The owner of billboards currently showcasing ads that promote the People’s Party of Canada’s controversial stance on immigration says the material is staying up.
The ads, featuring a photo of party leader Maxime Bernier, the slogan “Say NO to mass immigration” and a call to vote for his party, started popping up across the country late last week. They were criticized nearly immediately as promoting what some called hateful, anti-immigrant rhetoric.
WATCH: PPC leader Maxime Bernier launches party’s national campaign
Petitions have since sprung up to call for the owner of the billboards, Pattison Outdoor Advertising, to take the ads down, arguing that they violate the company’s own code of conduct.
But the company issued a statement Sunday saying that if people have a problem, they should contact the advertiser, True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp.
Pattison’s statement suggested they had reviewed the ad content and did not find it violation of the Ad Standards of Canada (ASC) code or their own policies.
“We take a neutral position on ads that comply with the ASC code as we believe Canadians do not want us to be the judge or arbiter of what the public can or cannot see,” the company said in a statement circulated on their social media accounts.
“Should advertising elicit a public debate, we encourage Canadians to voice their opinions directly to the advertiser who placed the message as it is our policy that their contact information must be a legible part of the ad.”
The company said they will monitor the signs to ensure the contact information remains up, and if it doesn’t, they will remove the campaign.
In their statement, Pattison Outdoor included a link to the People’s Party of Canada platform, prefacing it by saying it “outlines that they would prioritize economic immigration over mass immigration.”
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
WATCH: People’s Party of Canada leader Bernier says Canadians demand lower immigration levels
The People’s Party platform pledges to dramatically slash the number of immigrants Canada accepts, arguing the Liberals and Conservatives use “mass immigration” as a political tool to buy votes. On top of cutting the number of people admitted, the party would cancel a program that allows people to sponsor their parents and grandparents, and strictly limit other family immigration programs, as well as accept far fewer refugees.
“The billboards are not the product of the People’s Party of Canada,” Johanne Mennie, the party’s executive director, said in a phone interview Friday with Global News. “They are authorized by a third party and the PPC has not been in any contact with this third party.”
The billboards have been reported in Halifax, parts of Quebec, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Regina and Vancouver. The People’s Party of Canada has said it is not associated with the group that put up the signs.
READ MORE: The battle for Maxime Bernier’s riding
According to a filing with Elections Canada, the third-party group behind the ads is run by Frank Smeenk, the chief executive of a Toronto-based mining exploration company.
The group filed interim financial returns with Elections Canada that show it spent $59,890 on billboards in “select cities in Canada” and received $60,000 from Bassett & Walker International Inc., a company that specializes in the international trade of protein products.
Last week, Smeenk declined to comment on the billboard beyond what appeared in the Elections Canada filing. The Canadian Press attempted to reach Smeenk again on Friday, but he did not respond.
WATCH: Bernier answers question after posing for photos in Calgary with alleged extremists
Similarly, messages left at Bassett & Walker were not returned.
Bernier officially launched the party’s national campaign Sunday at an event about two hours outside Montreal.
Polls suggest the party has around 4 per cent of voter support heading into the October election, and thus far, Bernier has been excluded from the official leadership debates.
Negative reactions to the billboard were raised fast, especially in Halifax where local politicians took to Twitter to denounce both the board and Bernier.
Arshia Vosoughi’s family immigrated to Canada from Iran when he was seven years old. Vosoughi, who points out that his parents are doctors, says that there are many skilled immigrants who come to Canada from different countries.
“I think it’s ridiculous to say ‘no immigration,’” said Vosoughi. “It’s one of the least Canadian things I’ve seen in all my time in this country.”
Peace by Chocolate founder Tareq Hadhad, who came to Nova Scotia as a Syrian refugee in 2016, says that the billboard is both divisive and inaccurate.
“There is nothing called ‘mass immigration’ in Canada,” Hadhad told Global News in a phone interview Saturday.
WATCH: People’s Party of Canada leader says he supports Canada’s distinct sense of multiculturalism
“Saying ‘mass immigration’ is certainly trying to make an illusion to the public that, you know, like caravans and waves of millions of people trying to hit the border, coming through the airports, but this is not happening.”
— With files from Graeme Benjamin