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Today's Big Story

Sex on the Second Narrows

An arresting protest against bridge billboards.

By Richard Warnica 13 Apr 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Richard Warnica is a senior editor at The Tyee.

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Plans for one sign to be erected near the south exit of Vancouver's Burrard St. Bridge.

Drivers heading north over Vancouver's Second Narrows Bridge are used to an arresting view. But if a local advocacy group has their way there will soon be something new competing for their attention.

Organizers for a group called Citizens for Responsible Outdoor Advertising (CROA) plan to suspend a giant jet-black sign from a crane looming over the north exit to the bridge sometime in the next two weeks. If all goes as planned, the sign will bear a single boldface word: SEX.

The sign is meant to protest a plan by the Squamish Nation to erect 13 10' by 36.5' billboards near the exits of three of the bridges leading in and out of downtown Vancouver. Because the base of each sign will be planted firmly on reserve land, strict municipal sign laws won't apply. That means the billboards, which will rotate and glow 24 hours a day, will be bigger, brighter and more visible than anything else in the district. That has Wayne Hunter, the man behind CROA, ticked off.

"We must display in an unquestionable, unequivocal way that we don't want these signs," Hunter said Thursday.

At this point, however, there doesn't appear to be much Hunter can do to stop them.

On Wednesday, the Squamish filed their environmental assessment for the billboards with the federal government. The Nation has already signed a 30-year deal with All Vision, an Ontario sign company, to build the billboards and sell the ad space. According to reports, the deal will bring the Nation $30 million over the length of the contract and could see signs up as early as next year.

Still, the North Vancouver* resident hasn't given up hope, hence the giant sexy billboard. Hunter hopes residents who see his sign will decide they too don't want advertising messing up their views and potentially making their bridge less safe. He wants those angered by the plan to contact the federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs and let their displeasure be known.

If you want to know more about how the situation got to this point, Daniel Wood has an excellent background on the whole story in last month's BC Business magazine. (You can only get the first couple of paragraphs online.) And the North Shore News has been on the story from the start.

But whatever happens with the billboards, this story will still say a lot about the obsessions and divisions of greater Vancouver.

This is a city where wealth buys access to beauty. The beauty of the North Shore, home to some of the country's highest average house prices, or the beauty of Stanley Park, where the surrounding condos are home to an international elite, and last winter's storm damage set off a fit of wailing and gnashing of teeth usually reserved for mass human slaughter.

So when someone comes in and says they plan to ugly things up a bit, you know it means trouble. Because unlike many of the myriad other groups who get trampled in this province, the wealthy have the means and the clout to do something about it. Something, perhaps, like renting a crane and building a giant protest billboard.

* Correction: This piece originally said Wayne Hunter was a resident of West Vancouver. He is a resident of the District of North Vancouver. Corrected on April 16.  [Tyee]

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