It may have been April Fool’s Day, but Robert Wells’ trial related to a stunting charge for a profane sign in his car last Friday was no laughing matter.
A provincial court judge reserved his decision regarding the case after hearing how Wells was given a ticket of $543 for a large pink sign with the words “F—- Harper” in his car.
Judge Bart Rosborough heard from Wells, who was self-represented, and from crown prosecutor Steve Degen on the events that led up to the ticket on Aug. 16, 2015.
Wells defended his actions and challenged the ticket stating that he had a right to freedom of expression. He made a notice of constitutional argument related to the charge.
Court heard from Cst. C. Zerr of the Ponoka Integrated Traffic Unit, who received a complaint that the sign was a distraction. Zerr said that traffic was heavy that day and when he came close to Wells’ car he could see the bright pink sign and statement on it.
“As soon as I saw the sign I thought, ‘Wow. That’s why they’re calling about it’,” Zerr explained to the court.
He asked Wells to take down the sign stating it was causing a distraction. When Wells refused, he was given a citation for stunting.
“My concern is that it was interfering with the safe operation of the users of the roadway,” Zerr explained.
Wells pointed out that the complaint was more about the sign itself rather than with stunting, which is defined as likely to distract, startle or interfere with other users of the highway.
The complaint came from Linda Trewin, who spoke as a witness for the crown. “We came upon a car that had a foul message on the window,” she told the court.
She said her husband was driving at the time and Wells would pull ahead so they could see the sign and would then slow down. She added her main concern was over the use of the words and for cars that had children in them.
“I didn’t approve of your sign in the back window,” she added after being questioned by Wells.
Speaking for himself Wells said the decision to make the sign was in the spirit of political protest, something he feels is a right every Canadian has under the Charter of Rights in the Constitution.
Degen asked why Wells decided to use those specific words. While he applauded Wells’ freedom of expression, he suggested there may have been a better use of words to get the point across. “What about, ‘Harper has destroyed the constitution’,” he asked.
Wells replied the specific words he used were short and got the point across.
In his closing arguments, Wells said this case is more about freedom of expression and freedom to protest. Under the Declaration of Human Rights, of which Canada is a part of, Wells suggested he should be able to protest without fear of punishment. This interpretation of stunting affects people’s freedom of speech, he argued adding that Canadian citizens have the right to protest, and that includes putting up a sign such as his.
Wells added that there is no evidence that the sign was a distraction, whether people liked or disliked what it had to say.
“If anything it drew attention to the car and that’s what you should be looking for,” said Wells.
Degen argued that there are some restrictions to that freedom of expression if the instances are hate speech. While he did not claim the sign to be hate speech, Degen suggested other avenues of protest.
“From the Crown’s perspective, there are other ways that people can express freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” said Degen.
In this case travelling on the highway, which is a regulated activity and, “is simply not the place for political discourse.”
Wells has been under the political spotlight before for having a “F—- Ralph” sign on his car some years ago. Edmonton police determined that Wells was not doing anything illegal at that time.
After a brief adjournment Rosborough reserved judgement for July 15 due to the complexity of the case related to human rights.