Submitting Complaints Against Anti-Choice Ads


Current Anti-choice Ads that Need Your Complaints

March 28, 2018

The City of Lethbridge, Alberta is running bus and bench ads (until April 22) from the anti-choice group Lethbridge & District Pro-life that claim foetuses feel pain, and imply that third-trimester abortions are routine. The ads appear to contravene the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards because they are inaccurate, demean women, and offend public standards of decency.

Please see the following sample complaints that you may adapt and use:

  1. Sample complaint to City of Lethbridge and Pattison Outdoor Advertising

    Pattison Outdoor Advertising is the company that manages the city’s transit advertisements.

  2. Sample complaint to Ad Standards

    See our guide for making complaints to Ad Standards below.

You may make a complaint regardless of where you live, but complaints from Lethbridge residents (or at least Albertans) will carry more weight, especially if you’ve seen one of the ads first-hand.


How to Submit a Complaint to Ad Standards

What is “Ad Standards”?

If you see an anti-choice ad that you feel is inappropriate, offensive, inaccurate, etc., you can submit a complaint to the advertising watchdog Ad Standards. This private agency administers the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (“the Code”).

Ad Standards has limited enforcement powers beyond asking the advertiser to rescind the ad and not use it again, and some anti-choice groups refuse to honour this request. Although the Code has no authority or legal standing on its own, it is widely endorsed by advertisers, advertising agencies, and media. When ads are deemed to contravene the Code, the decisions can be effectively used to convince the ad hosts (local governments, media outlets, etc.) to remove the ads and not accept similar ads again. Further, many cities and municipalities cite the Code in bylaws and advertising policies, which gives the Code further authority and strength.

Filling out the Complaint Form

You can submit your complaint online or by snail mail or fax. When submitting online, the website will take you through a series of questions. We provide guidance for most of the steps as follows:

“Your Information”
Submit your complaint as an “Individual”, not a “Group”. This is because Ad Standards may designate your group as “Special Interest”, which means the decision resulting from your complaint cannot be made public by anyone, including any individuals who submitted complaints on the same ad. Pro-choice groups are considered “Special Interest” groups.
“What is the name of the advertiser?”
Enter the name of the anti-choice group, and not the newspaper, radio station, transit or billboard company, etc.
“What is the Product or Service advertised?”
Depending on the ad, you might say something like, “Misinformation about abortion.” or “A message that abortion should be illegal.”
“Where did you see the advertisement?”
“When did you see the advertisement?”
Specify the location and date. It’s okay if you can’t remember precisely where and when you saw it, just give your best estimate. The location could even be a link to a news story showing the ad.
“Describe the advertisement”

If you don’t have a photo or copy of the ad to send (see next field), describe the ad in detail here.

Alternatively, provide a link to a copy of the ad online. Sometimes a media story will show it or the anti-choice group responsible will have it on their website. Make certain that any linked copy you provide is the same ad you saw.

“Attach a copy of the advertisement, if available”
Upload a file containing the advertisement, if you have one.
“Please describe your concern about the advertisement”

See our Guide to Advertising Code below to help you, if desired. For example, you may want to cite section(s) of the Advertising Code and explain why you believe the ad contravenes them.

However, it’s fine to just describe the negative effects the ad had upon you or your loved ones, or give your own reasons why you feel the ad is inappropriate. This could even make your complaint stronger, e.g. if you had a strong emotional reaction to the ad.

If Ad Standards thinks there might be a Code infringement, they will accept your complaint for formal review by the Advertising Standards Council.

“Advertiser Contact”
If accepted for review, Ad Standards will send your complaint to the advertiser. You can choose whether to give them permission to also disclose your name and contact info to the advertiser. To be safe from possible anti-choice harassment, it’s best to select the “No” option.

Guide to Advertising Code

If desired, you can do a bit of research on the Code to figure out what Code sections the ad might contravene, and the previous decisions Ad Standards has made against anti-choice ads. Again, this is not necessary, feel free to submit a complaint based on your own thoughts and opinions.

Here’s the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, complete with explanation and definitions.

For a list of decisions against anti-choice ads, visit Ad Standardscomplaint search page and enter “abortion,foetus,fetus” in the “Advertiser or other Key words” field.

Sections of the Code Pertinent to Anti-choice Ads

Section 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Anti-choice ads are considered advocacy ads. Just by their nature, most anti-choice ads will run afoul of Section 1 of the Code, Accuracy and Clarity, which is worded quite broadly to capture not only inaccuracies but also deceptive or misleading claims, omissions, and claims unsupported by evidence.

Previous examples of inaccuracies that Ad Standards found in anti-choice ads include:

Section 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Another very important part of the Code is section 14, Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals. Anti-choice ads are often demeaning to women and trans people, and arguably even discriminatory because they may imply they are murderers or that their Charter rights should be removed.

Section 14 has several subsections that advertisements must not contravene. (Note: The following are incomplete summaries that may also miss nuance. Please consult the full text.)

Advertisements must not:

Previous examples of Section 14 contraventions that Ad Standards found in anti-choice ads include:

Other Code Sections that May Apply to Anti-choice Ads

Two other Code sections might be useful, depending on the ad:

Related Information