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Bus ad protest up against Charter of Rights and Freedoms

An online petition aimed at getting the city to pull a series of anti-abortion ads from Guelph Transit buses continues to gain support, although it’s unlikely to accomplish its goal.
“I appreciate that the Guelph & Area Right to Life advertisement may be seen as controversial, but refusing to post it could be seen as limiting freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Mayor Karen Farbridge in an online response to the petition.
The petition was posted on change.org, and as of Wednesday morning it had more than 2,500 signatures.
City solicitor Donna Jaques said it doesn’t matter how many signatures the petition gets. The city is bound by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “The city cannot veto advertising on city buses because there is a political message,” said Jaques.
The ads in question depict a fetus with the words, “this is a child not a choice.” To emphasize its point, the word “choice” has a red X through it.
“Women who exercise their right to choose should not be shamed by public bus ads promoting a subjective moral opposition to this right,” reads the petition, which was posted by Heather Millman.
She makes the argument that in running the ads on city buses, the city is taking a side on the controversial issue.
“It is shameful that the City of Guelph chooses the revenue from these ads over promoting women’s legal rights, and in doing so that it displays obvious prejudice against many of its citizens,” the petition reads.
The city gets a portion of the $13,000 paid for the ads to a third-party company, said the city’s corporate communication manager, Tara Sprigg.
Farbridge said the city does not necessarily support those who buy bus ads.
“The city does not endorse any businesses or associations who advertise on buses, benches or shelters, and Guelph Transit works with an outside agency that sells advertising space,” she said.
The ads are reviewed to ensure they comply with the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards and Guelph Transit’s advertising policy, and there is no evidence that these ads don’t meet those standards, she said.
Millman responded to the mayor’s comments, saying the ads don’t meet advertising standards because they make a misleading claim. “The statement ‘this is a child, not a choice’ is misleading and deceptive, as it implies that abortion is not a viable option for women,” she said.
She also argues that whether or not the city endorses the ads is irrelevant, because running them on city buses gives the impression that the city is anti-abortion.
Regardless, the mayor said complaints about the ads should go not to the city, but to Advertising Standards Canada.
“If the ad is found to be in violation of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, then Guelph Transit has the right to refuse or request the removal of the advertisement,” said Farbridge.

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