targeted by vandals – often within a day – especially “anything even remotely controversial.â€

Mike Foster, owner of Crosstown Traffic, also sees the poster collars as “a target for vigilantes.â€

He says he spent two weeks in early June putting posters up to promote the THC Rally on Parliament Hill against marijuana prohibition.

The idea for the rally “was irritating someone,†he says, “because they were systematically cutting them out with a razor-knife.â€

And on the morning of 10 June, he arrived at his store to find the posters he had put up on the previous day stuffed into a garbage bag left at his door.

“It was somebody opposed to free speech, and I resent it.â€

Foster notes as well that some poster collars protrude a few inches over the curb into traffic and can damage cars trying to park.

Yugo suggests there is another design problem of the poster collars.

“The City of Ottawa website refers to the blue strips on poster collars which contain information about postering,†she says. “In the areas where we poster, however, the blue strip is often covered by posters, making it difficult to read, especially for a short person like me!â€

But the postering bylaw has not only been a bane for groups promoting their events; it has made others carefully consider their postering campaigns.

Sean Moher, who helps organize the La Vendemmia wine festival on Preston Street says that he now has to keep in mind the size of his posters and where he places them.

Underlining the effect the bylaw has on small groups who err and are punished, Yugo says, “Having to pay this large fine would be a huge monetary setback to our non-profit event. I feel it would also be a symbolic setback to arts and culture in general in Ottawa.

Looking at the poster collars on Ottawa’s major streets should stir excitement, not resentment,†she says, noting the poster-chill some groups and events are feeling. “It is a sign that arts and culture is starting to thrive in this city, which is a great thing for the local economy.

“To this end, as a ‘city’, Ottawa should support its creative community.â€

Edited by Guest
Left stuff out...
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I work for the city of ottawa so I'm not allowed to have an opinion...

(My opinion is that posters make the poles look nicer and that any fine over $50 for anything that targets mostly non-profit, culture oriented, events is criminal... shhhhhhh, don't tell anyone I said that)

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