So are atheists being censored in Vancouver?

Last week I meant to add a note that the Centre for Inquiry Canada has issued a press release about the fact that Pattison Outdoor Advertising had rejected their fairly inoffensive new billboard campaign in Vancouver.

A pretty slick ad that’s pretty hard to find fault with.

I’ll skip over the fact the title needed a copy-editor* and who’s listed as the media contact** and instead focus on the fact that the latest post on their website is calling for donations for a billboard campaign that has been approved in Vancouver:

CBS Outdoor has accepted our ads, and they will be up in the Vancouver area in the next few days.

Within a week of Pattison rejecting an ad, CBS approves it and plans to hang it. This sounds to me like both companies were approached at the same time. This would imply that Pattison may simply have a policy to only run exclusive ads (something I could believe).

Let’s assume with CFI for a second, though, that the rejection was solely motivated by the content of the ad. The argument that CFI is making seems to be that since Pattison maintained an effective monopoly over advertising in Metro Vancouver, their rejection amounted to censorship. This is would invoke the 2009 Supreme Court of Canada case involving the BCTF.

But apparently another advertising agency is willing to host the ads, which seems to take some of the steam out of that argument. I mean, if you are still able to get your message out, you can’t really say you’re being censored. The right to freedom of expression does not necessarily guarantee one the right to a stage to promote that speech.

Nevertheless, I still agree that Pattison shouldn’t be rejecting the ad, especially without providing cause (benign or otherwise). So it will be interesting to see if CFI does pursue the human rights complaint and the results of that.

Finally, I also take exception with the last line of the press release, where CFI President Kevin Smith argues against “the use of human rights apparatuses as tools of censorship.” This line plays into the hands of the right-wing bigots and fear-mongers who promote the idea that the Human Rights Tribunals are kangaroo courts designed to persecute Christians and Libertarians. When, in reality, they are legitimate tools to achieve justice for marginalized communities that can’t afford to access the traditional justice system. Mostly they deal with issues of employment and housing but even their far less frequent use in defending victims of hate speech is laudable. But that’s an entire post on its own (see Joyce Arthur’s arguments in favour of hate speech laws for a start).

To summarize: Good luck to CFI with the complaint and the billboards. They look sharp and it’s good to see both genders (and hopefully some racial diversity in the next round). Just try to be a bit clearer on your messaging next time.

*Apparently you can say “New Round” twice in the same sentence if it’s the title.

**I thought he was leaving CFI Canada months to years ago now.

4 thoughts on “So are atheists being censored in Vancouver?”

  1. It’s not the first time Pattison has censored billboards. His fundamental religiosity is the only thing that seems to get in the way of making a buck.

  2. CFI went to Pattison first, because they have close to a monopoly on the market region where the billboard ads were to run. There was no reason to expect Pattison to refuse, since they had, for example, run the Ottawa “Probably no God” bus ads.

    CBS was not approached until a week after the Pattison rejection. The ads will run on CBS billboards and transit shelters, but not in the places we originally wanted them.

  3. Since you are not in town to hear and see all the media attention I will give you a brief time line. We approached Pattison over a month ago. They rejected our ads asking for a re-design but would not give us any guidelines. The reason we went with Pattison is because they have a virtual monopoly on billboards in the downtown area and we wanted the best location for the ads.
    When it was clear they would not give us guidelines and we did not have money to do several re-designs we went to the media. Pattison, after getting heat from the media finally said all we had to do was change the size of our name and web site, something they would not say for over a month. By the time they articulated that request (to the media, never to us directly) we had already contracted with an other company as we wanted the ads out for our year end fundraising.

Comments are closed.