A Follow-Up to the Halifax Transit Religious Ad

A few days ago, I posted about this ad seen on a Halifax, Nova Scotia bus:

But weren’t religious ads banned? Wasn’t an atheist group rejected for their own ad campaign? Isn’t the transit authority breaking its own rules?

Lori Patterson of the Metro Transit responded to reader Dorothy yesterday. (***Edit***: I spoke with a staffer for the advertising agency and they gave me more background on the story. Her version corroborated Ms. Patterson’s.)

Here’s what she wrote:

This will follow up with regards to a number of letters received over the past few days with respect to Metro Transit’s current advertising policy. The letters were generated as a result of a recent bus advertising campaign for Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Much of the information people outlined in their correspondence was erroneous or out of date. As numerous e-mails have been received over a short period of time, this appears to be an organized campaign. The clarification detailed below should alleviate any further concerns.

Until 2009, Metro Transit had an advertising policy practiced by its advertising agency of record and similar to many other transit systems, where advertising space was not sold for advertisements which were considered to be controversial in nature. This was the practice followed primarily out of concern for bus operator and passenger safety.

As recently referenced in your e-mails, Metro Transit did originally decline a request several years ago to allow ads from the Free Thought Association of Canada to appear on their buses.
However, in July, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada came down with a ruling in British Columbia that struck down B.C. Transit’s policy that refused to sell ad space for political ads, ruling that this violated rights to free speech. In light of this decision, Metro Transit’s policy was reviewed, and was changed to remove the restriction on controversial ads. Other transit systems across the country also changed their policies and are no longer declining ads based on the fact that they may be viewed to be controversial in nature. This also includes advertisements of a political or religious nature.

In answer to another question posed, the Free Thought Association was advised of this decision in July 2009, by Metro Transit’s agency of record, Pattison Outdoor. The client eventually elected not to proceed with their campaign. Any others wishing to follow up for the purpose of purchasing bus advertising campaigns may do so by contacting the local office of Pattison Outdoor.

Due to the volume of e-mails, I will not be responding more than once to each query.


Lori Patterson
Metro Transit
Halifax Regional Municipality

It sounds like a perfectly reasonable response. Is there anything to be concerned about?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    No. In fact that’s quite reassuring. That makes things look a lot better. 

  • Matthew Prorok

    Well then, the next step is to test it.  Try for a new atheist ad campaign; see if they accept it.  If not, then they’re in serious trouble.  If so, sweet, we have ads!

  • Nesh

    This is no concerning at all, I’m actually quite pleased. Now we can try for any kind of advertising we want! I wonder if we could request to have it right next to the religious ad…

  • Anonymous

    The ad kinda looks like an ad for a disaster movie or something. It would be great if atheists could place an ad right next to it to tell people where they can send their money and valuables for safe keeping.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    Well, I’d have thought the first thing to do if there’s a claim that:

    the Free Thought Association was advised of this decision in
    July 2009 [...] eventually elected not to proceed with their campaign”

    would be to check with the FTA folks whether they did indeed do that, and of so, why they did that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Is there anything to be concerned about?

    maybe the bus drivers… They tend to get abused a LOT here in BC. But I guess that’s not of our concern?

  • guest

    I wonder why she made the remark “this appears to be an organized campaign”? 

  • Trina


  • http://www.facebook.com/melaniedawn.molinawood Melanie Dawn Molina Wood

    This was my first thought too. 

  • Trina

    As long as what she says is true, it’s good news.

  • dorothy30

    check out the post by Ian on Canadian Atheist http://canadianatheist.com/2011/10/18/quick-someone-get-us-on-halifax-transit/ for an explanation of this issue

  • Anonymous

    ” Is there anything to be concerned about?”

    Other than that they had to be forced by court order?

  • 0verlord

    Wow, do they get abused because of ads?  Talk about shooting the messenger…

  • Anonymous

    Seems legit.  It’s fine by me for them to say “Sorry, no religious or political ads.  Oh hey, the Supreme Court passed a ruling?  Okay, well everyone can run them now.  In fact, we even contacted a group we previously turned down to see if they were interested.” 

    Assuming they did actually contact the group, and they would run ads in the future,  this response gets an A+

  • Joshua Dunning

    Because it was. The original article ends with: “In the meantime, you’re welcome to send your questions/concerns to Ms. Patterson (the transit spokesperson) — her contact information is here.”

    It may not have been a traditional campaign, but the effect is the same. She was flooded with emails from all over Canada and the USA, discussing the same topic.