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Ontario court dismisses PETA application over takedown of anti-Canada Goose ads

TORONTO — An Ontario court dismissed an application for a judicial review by an animal welfare organization who said its right to free expression were violated when its anti-Canada Goose ads were taken down in Toronto.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals took the City of Toronto and Astral Media to court last year when its advertising campaign against Canada Goose came to a halt after just one day.

"PETA asked Toronto to intercede in its contractual dispute with Astral," a three-judge panel in Ontario divisional court wrote.  

"Toronto refused to do so. These are matters of private law not suited to judicial review."

In the fall of 2018, PETA had signed a deal with Astral for the advertisements. Astral built, maintains and owns the bus shelters and can advertise on the so-called "street furniture."

The company signed a 20-year deal with the city in 2007 where the city receives a percentage of ad revenue.

PETA had used two ads on the shelters. In one, a goose is next to a caption stating "I'm a living being, not a jacket filling." The second ad shows a photograph of a coyote with the caption, "I'm a living being, not a piece of fur trim."

Both had the words "Boycott Canada Goose" on the bottom.

The American animal rights organization had signed a deal to run the ads for four weeks. But the same day the ads went up, Astral received a single complaint — from an advertising agency that works with Canada Goose.

Astral immediately began taking the ads down, court heard.

The city played no role in the decision to take down the ads.

PETA asked the city to compel Astral to replace the ads, but the city declined. PETA then brought the matter to court.

In October, PETA argued that freedom of speech was the central issue in the case and that its rights were violated when the ads came down.

It sought a court order to compel either Astral or the city to replace the ads.

Astral and the city argued the matter is between private companies based on a commercial contract, and thus the court does not have jurisdiction to conduct a judicial review.

Animal Justice, a Canadian animal rights group, intervened in the case and support PETA's position.

The judges sided with Astral and the city, calling it a contract dispute.

"In this case, Astral and PETA entered into a contract that contained specific terms giving Astral the ability to remove an advertisement 'if it is deemed by Astral to be unacceptable, improper or contrary to its trade policies (including the policies of its partners), or in violation of any laws, by-laws or standards in force at the time of the display,'" the judges wrote.

"PETA agreed to these terms and the issue of whether Astral breached the terms of the agreement by removing the ads is a matter of private contract law."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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