The industry organization that regulates advertisements in Canada has ruled against one of Canada's largest pro-fossil fuel advocacy groups for spreading disinformation about the harmful climate impacts of liquified natural gas (LNG), according to a confidential decision.

Leaked to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), the unanimous ruling by Ad Standards found that Canada Action, a non-profit that promotes the oil and gas industry, had "distorted the true meaning of statements made by professionals or scientific authorities" and created an "overall misleading impression" that LNG is climate-friendly.

Climate scientists are clear that extracting and burning fossil fuels, including LNG, must stop to prevent exacerbating the climate and pollution crises.

Canada Action's bright green ads claiming falsely that “LNG will reduce emissions” have been plastered on buses, billboards and in major newspapers throughout the country for months, primarily in major urban centres in Ontario and B.C.

The decision dates to January 30, 2024 but was only made public Tuesday after being leaked to CAPE this month. However, because Ad Standards has no enforcement authority over advertisers and must keep its rulings confidential, Canada Action has flouted the decision and continues to run the campaign despite the ruling.

Ads from Canada Action, a non-profit that promotes the #LNG industry, were found to be 'misleading' by Ad Standards Canada, but the ads ran in print and on billboards because the regulator has no enforcement authority, leaked documents reveal.

In a statement, Catherine Bates, Ad Standards president and CEO, said that "any allegation that [Canada Action] knew about the decision or was obligated to withdraw their advertising in January is categorically false."

Canada Action was only informed of the decision on May 7 and has appealed, she said. Unusually, the decision rendered in that appeal will not be made public "due to egregious violations of confidentiality in this case."

Unlike other ad industry self-regulators like the British Advertising Standards Authority and the National Advertising Division in the U.S., decisions by Canada's Ads Standards are not rapidly made public. The organization's most recent public list of decisions dates to 2021, though Bates said that "Ad Standards has been experiencing a backlog. We are working diligently to rectify this situation."

"This ruling tells us what we already know, which is that Canada Action is completely greenwashing LNG as something good for the planet and good for us when it's not," said CAPE president Melissa Lem. " The fact that Ad Standards has ruled that they've committed an infraction and that they continue to run these greenwashing ads for months later should be a mark of shame."

The advertising push comes as B.C. ramps up its LNG, despite warnings from the International Energy Agency that demand for the product is poised to tumble in coming years. Moreover, if B.C. pursues all of the LNG currently planned for the province, the industry would account for about 40 per cent of the province's 2030 carbon budget.

LNG extraction – or fracking – also comes with major health impacts, including higher rates of premature birth, asthma flares, childhood leukemia, heart failure, and mortality, according to Margaret McGregor, a doctor and health researcher. This is in addition to the health risks posed by natural gas use and extreme weather – like wildfire smoke and intense heat – exacerbated by the climate crisis.

The findings come amidst growing frustration with disinformation efforts by fossil fuel companies. Earlier this year, a coalition of environmental and health groups announced they are suing FortisBC, the province's natural gas utility, for misleading ad campaigns. The federal Competition Bureau is also investigating the Pathways Alliance, a coalition of Canada's major oil and gas companies, for misleading advertisements.

In Ottawa, NDP MP Charlie Angus last year tabled a private member's bill that would prohibit fossil fuel advertising Canada-wide, similar to measures passed in other countries like France. That proposal generated huge backlash that saw Angus weathering death threats and other insults.

The Ads Standards ruling highlights the need for more stringent regulations on fossil fuel greenwashing, Lem said.

Canada Action's decision to ignore the ruling and continue running the problematic ads across the country “underlines the fact that the fossil fuel industry is aware of the fact that it's spreading disinformation yet does nothing about it," she said. "It follows decades and decades of the fossil fuel industry continuing to spread disinformation to drive its own profits and tilt policy in its favour."

Update: This story was updated on May 29, 2024 to include comment and clarification from Ad Standards president and CEO Catherine Bates and correct the fact that the organizations’ final decisions are publicly released.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
May 28, 2024, 09:00 am

Editor's note: This story was corrected to note that the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment is not part of the lawsuit against FortisBC and that the regulatory organization is called Ad Standards, not Ads Standards as previously noted.

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The fossil fuel industry keeps pushing it, clearly running out the clock until the conservatives get in charge, even though an election hasn't even been called.
Theirs has become a Putin-level arrogance which we'll hope the government has been smoking out before the cap is imposed not long before the election.

What on earth is the point of this "Ads Standard" organization? I mean, other than to claim that since it exists there's no need for actual regulation. I mean, it's an INDUSTRY organization, not a government one. It has NO enforcement powers. And it keeps its rulings SECRET. So no matter what it does, it has NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER. If a fake watchdog issues a ruling in the forest and nobody hears it because it's secret, does it make a sound?

You read my mind and expressed it very well. The "Ads Standards" organization is just a nasty ruse.

Agreed, WTF? Bring on the teeth and the big sticks I say.
Enough of the left pussyfooting around all the time; it's not just bringing a knife to a gunfight, it's refusing to acknowledge that the gunfight is happening WHILE they're being shot full of holes.