Clear Channel Outdoor Threatens to Sue the Toronto Public Space Committee for Economic Loss
FRIDAY, MARCH 16TH, 2007
So it has come to this. Clear Channel Outdoor has threatened to sue both myself, and the [now, unaffiliated] Toronto Public Space Committee, not for defamation, but for economic loss resulting from by-law enforcement action initiated by the TPSC against Clear Channel’s illegal billboards.
It all happened because of this complaint that the TPSC’s Alison Gorbould filed with Municipal Licensing and Standards against Clear Channel’s illegal video screen at 143 Lake Shore Boulevard East.
Three days after that complaint was filed and two weeks after the Toronto Port Authority sued Community Air, I received this letter via e-mail from Clear Channel’s solicitor, who perhaps thought I filed the complaint.
Daniel Ford, Bennett Jones:
C/o Toronto Public Space Committee
PO Box 372
253 College Street
We are the solicitors for Clear Channel…
Much of the outdoor signage which Clear Channel has is located on private land for which there are private commercial arrangements with non-public entities…. To the extent you, your organization or any member of your organization should seek to interfere in such private commercial arrangements, should trespass upon such private land or undertake any measures against Clear Channel specifically which would result in economic loss to Clear Channel, Clear Channel will pursue all legal remedies available at its disposal to restrict or prohibit such action and to recover any loss occasioned thereby, including, without limitation, any legal costs incurred by Clear Channel in connection with same.
I responded to Mr. Ford
“Mr Ford, I am asking for clarification of one sentence in your e-mail: “undertake any measures against Clear Channel specifically which would result in economic loss to Clear Channel” Does this include the filing of complaints against Clear Channel with Municipal Licensing which specifically target Clear Channel Billboards and would result in economic loss to Clear Channel if Clear Channel has illegal signs?”
Dan Ford responds:
If you have some interest in real property which adjoins the signage in question then we might understand that, to the extent it impacted upon your current use of that property, you would have some interest in ascertaining Clear Channel’s legal status in respect of the signage and might then have legitimate standing to pursue inquiries in that regard. Absent that, we are of the view that you do not have any specific standing which would justify the inquiries which you have made and which you are proposing to make in respect of Clear Channel’s signage. Furthermore, any such inquiries or any action taken in respect of same which may serve to alter Clear Channel’s present situation may constitute an unlawful interference…
This is the best part:
The City of Toronto and its staff are charged with the responsibility of assessing legal compliance of outdoor advertisers within the City and it is to them that such matters should be left. We suggest that confidence should be reposed in their abilities to make such assessments based upon the facts which they have at hand.
I write back:
“Are you are suggesting that I should not file any sign complaints with Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards for signs that Clear Channel operates, otherwise you will seek redress for economic loss if said sign complaints result in economic loss to Clear Channel even if these sign complaints are part of hundreds of sign complaints I filed with the City, most of which are for signs not operated by Clear Channel?”
Now read Dan Ford’s clear and cogent response [emphasis added]:
Sufficed to say, that when companies invest millions of dollars in a business under a “colour of right” be that in the form of legally compliant usage, legal non-conforming use or otherwise, and another party chooses to interfere in those rights without any apparent standing to do so, to the extent such interference results in economic loss to that company, the company will look to all legal means to recover that loss, including, without limitation, pursuing a claim against the party having caused that loss.
Now just mull over the meaning of “or otherwise” in the context of that sentence and in the context of what I asked Mr. Ford. Sufficed to say, if that’s not a solicitor threatening me with a lawsuit for filing a by-law violation complaint against his client’s illegal activity, I don’t know what is.
Consider that Clear Channel is a company that seeks to own and operate our ‘Street Furniture’ in contract Toronto can’t get out of for twenty years. Good luck winning that contract now, Clear Channel. Imagine the hell Mayor Miller would catch if Clear Channel wins that RFP.
Imagine giving a twenty year hegemony on our sidewalks to Clear Channel, a multi-billion dollar corporation that is so ensconced in lawlessness that it would go so far as to threaten to sue a penniless group of volunteers that exposed its illegal actions.
Could the City of Toronto really sign a 20-year non-cancelable contract with a company that would engage in such heavy-handed harassment? I have a better idea for Mayor Miller: Why don’t you just get the Toronto Port Authority to manage our “street furniture”?
As for Clear Channel’s solicitor, Mr. Daniel Ford, I will be filing a formal complaint with the Law Society of Upper Canada against Mr. Ford. Lawyers just can’t threaten to sue people for trying to get the law enforced in the Province of Ontario.
At least, I hope they can’t.
Coming up: We have conducted extensive research on Clear Channel’s Toronto portfolio and Clear Channel isn’t going to like what we discovered… a very large sign is on very thin ice… discover why we believe that the largest, most visible, and most lucrative billboard on the expressway, a $1Million/Year sign, is totally illegal…why we believe its permits were improperly issued in the 1990s… why we believe false information was filed with the Buildings Department… but first you will read the totally entertaining story of how Clear Channel is having trouble following Dan Ford’s advice… so stay tuned for more shenanigans from Toronto’s off-the-rails, out-of-control, Outdoor Advertising Industry.
Read the other post in our “Street Furniture” file:
Astral Media: A Culture of Non-Compliance With the Law (Part One)
Astral Media: A Culture of Non-Compliance With the Law (Part Two)
Media: We were profiled in the Toronto Star, GTA section today. Check it out.