After 10 years, a legal battle and a free speech debate, Plateau now billboard free

After a decade, a legal battle and a debate over the limits of free speech, the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough is now billboard free.

It was 10 years ago that the borough first passed a bylaw to get rid of billboard advertisements. But legal challenges soon arose, as advertisers called the bylaw unconstitutional. Their challenge eventually found its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which refused to hear the case, allowing the law to stand.

City councillor Alex Norris called it a proud moment for the Plateau. As a personal project, he's gone around the borough to photograph spaces that used to have billboards.

“The results vary from location to location,” he said. “In some cases, the results are more spectacular than others. But I would argue in every single case where we got rid of one of these things, the views have been improved.”

Local sculptor Glen Lemesurier said the lack of billboards has made a huge difference.

“Fourteen have been removed from the corner of St-Laurent and Van Horne to Van Horne and Park,” he said. “This street was their cash cow.”

But without the billboards, the artist said people's eyes are now drawn to public art and nature, rather than advertisements.

“With the removal of these things, some of the older poplar trees in the neighbourhood that have grown in the last 22 years became, all of a sudden, visual to the eye if you're walking down the street,” he said.

Norris said that while the Plateau was the first borough to ban the advertisements, he doesn't believe it will be the last.

“The ruling does apply specifically to the Plateau and its particularities but this is significant jurisprudence that could be used by other communities,” he said.  

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