Little Current business uses social media to grieve bylaw infraction summons

LITTLE CURRENT—Buddy’s Liquidation/Buddy’s Fries has taken an ongoing dispute between the business and the Northeast Town concerning an ‘open’ sandwich board sign to social media, challenging the town’s decision to take Buddy’s owner Aaron Toy to court over breaching the town’s sign and billboard bylaw.

On Monday, June 3, Buddy’s proprietor Aaron Toy received a Provincial Offences Act summons for breaching bylaw 2009-17, “being a bylaw to regulate the erection of signs, billboards and other advertising devices within the corporation limits of the Northeast Town;” section 2, “No sign, billboard or other advertising device shall be erected or installed on the untravelled portion of highways or on any other lands owned by the corporation unless a permit has been issued by the manager of public works.”

The summons specifically states that the offence committed was to “cause or permit a sign to be placed on municipal property, to wit Robinson Street, Little Current, Ontario.”

The summons led to the business owner and his business partner and father Dave Toy to take the dispute to the social media site Facebook.

Later, on June 3, Buddy’s posted on their ‘Buddy’s Fries’ Facebook page photos of the offending sign in front of their store and a photo of the store’s door with a copy of the summons and a note that reads, “This is how the town supports local business.”

The Toys also posted several messages on June 3 through to Sunday, June 9, explaining their interpretation of the series of events leading to the summons, harassment allegations against the town, in addition to stating that they felt the town was singling Buddy’s out.

The Expositor spoke with Dave Toy, as Aaron Toy declined to speak to the paper because of the summons, and with the Northeast Town’s CAO Dave Williamson in interviews last week.

“I’m not from here, so I don’t know how everything works,” began Mr. Toy. “Because of Buddy’s (Fries) new location (at the corner of Robinson and Worthington Streets) we (he and Aaron) became a part of the BIA (Business Improvement Area of Little Current). We noticed that people were popping out signs in front of their stores and asked the council representative on the BIA what the rules were concerning the signs. All he could tell us was that if it was our own sign, in front of our own store, it was okay.”

Mr. Toy continued to explain that after the business placed its two foot by five foot sign in front of their store, the town bylaw enforment officer, Tom Spry, asked an employee to remove it.

“We were told we needed a permit for the sign, so Aaron went to the town office to buy one,” Mr. Toy said. “A town employee said he needed to talk to Dave (Mr. Williamson). Dave said there were no permits for store sandwich board signs. Aaron asked what the rules were, but no one could tell us or produce a written copy of the rules for downtown signs.”

“Later, we had heard we were okay to put our sign up as long as it was no more than two feet from the building, which we did, but then Mr. Spry came and took our sign,” continued Mr. Toy. “We called our councillor and asked why, but he didn’t have an answer. We called Mr. Williamson, but he wouldn’t and still hasn’t returned any of our calls. Our sign was eventually returned after we called the OPP, leading us to call the mayor (Al MacNevin) and ask for clarification.”

Mr. Toy said that Mayor McNevin did come to the store to view the sign, and claimed that the mayor told the Toys “he didn’t see the problem.”

“He also said that he would set up a meeting with Mr. Williamson to clarify the situation, but instead we were presented with the summons the next morning,” added Mr. Toy.

When asked about Buddy’s comments on Facebook claiming, “Buddy’s has been getting harassed the last couple of weeks regarding our open sign” by town staff, Mr. Toy said he felt that both he and his son were being harassed.

“Being fined without being told why is harassment,” Mr. Toy told The Expositor. While Aaron Toy has received a summons, he had not been fined as of press time Monday, June 30. “They won’t tell me or show me the rules about signs. We are being singled out and it is not fair or right. Everyone should be treated fairly. Why can other businesses downtown put up signs but not us?”

Mr. Toy also told The Expositor that Mayor MacNevin had ‘liked’ the photo of the summons on Buddy’s door and Mr. Toy commented online, “Please note the ‘like’ from him (Mayor MacNevin) on this picture. He has been supportive of us in this so far. He is not the one doing this. Hopefully he will come to court with us to show his support.”

The Expositor followed up on Mr. Toy’s claim and Mayor MacNevin had indeed ‘liked’ the photo, however by Saturday, June 8, the mayor’s ‘like’ had been removed. When The Expositor contacted Mayor MacNevin, he explained that he had “accidently ‘liked’ the photo” and once it was brought to his attention removed it, saying “why would I ‘like’ a photo of a summons?”

Mayor MacNevin explained that he was simply following the online correspondence between the business and his constituents and must have hit the ‘like’ icon accidently.

“I did go to Buddy’s when they asked to speak about their sign to hear their concerns,” concluded Mayor MacNevin, “but after the summons, I needed to stay out of it.”

When asked about the summons and the dispute between the town and Buddy’s, CAO Williamson told The Expositor he would not comment on the details of the situation due to the summons.

He did explain that the town and Water Street businesses have had a long-standing agreement with the BIA where stores are allowed to place a two foot by three foot sandwich board in front of their stores, one to two feet in front of their business.

“There is no permit for sandwich board signs on town property, but there is a bylaw for signs and billboards within the municipality,” explained Mr. Williamson when questioned. “Several years ago, council had a discussion about the sandwich boards along Water Street. There was no motion made, but council agreed to permit sandwich boards along the main street, as long as they were no larger than the average two by three foot sandwich board and close to their building. We don’t want to chase people down about sandwich board signs, but when there are repeated violations the town has to act. It is a safety issue.”

When asked if the Toys were originally allowed to place a sign in front of their store, Mr. Williamson responded that they had the same option as the rest of the downtown businesses, which they had been told.

He also noted that the Toys had placed their sign up against the Robinson Street stop sign, which had been a problem as it was deemed to be a pedestrian traffic hazard far away from the building.

“All steps were taken to rectify the situation,” said Mr. Williamson. “Anyone who violates a town bylaw is treated the same. When all attempts fail to correct a situation, we are compelled to enforce the bylaw in the court system. It is a last resort.”

As for the allegation that Mr. Williamson would not return the Toys’ calls, Mr. Williamson said he did return the calls and did speak with Aaron Toy both in person and on the phone.

“Rules provide structure,” concluded Mr. Williamson. “And everyone is treated the same.”

Aaron Toy will appear in court at the Little Current Recreation Centre on Thursday, June 20 at 10 am in the Lions Den.

Before press time on Monday, Dave Toy placed another post on Facebook addressing Mr. Williamson and writing, “Please feel free to post a response to inform everyone of your reasons for enforcing your bylaws differently between my business and the rest of the town.”

“If not here, then please have the balls to come to court on the 20th and explain it in person while you are under oath,” added Mr. Toy.

He also wrote that he would be starting an online photo album of all signs on town property, “Then you can tell me which ones are illegal and which ones are not. Of the illegal ones, you can then tell me which ones you have stolen and how many people you have fined.”

In the past, other businesses such as The Pantry, Dockside Dairy Bar and the Treasure Cove Gallery have also received bylaw warnings over their sandwich board signs, however the situations were resolved after the initial warning.

Robin Burridge