Pattison to remove controversial Maxime Bernier billboards

Pattison Outdoor Advertising says it will pull down anti-immigration ads from a third-party group called True North Strong and Free after facing what it described as “overwhelming” public criticism.

The billboards, which first appeared in several major Canadian cities late last week, featured an image of People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier accompanied by the message “Say NO to mass immigration.”

In a tweet on Sunday afternoon, Pattison president Randy Otto said that the company followed the protocol for advocacy advertising as outlined on its website when it permitted the ads to run.

“That being said, it was never my or Pattison Outdoor’s intention to offend, alienate or in any way insult the public by allowing this ad to run,” Otto wrote. He said that the company will review its advocacy guidelines, specifically relating to political messaging.

“I regret that the decision we made to allow the ad has been construed to suggest that I or anyone at Pattison Outdoor endorses the message of the advertiser, that is not the case,” he added.

Pattison said that it plans to inform True North Strong & Free that the ads will be removed from its sites “as soon as possible” (as of Monday morning, a billboard at the intersection of Lakeshore Boulevard and Carlaw Ave. in Toronto was still up).

Earlier in the day Sunday, Pattison issued a statement saying that every piece of creative is rigorously reviewed to ensure it complies with Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) Canadian Code of Advertising Standards and that it takes a “neutral position” on ads that comply. By Monday morning that tweet was no longer posted on the Pattison Twitter account.

However, election advertising is excluded from the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, so the organization would not accept complaints about the advertising in question, said Catherine Bate, chief legal and policy officer for Ad Standards in Toronto.

Bate also said that Ad Standards had no contact with Pattison regarding the billboard. “It was not submitted to us for consultation,” she said.

Bernier also took to Twitter Sunday to accuse Pattison of caving in to a “leftist mob” by removing the ads. “The authoritarian Left want to censor and silence anyone who disagrees with them,” he wrote. “They will fail.”

As of Sunday evening, an online petition calling for the removal of the ads had garnered more than 11,500 signatures. The petition accused Bernier and the PPC are “trying to bring [U.S. president Donald] Trump’s brand of hateful politics to our election—they’re campaign for an extreme crackdown on immigration, and even promising to build a barricade along our borders. If we don’t nip this in the bud now, the extreme-right could turn this election into a hotbed of xenophobia.”

Bernier, a former Conservative MP, launched the PPC in 2018, saying that he wanted the party to be known for its “intelligent populism.” The party pledged to fight for new rules that would lead to a lower yearly intake of refugees and determine which immigrants would be allowed to enter the country.

Chris Powell