Rob Ford's wars are many. Having already launched crusades against bike lanes, streetcars, and graffiti, the next target of his mayoral wrath is yet another downtown fixture: D.I.Y. posters. Since February, a flurry of 1,200 charges have been laid for posters put up on city property.
Anti-postering bylaws have been on the books for years but Ford campaigned on cracking down on fiendish flyers. Posters that are glued on or are particularly numerous are the apparent targets, although the bylaw is fairly broad.
Following the mayor's orders, a unit of city staff has been conducting a West-to-East sweep of the downtown core, handing out fines to anybody who dares to post these bills. The enforcement pilot project has so far stretched from Spadina to Yonge, not venturing north of Bloor.
But the way the bylaw is being enforced is unfair according to Tim Broughton, co-owner of St. Lawrence Market live music institution C'est What?. On Monday he found himself in court over posters he didn't even know existed until after they were put up. A band named Paint had gotten together with friends and posted flyers for a show at the venue in February without Broughton's foreknowledge. They caught the attention of bylaw officers and Broughton was been charged with two violations. The band wasn't fined at all.
"At first we were like, you've got the wrong guy because we don't put up posters for anything," he said. "But the poster does have the C'est What logo on it. They come after me because we're the easiest people to find.
Broughton says he's added a clause to artist contracts saying they can only put up posters where it's legal to do so. But if bands do break the rules he says he has no intention of trying to make them pay because "most of them don't have two nickels to rub together."
He plans to fight the fine, which can be as high as $5,000 for the most egregious violations. "This is more about the principle than the money," he said. "The arts community is under attack."
The postering crackdown is being executed in conjunction with the roll-out of new street furniture the city has designated as legal postering surfaces. So far there are about 250 message boards at transit shelters and 75 public posting columns throughout the city, and over the next month 65 more columns will be erected in the downtown core. But with each column providing only a few square metres of flat surface, they can't hope to accommodate all the bills for concerts, art shows, and other events that happen every day in Toronto.
Paint singer and guitarist Robb Johannes says postering is an integral part of promoting his band's shows. "There's a value to having your name seen on the streets. You have to use every outlet that you have available," he said. "Plus, you're not just promoting the arts community but you're also promoting businesses downtown."
The city sees it differently.
"Postering is not a pleasant sight when you're walking down the sidewalk," said Rino Cipolletta, manager at the city's licensing and standards division. "This is directly from the mayor and council. Whoever profits from the poster being posted can be charged. It could be the bar, the band themselves, or whoever put up the poster."
Broughton has another court date in November and the guys in Paint have pledged to fess up that they posted the flyers without his knowledge. If C'est What? is still forced to pay a fine, the band and venue have already agreed to stage a fundraising show to recover the cost.