In overturning his conviction, the Ontario Court of Appeal found a distressed Livingston Jeffers may have shown poor judgment and been a nuisance after losing his family's condominium but he did nothing criminal.
"The conviction for counselling murder is unreasonable," the court ruled.
"The trial judge's reasons for conviction are undermined by her failure to consider the offending poster and Mr. Jeffers' intention in context."
Jeffers, then 58, was convicted in October 2008 for plastering posters on road signs, hydro poles and parking meters in his east-end neighbourhood.
Evidence was that the married father of four, who came to Canada from the Caribbean in the 1970s, was unable to make mortgage payments on the family condo.
The poster campaign was an effort to draw attention to the family's plight. Some of the 10,000 flyers he had made claimed his family feared for their lives.
The poster that prompted the charge showed a photograph and the name of Coun. Michael Thompson under the word: "Murder."
It also had the words, "Help Jeffers," "We Black" and Jeffers' phone number. Other posters had his address.
In convicting him, Ontario court Justice Gail Dobney found his explanation that the posters were a cry for help "implausible," and dismissed his motives as irrelevant. She handed him a suspended sentence and three years probation.
But the Appeal Court rejected the judge's view, noting that Thompson had tried to help Jeffers, who had no motive to want the councillor murdered.
The trial judge failed to take into account that Jeffers made sure he could easily be identified and found, and was happy and co-operative when police showed up, the court found.
"This is not the normal conduct of a person who intends to counsel the murder of another human being," the Appeal Court ruled.
"No reasonable person viewing the words on the poster could think that they were encouraging someone to murder Coun. Thompson. They were a cry for a fellow black man to help the Jeffers family, not an exhortation to kill."
The court said Jeffers' Caribbean background was relevant, noting his level of literacy was limited and his English rudimentary, and that he used "colourful" speech in making a colloquial plea for help.
The Appeal Court also substituted an acquittal for a mischief conviction the trial judge based on the damage he did to property with the posters.
The senior court said any damage would have had to be more than a minor inconvenience to qualify as criminal.
"Individuals have long used postering as an effective and inexpensive means of communicative expression — whether to give notice of a lost pet, an upcoming local concert, or a person's availability to do home repairs," the Appeal Court said in its decision.
"Criminalizing this kind of conduct is not in society’s interest."