David and Goliath

How do you know when you’re doing the right thing?

Possibly when the very big and the very powerful start trying to intimidate you.

This David versus Goliath match is starting to play out in Toronto, as a grassroots activist operating the site Illegalsigns.ca takes on some big advertising companies. Although Rami Tabello probably shares the disdain of many toward the drive to sell off and poster over every single piece of wallspace in the City of Toronto, he has confined his activity toward researching and highlighting cases where major advertisers have posted advertisements illegally, in contravention with building codes, permits, and whathaveyou. He seems to have done his research, and has successfully identified hundreds of locations throughout Toronto where where billboards have been placed illegally.

The result of this has been threats of lawsuits by Astral Media and ClearChannel Communications (yes, the same people who fought the war on terror by banning John Lennon’s Imagine from its radio stations). The lawsuits imply libel (actually, in the letter sent to Rami, Astral Media implies slander — a legal error, since slander refers to the spoken word and not the written word, suggesting that Astral’s legal approach is not fully informed of its own legal backing, or possible lack thereof), but if anything Rami has been quite careful with his posts and has shown his work. Any postings that could be taken the wrong way have been corrected. He is operating this website in his spare time, and certainly doesn’t have a legal defence fund.

Fortunately, this legal intimidation comes at a time when Toronto city council is debating a major contract for new street furniture — transit shelters, garbage bins, street lamps and newspaper boxes that provide a fresh and uniform look for the city, and also plenty of other venues for companies to sell advertising. With the city already heavily in debt and deferring road and sidewalk repairs, there are plenty who are questioning whether this purchase is advisable. The actions taken against Rami have further steamed some members on council, as some of the companies threatening Rami because of his activities, are competing for that same contract.

Best of luck to Rami as he continues his hard work.

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