Arts Undergraduate Society to challenge Montreal in court

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Arts Undergraduate Society President David Marshall will be representing the AUS in an upcoming legal battle with the City of Montreal. The City ticketed and fined the AUS $2,500 in February 2010 after a member of the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society posted an 8 ½ x 11-sized flyer advertising a then-upcoming production of Cabaret. Marshall and the AUS believe they have a basis for defence and have pleaded not guilt to the charge.

“When I initially got the ticket, I had no idea that this law existed,” Marshall said. “I had no idea what the potential consequences were, and this didn’t come in until [Friday] morning, so I had no idea there was actually any evidence to back it up.”

Marshall said the initial ticket the AUS received contained only minimal information, and he was unsure of how to proceed. Upon requesting and eventually receiving more details from the City government, Marshall received a photo of the poster in question and had a better understanding of the situation. Marshall said he thinks the law is unjust.

“The citation came with a letter reminding us that this law was in place to help keep the city clean,” he said. “It’s completely ludicrous, the idea that you can’t put up a piece of paper on a public light post steps away from the university and if you do, [the punishment is] not a slap on the wrist but a substantial fine.”

Marshall also said that he does not believe the City has any grounds to impose such a fine since the Quebec Court of Appeals struck down this law as unconstitutional several months ago.

“The law itself was declared invalid, so technically there’s no way we should be charged under it,” Marshall said.

In mounting a defence, the AUS has found itself in a tricky financial situation, as the cost of hiring professional lawyers would far exceed the cost of the fine.

“Twenty-five hundred dollars is not peanuts, but at the same time, if we’re going to pay a lawyer to consult, to come to court, to do all that, we’re going to spend more than $2,500 on legal fees,” Marshall said.

Therefore Marshall, after receiving the support of the AUS Council, will be representing the AUS in any and all of the future proceedings. He said that he has been unofficially consulting with numerous lawyers and legal scholars on the situation and believes the AUS has a fighting chance to avoid paying the fine. Marshall emphasized that he is mainly representing the AUS simply because it is cost-efficient.

“I don’t feel as though I am fucking around with the AUS’s future,” he said.

One twist to the case is the fact that the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society, not the AUS, posted the flyer. Julian Silverman, a co-producer at the AUTS, expressed his and the AUTS’s pleasure with the support of the AUS.

“We’re glad that Dave [Marshall] is on our side and willing to support us and speak for us,” Silverman said. “And the postering is sort of a funny thing. You see posters around all the time and we’re sad to know that we were singled out compared to everyone else.”

Marshall said he wants to avoid taking the $2,500 out of the AUTS’s yearly $20,000 budget, but if the AUS is forced to pay, both organizations will shift their focus towards fundraising.

“At this point, with the budgetary difficulties we’ve had this year, if we have to pay, we’ll probably have to work with them to increase their fundraising a little bit so we can make up the difference in funds,” Marshall said.

“This is not AUS’s fault at all, this is ours,” Silverman said. “So we would be fundraising those funds [to pay off the fine]. As much as the AUS is helping us out with the problem, it’s not their problem. We’re positive that we won’t have to [fundraise], hopefully we won’t have to.”

Whatever the outcome, Marshall seems excited thay such a case that could have repercussions for other student groups.

“There’s something to be said for cases like this where the law needs to be navigable enough so that people like us can get through it without spending a year on it and getting legal advice or at least bringing a lawyer into a courtroom,” Marshall said. “This seems to be a little bit ludicrous that putting up a piece of paper and there’s a $2,500 fine that affects all of our students, but I’m really hoping that we’re going to be able to rally a lot of our community support and get through it on our own.”