London Transit Commission Caves to Anti-Choice Groups and Disrespects Human Rights
For immediate release
LONDON, Ontario: The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) and pro-choice activists are deeply troubled by a recent court settlement between two anti-choice groups and the London Transit Commission, compelling the LTC to run false advertising on its buses. (See Background, below)
The LTC has rejected the authority of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (“the Code”) and now must accept ads that contravene the Code, including inaccurate, misleading, deceptive, exploitive, or demeaning ads. Anti-choice ads in particular have often been found to contravene the Code. Such ads also seek to revoke the Charter right of women and transgender people to access abortion care, which means the ads should be seen as discriminatory.
“We’re shocked that the London Transit Commission caved into the demands of anti-choice groups,” said Joyce Arthur, Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. “It appears the LTC didn’t consider all the legal and Charter issues at stake. Advertisers’ freedom of expression rights must be balanced against other objectives, including the rights of the public and vulnerable groups targeted by the ads. The LTC failed to do that.”
“Six court decisions have signalled that the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards is an appropriate tool for cities to use when vetting advertising,” said Arthur. “In addition, the Code is cited by at least 75 cities in their policies or bylaws. This gives the Code some legal authority.” Arthur noted that the Code is administered by the private watchdog agency Ad Standards but is widely respected and followed by advertisers. “At the very least, the LTC needs to revise their new Advertising Policy to also require ads to abide by the Code.”
Deanna Ronson, a London activist, said: “By scrapping the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, the LTC is forced to accept false ads like the one that is now back on London buses. This ad is upsetting to many because it challenges peoples’ Charter rights of bodily autonomy and equality. Ads on buses also target a captive audience that can’t get away from the message.”
The LTC’s settlement with the two anti-choice groups is legally binding and confidential. Arthur said: “We’ve asked them why they settled instead of going to court, but the LTC refuses to answer.” Further, a recent petition to the LTC asking it to remove the false bus ad has achieved over 3,000 signatures so far, but the LTC has refused to respond to this petition
“As a publicly funded entity that receives money from the Provincial government as well as London’s municipal government, the lack of response from the London Transit Commission and the LTC Board of Commissioners is deeply disappointing,” said Ronson, “What happened to transparency and public accountability?”
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Background: What happened?
- In summer 2018, the London Transit Commission (LTC) ran bus ads by the right-wing group Association for Reformed Political Action Canada (ARPA Oxford). The ad claimed that “Canada has no abortion laws”.
- Around the same time, 33 billboards with the same ad were displayed across Canada by the anti-choice group “We Need a Law.”
- In Oct 2018, Ad Standards found the billboard ad to be inaccurate in contravention of Section 1 of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. The billboard ads had already run their course.
- Meanwhile, London activists fought to have the bus ads removed and the LTC took down the ads after the Ad Standards decision on the billboards.
- In Feb 2020, both anti-choice groups sued the LTC over its removal of the bus ads.
- On Nov 2, “We Need a Law” announced a settlement with LTC, which issued a joint statement with ARPA Oxford.
- The inaccurate ads are running again on London buses from November to mid-December.
- The LTC issued a new Advertising Policy that enshrines the freedom of expression rights of advertisers over other factors. The policy makes no mention of the Code, thereby allowing false advertising.
Joyce Arthur, Executive Director, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
Deanna Ronson, London activist and former Director of Pro-choice London