03/11/2013 12:46 EDT

Sign Bans Protest Outside Stephen Harper's Calgary Office


A new sign posted in the parking lot outside Prime Minister Stephen Harper's constituency office in Calgary is generating debate about whether it's meant to ban protesters from the area.

The sign, located at the south entrance to the Glenmore Landing strip mall in the city's southwest, states that “political or public protesting or demonstrating, soliciting, use of loud speakers or other similar devices, pamphleteering, loitering, skateboarding is strictly prohibited,” citing municipal bylaw 41M2002.

The sign also says the parking lot is “for use of customers while shopping in Glenmore Landing only” and the lot “is limited to customers or those doing business with or visiting tenants.”

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Photo gallery People React To Sign Outside Harper's Office See Gallery

Supporters of the right to protest are taking objection to the sign, saying it violates their rights as Canadians.

According to the Calgary Herald, a lone picketer took to the parking lot over the weekend with his own cardboard sign.

"Peaceful Assembly Is A Right, Not Bylaw," Donald Smith's sign read.

"I'm a Canadian citizen," Smith told CBC Calgary. "I'm tired of my government making up these bullcrap bylaws against us when we're Canadians, we're taxpayers."

This is not the first time Harper's Calgary office has seen protesters. Idle No More protesters paid the office a visit in January and federal prison workers gathered last September to protest working conditions inside jails.

“Protest, in my mind, is one of our rights in our country and it’s something that all of us, in one way or another I would suspect, have either supported or participated in,” Alderman Brian Pincott, a long-time supporter of social causes, told the Calgary Sun.

He also called into question the use of the bylaw on the sign, which he says only covers parking and makes no mention of protest or peaceful assembly.

According to CBC Calgary, bylaw 41M2002 enforces rules like parking near crosswalks or being too far from the curb.

The Calgary Parking Authority told the Herald it has no control over what a private company writes on its signs so long as the cited bylaws remain in accordance with the parking authority's requirements.

Mile Dyck, manager of parking enforcement, said he can only remove vehicles - not people - off private lots.

The problem with the debate, however, is that people expect to have charter rights because they assume Glenmore Landing is a public place, says Linda McKay-Panos, executive director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre.

“It’s privately-owned, and consequently, the charter does not apply," McKay-Panos told the Herald.

She said places such as strip malls, airports and other privately owned properties are often mistaken for public property because large numbers of people are invited to these facilities.

However, it's up to the property owner to determine which bylaw or trespass laws will limit access to the property, and that it's their right to do so as long as the signs don't discriminate or violate human rights.

Harper’s press secretary, Andrew MacDougall, told the Calgary Sun his office was unaware of the sign.

“It seems strange to me,” he said.

“Protests happen, they’re a fact of life, and as long as people are respecting the laws, they have the right to be there.”

The strip mall is also home to the office of Calgary-Glenmore MLA Linda Johnson.