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Toronto billboard battle heads to the courts Add to ...

A major billboard firm is taking the city to court over its contentious sign bylaw, already under attack from anti-advertising activists as too lax.

The legal challenge by Titan Worldwide, with outdoor billboards located in the lucrative downtown, comes amid mounting pressure in and outside city hall for a crackdown on what is seen as a proliferation of illegal signs.

Yesterday, a city spokeperson declined to comment. The case is set for May in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

In court documents, Titan contends the city is overstepping its powers by demanding an extra permit when a company, which already has permission to put up an ad on the side of a building, uses vinyl instead of paint.

"There should be just one permit, that is the crux of the dispute with the city," said Aird and Berlis lawyer Christopher Williams, who is representing Titan.

As an industry trend, outdoor advertisers are turning to vinyl signs (easier to put up and take down) instead of murals painted directly on a building wall.

Such substitutions, made without a permit, constitute a violation of the bylaw, according to the city, which has only one enforcement official full-time to monitor billboards.

Over the past year, citing vinyl signs as evidence, grassroots activists with IllegalSigns.ca have reported several hundred alleged breaches of the bylaw by billboard companies, including Titan, demanding tougher enforcement.

Follow-up investigations by city officials confirmed some, but not all, of the complaints levelled by IllegalSigns.ca.

"The city has allowed the advertising industry to get away with murder for years," Rami Tabello, co-ordinator for IllegalSigns.ca., said yesterday.

He contends that Titan has launched legal action to delay further moves by the city that has issued "notices of revocation" for the company to remove vinyl signs at 16 downtown locations.

Not so, said Mr. Williams, noting his client last year engaged in months of discussions, with the city insistent that a separate permit is required for a vinyl sign.

The legal fight also comes as the city attempts to write a new citywide sign bylaw, possibly by early 2009, to replace a hodgepodge of rules developed by the former cities of pre-amalgamation Toronto.

"Our sign bylaw is a complete and total disaster," said Councillor Howard Moscoe (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence), the chairman of council's licensing and standards committee, who wants tighter controls on advertisers.

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