Advertising watchdog says anti-abortion flyer, climate change billboards led list of 2015 complaints

Advertising Standards Canada reports that it received 1,774 complaints last year from consumers, and upheld 242 complaints about 50 advertisements.
One of two billboards that went up in Montreal and generated 96 complaints to Advertising Standards Canada. (

An anti-abortion ad drew the most consumer complaints to Advertising Standards Canada in 2015, the industry self-regulatory body said Wednesday as it released its annual tally.

A door-to-door flyer by the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform was the target of 105 complaints last year. The centre sponsored the political ad which read "No2Trudeau" and featured an image of aborted fetuses.

The complaints centred on the graphic nature of the image, and the ASC asked the group to withdraw it.

Overall, the number of complaints received by the standards body grew by 39 per cent in 2015 from the previous year.

The ASC said it received 1,774 complaints last year concerning 1,135 advertisements. Ultimately, 242 complaints about 50 ads were upheld.

Most complaints about advocacy groups

The ASC said 273 complaints were received about ads by non-commercial (not-for-profit advocacy) groups, marking the first time that consumer beefs about non-commercial groups outnumbered any others. 

Two billboard ads last year in the Montreal area were the source of 96 complaints. 

The ASC said one billboard featured the claim "The Sun is The Main Driver of Climate Change. Not You. Not CO2," while the other said "Global Warming Stopped Naturally 16+ Years Ago."

The watchdog said it found that "the categorical and unequivocal claims made in both advertisements could not be supported by the preponderance of current evidence on the matters in dispute." It also said the ad about the sun omitted relevant information.

Retail ads generated 210 complaints, while ads about automobiles and motor vehicles led to 114 complaints.

Ads 'misleading or inaccurate'

"As in previous years, Canadians' primary concern involved ads they believed were misleading or inaccurate," Janet Feasby, vice-president of standards at the ASC, said in a release.

"In 2015, more than 100 complaints related to advertising claims that could not be substantiated," she said.

A restaurant ad that featured a young woman wearing black lingerie and a mask in front of a flaming stove while chefs worked in the background generated 62 complaints. A slogan underneath the image read: "How do you like your meat?" The ASC found that the ad demeaned women and undermined human dignity.

​The ASC also said the depiction of food in fast-food restaurant commercials was a hot topic last year.

The group said it upheld five complaints about a commercial that complainants alleged exaggerated the amount of lobster in an advertised lobster sandwich. 

The ASC said advertising "must reasonably resemble what someone can expected to be served at the restaurant."