Atheist transit ads proposed for Toronto could roll into other Canadian cities
By Tamara King, THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO - The eyes of atheist and humanist groups across Canada are on Toronto, where a group is proposing to plaster ads that question the existence of God on the city's transit buses.
The Toronto-based Freethought Association of Canada wants to buy bus ads that say: "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
The message comes from a campaign recently rolled out in the United Kingdom, sparking similar campaigns in Washington, D.C. and the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid.
Atheist groups in Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver are keeping a close watch on Toronto's efforts.
"We're going to see how that flies," said Cliff Erasmus, co-ordinator for the Center for Inquiry in the Calgary area.
Atheist, humanists and agnostics should have the same opportunities to voice their opinions as people of faith, without discrimination, Erasmus said.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be an atheist, he added.
"For some reason, we're labelled as devil worshippers and all sorts of nasty stuff," he said.
Those misconceptions are part of the reason for the campaign, said Katie Kish of the Freethought Association.
"So often you see (atheists) portrayed as kind of gloomy and angry. We really wanted to counter that stereotype," said Kish.
The other goal, said Kish, is opening a dialogue with religious groups.
"I think discussion is really important and that's what I'm hoping will happen from this campaign."
A spokesman for the Montreal chapter of the Center for Inquiry said there could be conversations about Toronto's concept if it works well.
For Guillaume Loignon, the ads would provide an alternative for non-believers in Montreal since there are numerous publicity campaigns run by religious organizations in Quebec.
At least one faith group appears to be open to the ads.
"If it helps to foster dialogue in our society, that might actually be a good thing," Rev. Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, said in an interview from Winnipeg.
The British brainchild behind the ads says she's pleased that the message could soon spread to Canada.
"As long as it's a peaceful campaign," Ariane Sherine said from London.
Sherine started the campaign after noticing ads on London buses that led curious readers to a website that suggested non-Christians would spend eternity in hell.
Initially, Sherine hoped to raise enough money to post ads on 30 buses in London. The campaign received enough donations to buy ads on 800 buses across the U.K.
In Toronto, the group has launched http://atheistbus.ca/, a website through which they hope to collect between $6,000 and $7,000 to purchase the bus ads. Hours after it was set up Friday, the group had received $6,800, according to its website.
The ad has been submitted for approval to CBS Outdoor, the firm that handles advertising for the Toronto Transit Commission, said Kish.
Though they've settled on the message for the campaign - it's identical to the slogan used in the U.K. - the actual layout is still being worked out. They want "something happy, something bright," Kish said.
If approved, the month-long campaign would start in the spring.