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Advocacy groups, regulator trade barbs over LNG ads on B.C. transit


A group of environmentalist doctors is voicing concern about misleading advertisements supporting B.C.'s liquefied natural gas industry, but Canada's advertising regulator says the doctors' group is also being misleading.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment published a summary of a decision by Ad Standards on its website Tuesday. Such summaries are not typically made public, especially when – as is the case in this instance – the advertiser has appealed the ruling. 

In the summary, which is dated Jan. 30, Ad Standards' council concludes that advertiser Canada Action Coalition had "distorted the true meaning of statements made by professionals or scientific authorities" in its ads, which have run in newspapers, on billboards and on public transit in B.C.

The ads in question read, in part, "B.C. LNG will reduce global emissions."

Complainants, whose identities are redacted from the summary document, told the council the ads "implied a definitive result that could not be guaranteed due to the lack of evidence that coal plants will disappear thanks to the B.C. LNG projects."

In its response to the complaint, Canada Action told the council that coal-to-gas switching had prevented 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, and that global LNG demand is expected to grow by 76 per cent by 2040, according to the summary.

The council unanimously determined that Canada Action had not provided sufficient evidence to support the "absolute" claim that its ads were making.

"Rather, the evidence submitted to Ad Standards indicated that LNG could reduce emissions if only taking into consideration the offsetting of transitioning from coal to gas," the decision summary reads.

Speaking to reporters at Burrard SkyTrain Station on Tuesday, Vancouver family physician and CAPE president Dr. Melissa Lem likened Canada Action's ads to other campaigns by and in support of the fossil-fuel industry, which she claimed are intended to mislead the public and increase "social licence" for continued oil and gas extraction.

"I've had the experience of treating a patient with an asthma exacerbation from wildfire smoke, and then stepping outside my office and seeing one of these ads roll right by," Lem said. "It is distressing and it's infuriating as a health professional who's caring for patients who have been affected by climate change to see these incredibly misleading and untruthful ads polluting our public spaces."

Ad Standards pans document release

While Lem slammed the ads as "untruthful," Ad Standards issued a statement Tuesday condemning CAPE's publication of the standards council's decision and accusing the organization of its own untruths.

Lem told CTV News that the advertiser was aware of the council's decision in January and ought to have taken the ads down in response to it.

Ad Standards' statement strongly disputed this assertion.

"Any allegation that (Canada Action) knew about the decision or was obligated to withdraw their advertising in January is categorically false," the organization's statement reads.

"In fact, the advertiser and complainants were only informed of the decision on May 7. The advertiser then responded with a request for an appeal, as is their right, within the required timeframe. Complainants were similarly informed of council’s decision and then of the appeal request."

Ad Standards also said its decisions are made public, but only at the end of the process, contrary to CAPE's assertions about the organization's transparency.

"It is important to keep in mind that the complaints process takes some time, and decisions are not published right away; no decisions are published until the appeal process has run its course," the statement reads. "Unfortunately, due to staffing shortages and a significant surge in complaints, Ad Standards has been experiencing a backlog. We are working diligently to rectify this situation."

"Confidentiality is required by complainants throughout the consumer complaints process. Due to egregious violations of confidentiality in this case, by the leaking of this decision which was not final, we will only be advising the advertiser of the outcome of the appeal. We will not be able to report the results of that decision publicly, or to comment further.”

Advertiser 'confident' in appeal

For its part, Canada Action says it has been "fully compliant" with Ad Standards' complaint process, including taking down the offending ads while the appeal is pending.

Spokesperson Cody Battershill told CTV News the organization had asked its suppliers to remove all of the ads that were subject to the complaint by May 31.

TransLink confirmed the ads in question had "expired" and "are in the process of being removed from TransLink property."

Other ads from the campaign remain visible, however, including one at Burrard SkyTrain Station that reads, "The world is asking for Canada's LNG."

While Lem and CAPE panned all of Canada Action's ads as "greenwashing," Battershill said the remaining ads are not part of the appeal and do not need to be removed.

Moreover, he described CAPE's concerns as agenda-driven, and accused the group of trying to take away his organization's "due process."

"They're anti-LNG development, so nothing they're saying should be surprising," Battershill said.

He said Canada Action believes all of its ads – including the ones under appeal – are factually accurate, and provided a lengthy statement to CTV News detailing the environmental and economic benefits of Canadian LNG, relative to other fossil fuels.

"We do feel quite confident in our case," Battershill said. Top Stories

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