August 17, 2022
Mr. Paul Walsh,
Chair, Transportation Commission
City of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
c/o City Hall
Dear Mr. Walsh,
I am writing to ask that the St. John's Transportation Commission reconsider allowing the antisemitic placards to continue to be displayed on your city's Metrobuses, and the consequent danger to Jews in St. John's, and indeed all of Canada.
Metrobus' argument that "XYZ Organization says that Israel is an Apartheid State" while literally accurate is, with all due respect, patently ridiculous. Surely Metrobus would not run advertisements that state "Ernst Zundel says that the Holocaust is a hoax" or "The Westboro Baptist Church teaches that Jews go to Hell" even though both statements are, on their face, accurate reporting of the facts. The content is untrue and the bias is discriminatory and harmful. In the case of the antisemtic bus ads in question, the statements are likewise untrue, discriminatory and harmful.
We don't need to tell you that virtually all Jews in St. John's strongly dislike and are offended by these advertisements, and want them taken down. You already know. Since these advertisements appeared multiple threats have been made against the synagogue. At least one individual has been arrested. We know that correlation does not prove causation. Still, common sense says the public display on a city bus of placards calling the one and only Jewish country in the world an apartheid state, sets the stage for attacks such as these to take place.
We know that the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the right to political advertising on public transit as a matter of free speech (Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority v Canadian Federation of Students - British Columbia Component, 2009 SCC 31,  2 SCR 295). But free speech is not the only issue, there's also the human rights issue (which wasn't there in GTVA v CFS-BC). Everyone who rides public transit in St. Johns, or anywhere else in this country, has the right to travel in a safe environment that does not discriminate against them. Discrimination includes harassment and intimidation.
In 2013, the American Freedom and Defense Initiative tried to display placards carrying this message on City of Edmonton buses:
Muslim Girls Honor Killed by their Families.
Is Your Family Threatening You? Is There A Fatwa on Your Head?
We can help: go to Fightforfreedom.us
Paid for by the AmericanFreedomDefenseInitiative
The City of Edmonton refused. The case reached the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. The Court upheld the City's decision (2016 ABQB 525), on the grounds that the City's right to provide a safe and welcoming transit system outweighed the AFDI's rights to freedom of expression.
It's up to Metrobus to do the right things:
Cancel the bus ads now.
Invite the St. John’s Jewish community and national organizations to present their concerns to your Commission at the next meeting.
Review your advertising policy, to take into account the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Act and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism. The Government of Canada is a signatory to the IHRA Working Definition.
Invest in training of all staff in identifying and combating antisemitism.
Thank you for considering this letter in your deliberations with the members of the Transportation Commission.
Response from St. John’s Transportation Commission
On behalf of the St. John’s Transportation Commission, I provide the following response to your request to meet with the Commission about the advertisement regarding Israel currently running on some Metrobuses. Your comments have been read thoroughly and we respect your position on this complex matter.
The St. John’s Transportation Commission has established criteria for the acceptability of advertising on Metrobus property and the process by which advertising is reviewed. The full policy can be viewed at https://ownthestreet.ca/policy.html.
In Canada, freedom of expression through paid advertising is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In reviewing this political advertisement, staff carefully considered the content and received legal advice on whether or not the ad could run on our bus system.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled thata government policy banning political speech from advertisements on buses is contrary to the Charter unless it can be shown to create a safety risk or unwelcoming environment for transit users.
Based on analysis of this advertisement, Metrobus determined that it meets the criteria for protected speech. While we acknowledge that this advertisement has understandably caused upset and concern, there is not sufficient evidence of it creating safety risks for our transit users which may prompt us to pull it from circulation. As we have a legal obligation to run this ad, we do not feel that it is appropriate or necessary to meet with your delegation on this matter.
On behalf of all members of the Commission, I would like to state that we support our Jewish community andtake the threat of discrimination very seriously. Antisemitic sentiment and attitudes have no place in an inclusive City.
Again, thank you for sharing your concerns and personal experiences. We value your contribution as we shape future policy for the City.