A recent Facebook post critical of an anti-abortion ad that appeared on a city bus has garnered hundreds of comments and shares, with most people questioning the advertising standards for GOVA Sudbury Transit Buses.
Despite the criticism, the City of Greater Sudbury told Sudbury.com their hands are somewhat tied when it comes to what ads it can accept or reject, advising those who take issue with certain advertising featured on city-owned property to take up their grievances with Advertising Standards Canada.
On Jan. 18, Brittany Tate took a photo of an advertisement on the side of a GOVA bus, one that was at that time running the Main Line – directly past the hospital. The advertisement features the hand of a baby reaching towards the hand of a woman, with the text reading ‘Take my hand, not my life.’
In her post, Tate questioned why the city would accept such an advertisement in the first place.
“I know this might cause a stir but I’m so incredibly disappointed in Sudbury Transit,” Tate wrote. “Today getting on the PUBLIC (sic) city bus I came across this advertisement on the side of the bus. Can someone please explain to me how this is okay? It’s one thing to have an opinion, a complete other to purchase an advertisement for the side of a public city bus in order to shame women (I might add, women from various different situations, environments, backgrounds etc.) for abortions.”
In an interview with Sudbury.com, Tate said when she first saw the anti-choice ad in question, she was “instantly appalled.” As a visual artist whose work explores mental health and trauma, she said she immediately knew that while advertising is inconsequential for some, it is not for those who are targeted.
“Advertising today is such a passive event,” said Tate. “We see so many advertisements in our everyday lives that the messaging becomes subliminal, most people just passively view these ads and don’t take the time to actively see the messages people are trying to send us.”
Tate read the ad while at the transit terminal. “I personally haven’t had to terminate a pregnancy,” she said, “but as soon as I saw the advertisement, I put myself in the shoes of someone who had. It made me very emotional, angry, upset and ultimately disappointed that this was allowed on a public transit bus.”
In her Facebook post, Tate also questioned the legality of the ad itself.
“Upon further research I have come across a law under the Protecting a Woman’s Right to Access Abortion Services Act that prohibits one to ‘inform or attempt to inform a person concerning issues related to abortion services, by any means, including oral, written or graphic means’ within specified access zones. As this advertisement is posted on the Main Line bus which drives through the hospital (directly in front of the emergency room and front entrance), and the hospital is an Access Zone for abortions, is this not illegal?”
She tagged the city in the post, but received no response.
When Sudbury.com reached out to the city for an interview to try to understand how bus advertising works, we were offered a written statement instead, which reads, “The City of Greater Sudbury does not endorse any particular group or message found on its advertising assets.”
After we asked additional questions to seek more information, the city supplied an additional statement, which reads in part, “Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the City cannot refuse or remove advertising, provided the ad content complies with the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. Residents who have a concern with an advertisement have the right to contact Advertising Standards Canada with their complaint.”
Regardless of the standards, Tate said the sides of buses should not be open for divisive advertising.
“Public transit is not a place these issues should be brought up or discussed, and no person should feel shame as they try to live their everyday lives,” said Tate.
She said not only is the bus observable by everyone in Sudbury, but also anyone travelling the Main Line to Health Sciences North seeking to end a pregnancy.
But the city said that too is out of their control.
“In terms of placement of advertising, it cannot be guaranteed where an advertisement will appear on a public transit bus,” the statement read. “Vehicles are not assigned to an exclusive route, meaning a bus may appear in various parts of the city on regular rotation.”
And again, the city advises the public to target their complaints to the governing body. “Advertising Standards Canada offers a complete and accurate source of information about advertising content on their website at AdStandards.ca.”
But that isn’t enough for Tate, who feels that the message is detrimental not just to mental health, but to the image of Sudbury as a place that welcomes all, a place that is modern and empathetic.
“I think ads like these give our city a bad name,” said Tate. “The views expressed by the (municipal) government public transit reflects those of this city. It is unfortunate to think of how many people this advertisement had to go through – from the advertising agency, the city, the transit station, right down to the employee who posted this advertisement on the bus and other employees in the building - and to see that not one of these people spoke up that this may not be appropriate is disheartening.”
If you are pregnant and struggling with your options, or know someone who is, Public Health Sudbury and Districts provides a contact list for resources available to you regarding pregnancy, adoption and abortions. You can find these resources here.
If ending an unwanted pregnancy is the right choice for you, you can contact the Options Clinic at Health Sciences North at 705-671-5265.
Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Reporter at Sudbury.com, covering issues in the Black, immigrant and Francophone communities. She is also a freelance writer and voice actor.