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Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2007

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Toronto Star, Saturday, September 15, 2007

Photo: identity photos of female inmates at the Bergen-Belsen camp

Billboards with reference to Nazi gas chamber went up during celebration of Jewish New Year

Bell pulls 'death camp' ads

by Debra Black
Staff Reporter

AS Toronto's Jewish community celebrated the Jewish New Year, a subway ad campaign for Solo Mobile, which contained a reference to a Nazi death camp, was pulled down Thursday by horrified officials at Bell Canada.

The billboard ads, which appeared in six subways stops in Toronto and in Vancouver and on a number of buses in Vancouver, featured a young Japanese girl dressed in an urban punk style, sporting a number of buttons and accessories.

One of the buttons she was wearing read: "Belsen was a Gas" -- referring to the title of a controversial song by the Sex Pistols about Bergen-Belsen, a German concentration camp where Jews were murdered in gas chambers during the World War II. [Website comment: No they weren't. There were no "gas chambers" at Bergen-Belsen, and relatively few Jews].

The ads were pulled down almost immediately, said Mark Langton, a spokesperson for Bell Canada, which owns Solo Mobile, a discount brand wireless service, through Bell Mobility.

"It's a bad ad on any day, perhaps particularly so this week," he said yesterday, referring to the fact that Jews across the city and the world celebrated Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, from Wednesday evening till sundown yesterday.

"It was unintended. The reality is we would never knowingly run an ad with an offensive slogan like that."

Bell and its team takes full responsibility for the ad, said Langton, apologizing to "anybody who was offended, distressed or troubled by it, because we were too."

Complaints about the ads flowed into various media outlets, which contacted Bell Canada Thursday morning.

According to Langton, no one directly called Bell's customer service team to complain.

The ads were a serious mistake, he said.

The wording on the button was not clearly visible in the small ad proofs the team at Solo Mobile and Bell saw when approving the ad, Langton explained.

The button and the wording was virtually impossible to read.

But when the ad was blown up to full size -- a minimum of four metres by two metres -- and plastered on the billboard, the words on the button were very clear.

Some of the ads on buses in Vancouver were smaller and the offending button was cropped out of the picture.

Bell Canada has put measures into place to prevent such a thing from happening again, Langton said.

"Everyone involved has had intense discussions about it and how it will never be repeated, what errors happened, what functional glitches allowed it to happen.

"New processes are in place to avoid a situation like this from happening again."

The offensive ad will be replaced with another, either featuring a London police officer in front of the British Parliament or a woman in Dutch clothing in front of a windmill.

The ads are supposed to depict people from around the world envious of Canadians who can get cheap Solo Mobile phones.

Horrified TTC officials also moved heaven and Earth to get the ads down as quickly as possible, spokesperson Marilyn Bolton said yesterday.

They, too, had only seen a small version of the ad and had not seen the wording on the button.

Bolton said she believes the TTC has good practices in place to screen offensive ads, but the transit firm as well as CBS -- the media company that handles transit advertising space -- will review them to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again.

Maybe it's as simple as making sure someone reviews the full-size billboard rather than a proof, Bolton said.

"If we'd seen the offensive words we'd have deep-sixed it really fast."

Correction published Sep 20, 2007 04:30 AM

Bergen-Belsen death camp did not have gas chambers

THERE were no gas chambers at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Information from the Bergen-Belsen Memorial in Germany indicate that at least 52,000 people died of starvation and disease at the camp during World War II. Incorrect information was published in a Sept. 15 article about a Bell Canada ad campaign withdrawn because it referred to a controversial song by the Sex Pistols about Bergen-Belsen. The Star regrets the error.


Our dossier on Bergen-Belsen camp

Jewish Chronicle reviews: Major new history of KZ Belsen confirms: No gas chambers, not an extermination camp

The above item is reproduced without editing other than typographical

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