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Major ad company refuses to run anti-coal billboard, says enviro group

A Vancouver-based environmental group says Canada's largest outdoor advertising company has refused to run a billboard bearing an anti-coal message critical of its sister company.

According to Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC), Pattison Outdoor rejected an application to display the ad which draws attention to the environmental impact of Westshore Terminals, Canada's largest coal export facility.

The billboard (which can be seen here) denounces the coal export facility as "North America's largest exporter of global warming."

Bigger than every other coal shipping facility in Canada combined, Westshore Terminals, located 20 miles south of downtown Vancouver, exports an average of 21 million metric tons of coal per year.

Both Pattison Outdoor and Westshore Terminals are subsidiaries of the The Jim Pattison Group.

While Pattison Outdoor allegedly refused to run the sign along Highway 17, just before the causeway to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and a few kilometers from the export facility itself,* the advertising company did agree to display a separate billboard along the same stretch of highway. Against the backdrop of a black mountain of coal, the approved billboard asks: "Can BC be a climate leader and export 40 million tonnes of coal per year?"

Kevin Washbrook, director of VTACC, says the decision not to run the advertisement critical of Westshore Terminals amounts to corporate censorship.

The Tyee tried to contact a spokesperson at the Vancouver-branch of Pattison Outdoor this afternoon but was told that media representatives would not be available for comment until Thursday. The Tyee will run a follow-up story on The Hook once the company issues an official response.

As reported in The Tyee last month, political advocacy group Integrity BC accused Pattison Outdoor of censoring its campaign to reform provincial campaign finance laws.

In the meantime, Washbrook says he hopes both the billboard on display, and Pattison Outdoor's refusal to run its counterpart, will raise the public's awareness of B.C.'s role in the global coal trade.

"People need to start looking at this coal port not as a good thing, but as a disgrace -- as something that's leading us towards disaster," he says.

Washbrook cites a report released earlier this month by the International Energy Agency (IEA) warning that fossil fuel use must be radically scaled-back within the next five years if irreversible climate change is to be curtailed.

"That's conceivably within the next B.C. government," says Washbrook. "We need to present a broad public challenge to the government and to industry on this issue."

*Note: An earlier version of this post described the location of the allegedly rejected sign as "just beside the exit to the export facility itself." The Tyee regrets the error and any confusion it may have caused. Correction made at 8:25 p.m., November 29.

Ben Christopher reports for The Tyee.

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