Store refuses to cover up tobacco wall

Bob Gee says his customers are thanking him for taking a stand

Store refuses to cover up tobacco wallBob Gee just wants the government to back off. His Kentville, N.S., store, Maders Tobacco, has been operating for 80 years, but over the last decade, a constant stream of new rules and regulations has been driving him crazy. The 65-year-old had to remove three tobacco displays, take the lettering off his front window, and hang 10 signs declaring the dangers of smoking. Then, in November 2006, the province passed legislation requiring him to cover all his tobacco products.

Gee says the final rule was one step too far, and he won’t cover up. So last year he was charged with improper storage and display of tobacco products, which carries a fine of up to $2,000. The court gave him time to change his mind, but he refused. Prosecutors said he could use a catalogue to show customers what was available. He refused. He was told he could get an exemption if he stopped selling products like chips and pop and officially became a tobacconist. He refused.

On July 26, he pled not guilty at his preliminary hearing. “You would not believe the number of non-smokers that are coming into my shop and congratulating us for taking a stand,” he says.

He now plans to go to court to argue that the government is infringing his right to freedom of expression. But Michael Comeau, a lawyer and human rights professor at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, says he’ll have his work cut out for him. “Results have tended to be more in the government’s favour when it comes to advertising commercial products,” he says. In other words, Gee’s argument will likely fail.

Gee says he doesn’t care. “All I want to do is operate my business in a normal peaceful manner without any unnecessary restrictions,” he says. His next court date is Sept 14, when his lawyer will try to prove he has cause to challenge the regulations.

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