|The ad features section 2 of the charter of rights and freedoms in Arabic.
The ad campaign is part of a crowdfunding and public awareness initiative run by CJFE to defend democracy and challenge hate, based at cjfe.org/democracy
The advertisements feature section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Arabic accompanied by the English-language message, “These Rights Belong to All of Us.” Section 2 enshrines the rights to freedom of expression, press, religion and association.
The concept for the advertisement is borrowed from a high-profile billboard campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union designed by New York-based agency Emergence Creative, which featured the First Amendment of the United States Constitution translated into Arabic, Spanish and English (pictured below).
Motion 103 and the so-called “threat to free speech”
CJFE and NCCM have partnered in this campaign to raise awareness about the rise in prominence of anti-democratic hate groups in Canada and the increased use of ‘free expression’ as a shield for overtly Islamophobic sentiment.
In a recent and notable example, Motion 103, the anti-Islamophobia motion that passed the House of Commons in March, has been condemned across the right as a ‘threat to free speech,’ and right-wing hate groups have held rallies against it in Toronto and Ottawa. CJFE and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have published statements that the motion does not pose a threat to free expression. At a rally on May 6 in Toronto, a CJFE staff member was assaulted by far-right demonstrators while filming the event.
“Free expression isn’t just a platform for a bad opinion. In fact, the idea that it is, is placing the pluralistic and open nature of democracy itself at risk. Counterspeech is free expression too,” said CJFE Executive Director Tom Henheffer. “Your right to speak freely doesn’t mean freedom from consequences for that speech. In this case, we’re using our voice to show leadership on using free expression to challenge hateful ideas.”
“Human rights belong to all of us,” says Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). “This campaign is an important way to reinforce our cherished fundamental rights and freedoms and to show that everyone in Canada is protected by them.”
Early setback leads to policy change
In an early setback for the campaign, the ad design was initially rejected by the TTC through their vendor Pattison Outdoor, after a TTC staff review found the advertisements to be inconsistent with a practice requiring all ads to feature at least 50% English copy. After a brief Twitter campaign by CJFE and further review from the TTC, the ads were approved
and the TTC stated that, upon review of their policies and the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, they have permanently ended this practice.
Ads running in Toronto, plans for expansion
The campaign will run on Toronto transit for six weeks starting on June 12. CJFE indicates a desire to use funds raised through the advertising campaign to expand it to other locations and transit systems, including the Peel Region, where a recent controversy erupted over accommodations for Muslim prayers in public schools.