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.
Rumour has it that the song was written by bassist Sid Vicious as a joke in the 1970s, that he was trying to be ironic. Some see the song as being anti-Semitic, others feel the punk rockers where simply trying to offend the older generation, for whom World War II was a recent, painful memory. For lyrics to the song, click here.
While Bell takes full responsibility for the ad and apologized to all who were offended, they explained that when they approved the ad, the wording on the button was not clearly visible because the ad was smaller. But when the ad was blown up, the words on the button were easy to see.
The way I see it, it was in poor taste to have the model wear the button in the first place, but mistakes happen. The fact that Bell owned up to and apologized for the oversight right away, instead of trying to deflect blame, is commendable.