ReThink911 caused the greatest stir of its September 2013 campaign in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, where 300 ads appeared on local buses from early September to early October asking riders, “Did you know a 3rd tower fell on 9/11?”
The controversy first erupted on the night of September 11, when coverage of the campaign appeared on the CBC and Ottawa Citizen websites. Both articles quoted Ottawa City Councilor and Transit Commission Chair Diane Deans, who called the ads “insensitive” and indicated that she would request a review of Ottawa’s advertising policy. In-depth reporting on ReThink911’s message by the Ottawa Citizen included a quote from Frank Wilson, the general manager of ad broker Pattison Outdoor, who affirmed that the ads conformed to the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. “Everyone has a right to question whatever they want to,” he said. “I don’t think you need to be embroiled in conspiracy theory to wonder why… that at the end of the day this building just suddenly came down.”
By the next morning, the airwaves were abuzz with debate about the bus ads. One radio station, 1310 News, posted a survey on its website that asked readers, “Should the ads from ‘ReThink911’ be allowed on OC Transpo buses?” More than 90% responded “yes.” By later that morning, articles on Yahoo News and Huffington Post also mentioned the ads in Toronto and Vancouver. The Huffington Post was the most senselessly derisive, cherry picking the tweets of two angry onlookers who described a country in “outrage.” Yahoo News was much more balanced in its coverage.
“At the end of the day [the ads] met the Advertising Standards Council’s standards and they are allowed on the buses… Free speech is an important principle in our society.” — Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson
Early in the afternoon, the ReThink911 campaign released a statement defending the right to run the ads and countering claims of “insensitivity,” noting that the campaign is supported by many family members of 9/11 victims. The statement was quickly picked up by the CBC, Ottawa Citizen, and Sun News, which also quoted Ottawa’s mayor, who called the ads “disrespectful” but noted that they are protected by free speech. The following day, an Ottawa Citizen editorial suggested that the Ottawa Transit Commission should err on the side of free speech, affirming that the ReThink911 ads are indeed protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
City Councilor Diane Deans had planned to request a review of Ottawa’s advertising policy at the Transit Commission’s monthly meeting on September 18. Supporters of ReThink911 in Ottawa assembled to oppose any action that would curtail free speech on Ottawa’s buses. However, a tragic accident involving a bus and train occurred an hour before the meeting, and it was cancelled.
In response to the controversy, ReThink911 commissioned the polling firm YouGov to conduct a national survey. The results, released a week after the criticism appeared, showed that a majority of Canadians actually sided with ReThink911 in questioning the cause of Building 7’s collapse, which contradicted most of the news coverage. After viewing video footage of Building 7’s collapse, 51% of those surveyed suspect that its collapse was caused by controlled demolition, compared to just 18% who suspect it was caused by fires. By a clear 3-to-1 margin, 44% support a new investigation into Building 7’s collapse, compared to just 13% who are opposed. With regard to Ottawa’s advertising policy, 54% believe it correctly protects freedom of speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while only 19% think it should be revised to disallow ads like ReThink911’s.
“I’m not surprised that most people wonder whether Building 7 really could have collapsed from fires. The people who say these ads do an injustice to the 9/11 families are horribly misguided. They don’t realize that hundreds of 9/11 families want a new investigation. If they would watch the videos and look at the evidence, they would understand why.”— Bob McIlvaine, father of Bobby McIlvaine, 9/11 victim
According to the Ottawa City Clerk, Councilor Deans still intends to enter a motion at the Transit Commission’s next meeting on October 16, and the item will be discussed at the following Transit Commission meeting on November 20.
After all the momentum that was gained in Ottawa, ReThink911 has big plans for Canada in the coming months. Stay tuned!
ReThink911 Ottawa News As it Happened:
Ottawa Citizen (Sept. 11): Ads questioning truth of 9/11 appear on OC Transpo buses
Ottawa 1310News (Sept. 12): Controversial 9/11 ads spark call for review of OC Transpo ad policies
Yahoo Canada (Sept. 12): 9/11 ‘truther’ billboards appear in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver
The Huffington Post Canada (Sept. 12): 9/11 Conspiracy Ad On Ottawa Buses And Toronto Billboard Sparks Outrage
ReThink911 (Sept. 12): Statement defending ads on Ottawa OC Transpo buses (PDF)
Ottawa Citizen (Sept. 12): 9/11 truther campaign responds to criticism of bus ads
CBC News (Sept. 12): Group behind 9/11 bus ad responds to criticism
Sun News (Sept. 12): Free speech protects ‘disrespectful’ 9/11 conspiracy bus ads: Ottawa mayor
Ottawa Citizen (Sept. 13): OC Transpo should err on the side of free speech (Editorial)
ReThink911 (Sept. 25): New Poll: A majority of Canadians side with ads questioning 9/11