Signage promoting a need for inclusive and affordable housing was removed from a South Surrey property Tuesday (Oct. 19), just a day after city council supported controversial amendments to its sign bylaw.
While the removal order preceded council’s support of the sign-bylaw changes, the head of the organization behind the sign said the timing was “interesting” nonetheless.
“It wouldn’t be fair to say this is being taken down because of the bylaw,” Doug Tennant, chief executive officer of UNITI, said Wednesday (Oct. 20). “To me, it’s more coincidence.”
The sign had been erected by UNITI – a partnership of Semiahmoo Foundation, Peninsula Estates Housing Society and Semiahmoo House Society – on Sept. 24, over top of a green development sign at the proposed site of UNITI’s six-storey inclusive-housing project that was rejected by council in July.
Bearing the message, ‘Real people. Real need. Because everyone has a right to a home in their community,’ the sign featured portraits of a senior, a woman in glasses, a young man in a ball cap and a young lady with developmental disabilities.
It was intended to showcase the range of individuals who would have benefited from the 91-unit Harmony project, and be “a beacon for people who desperately need housing, and for them to know UNITI will not give up on them,” Tennant said at the time.
Tennant said Wednesday (Oct. 20) that the order to remove it was delivered after the city received a complaint about the sign last week.
City officials Friday (Oct. 22) would not confirm if a complaint prompted the move. Rather, they said it was due to a lack of permit for the sign.
Tennant said the order had been anticipated from the get-go, noting that the sign violates city regulations due to its size.
But in an Oct. 19 tweet, Tennant wonders “who was offended by a sign supporting an inclusive and healthy community.”
Wednesday, he said the sign itself is not what matters.
“More important than the sign is making sure that Harmony is built. The sign is just a sign,” he said.
Continued efforts to highlight the need include ‘Harmony Monday’ social-media posts “sharing the words of some of the 6,000 + people who supported affordable and inclusive housing in South Surrey.”
6000+ people voiced their support for Harmony. We are sharing their words every Monday until October 15, 2022. @uniti4all hears all those who desperately need safe and affordable housing where they grew up. https://t.co/DyTqE81mEB
— Doug Tennant (@DouglasRTennant) October 19, 2021
“We are sharing their words every Monday until October 15, 2022,” a tweet promoting the initiative declares.
It’s to “amplify their voices,” Tennant said.
The amendments supported by council Monday were to the city’s bylaw regulating political signs. They include a broadening of the definition of “political sign” to include signs related to political issues, referenda, plebiscites, and initiative and recall petitions.
“It will also include signs supporting, opposing, or disapproving of candidates or issues,” Rob Costanzo, the city’s general manager of corporate services, told council. “Currently, the definition only captures signs promoting voting at elections, the election of candidates, or the voting for or support of causes in an election.”
Opponents have charged that “it appears” the amendments are “meant to be specifically applied to signage around the Keep the RCMP group” – whose supporters have signs on their front lawns throughout the city – and are targeting the Surrey Police Vote initiative campaign that was launched by Surrey widow Darlene Bennett.
City solicitor Philip Huynh said in a report that the Charter-protected right to freedom of expression “must be balanced against the community’s interest to preserve order, and these bylaws are intended to strike that balance.”
– with files from Tom Zytaruk
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