Ford of Canada is pulling a controversial advertisment that's left many Manitobans wondering if the company had bad timing, bad taste, or just bad judgment.

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The ad in Jan. 18's Winnipeg Free Press shows a Ford vehicle with a bumper sticker reading, "Drive it like you stole it," over a banner with the slogan, "Built for life in Manitoba." ((CBC))

The full-page advertisement, which appears in the City & Business section of Friday's Winnipeg Free Press, shows the rear of a vehicle with a bumper sticker reading, "Drive it like you stole it."

The vehicle appears over a banner with the caption, "Built for life in Manitoba."

Ford spokeswoman Gina Gehlert said the ads won't appear again.

"It was never our intention to offend anyone," she said from the company's headquarters in Oakville, Ont.

"Safety is a top priority for us as Ford of Canada, and these ads have been pulled today."

Given efforts to fight car theft in Manitoba, some people in the province considered the ad in poor taste. 

Friday's newspaper also includes an article on the sentencing of a 16-year-old boy who killed a local cyclist while behind the wheel of a stolen truck.

'Nauseated, offended'

When Kelly Van Camp read the paper Friday morning, the ad leapt out at him.

"Nauseated, offended — you can use any term you want to describe it, I think it's just ridiculous," said Van Camp, 50, who was badly hurt after being struck by a stolen SUV while jogging on a Winnipeg street in March 2007.

"I think somebody should lose their job over this, because this is ridiculous," he said.

The ad also caught the eye of Winnipeg police officers; Const. Jeff Norman told reporters Friday morning that negative response to Ford's campaign could suggest that messages from the police service and Manitoba Public Insurance condemning car theft are hitting home.

Car-theft capital

Manitobans take auto theft seriously. About 20 vehicles are stolen each day in the province, and Winnipeg has gained infamy as the country's car-theft capital for several years.

Government, police and the province's public auto insurer have implemented several strategies to curb auto theft in the province.

Manitoba Justice and Manitoba Public Insurance launched the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy (WATSS), a program that monitors youth considered at risk of stealing vehicles. 

Under that program, justice officials contact the highest-risk auto thieves as often as every three hours to ensure they're not out stealing cars.

In April 2007, the provincial government said 20 of 150 car thieves in the WATSS program would be fitted with GPS tracking devices in the fall as part of a one-year, $336,000 pilot project to fight auto theft.

In June, MPI unveiled a $15-million initiative that forces the owners of 200 models of vehicles considered by the insurer to be most at risk of theft to install electronic ignition immobilizers if they live in Winnipeg or commute to the city.

Without an immobilizer, the vehicles are denied insurance.