A billboard with the words “Say NO to Mass Immigration” is seen along 14th Street near Kensington Rd. N.W. on Sunday, Aug. 25.
Billboards urging Canadians to “say no to mass immigration” have been met with sadness and disgust among Calgary’s immigrant community.
The signs, which promote the People’s Party of Canada’s stance on immigration and bear the image of its leader Maxime Bernier, have popped up in cities like Vancouver, Halifax, Toronto and Regina.
Another has appeared on 14th Street N.W. in Calgary’s Kensington neighbourhood.
Saima Jamal, a Calgary-based social activist who frequently advocates for refugees and immigrants, called it a “slap to every immigrant” and an “insult” to all Canadians.
She said the billboard only serves to “alienate” newcomers to Canada.
“For me, just driving around Hillhurst and seeing the sign, it’s hurtful, it’s shocking and it’s very, very un-Canadian,” said Jamal, an immigrant herself and co-founder of the Calgary Immigrant Support Society.
“This is full-fledged fear-mongering. This country’s built on the sweat of immigrants. It is untruthful and, above all, it is very, very racist and hurtful.”
Third-party advertiser True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp. paid for the signs.
On Sunday, the owner of billboards displaying the ads reversed course, saying it would take the material down in response to “overwhelming” criticism.
Pattison Outdoor Advertising initially said that people who have a problem with the ads should take it up with True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp.
It said it takes “a neutral position on ads that comply with the (Ad Standards of Canada) code as we believe Canadians do not want us to be the judge or arbiter of what the public can or cannot see.”
Pattison later released a second statement, saying that while the billboards didn’t violate any policy, they would come down as soon as possible, nonetheless.
The People’s Party of Canada platform argues that “mass immigration” is used as a tool by mainstream parties to buy immigrant votes and that it drives up housing prices.
At the People’s Party national campaign launch Sunday in Sainte-Marie, Que., Bernier said he agreed with the ad’s message. He said the current number of immigrants Canada accepts annually — 350,000 — is too high and needs to be scaled back.
“The company that owns the billboards has caved in to the leftist mob and decided to remove the ads supporting the PPC’s stand against mass immigration,” Bernier tweeted later in the day.
“The authoritarian Left want to censor and silence anyone who disagrees with them. They will fail.”
A third-party group with no link to the PPC has bought billboards across the country to call for an end to mass immigration.
What do you think?
— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) August 24, 2019
Jamal said the view is out of touch with reality.
“Just the idea of a rich, white man telling immigrants whether they are welcome to this country or not is just very, very hypocritical, considering what has happened to the First Nations people,” said Jamal.
“I just couldn’t believe it when I saw this. It’s 2019.”
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 company that owns the billboards has caved in to the leftist mob and decided to remove the ads supporting the PPC’s stand against mass immigration.
The authoritarian Left want to censor and silence anyone who disagrees with them. They will fail. https://t.co/koddSqTL2u
— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) August 25, 2019
Avnish Nanda of Everyone’s Canada, a recently founded Alberta non-profit that supports multiculturalism and immigration to Canada, said the billboards threaten “what makes Canada so great.”
But he said it’s important to point out that the message is also inaccurate.
“First and foremost, it contains a lie. There’s no mass immigration to Canada,” said Nanda.
“There’s no threat of mass immigration. We think this is a dog whistle seeking to demonize immigrants and to divide Canadians around questions about migration and multiculturalism.”
But he said it’s not surprising to see this type of rhetoric, and feared it could rear its head throughout the upcoming federal election campaign.
“We’ve seen this increasing or emerging narrative in Canada that seeks to undermine foundational Canadian values such as multiculturalism, pluralism and welcoming newcomers,” said Nanda.
“We formed because we knew that this conversation was inevitable, that we would have to confront directly people with these views and these policies, including mainstream political parties like the PPC.”
“We take the view that unless ordinary, everyday Canadians step up and call this out, it’s going to fester. It’s going to find greater resonance.”
—With files from the Canadian Press
On Twitter: @SammyHudes