“The time was 8:22 pm. He was hanging around the stairwell wearing a jean jacket. He assaulted that woman.”
This quote, written in white lettering on a plain black poster and attributed to “anonymous,” was displayed on one of many posters around St. John’s describing various kinds of criminal activity.
The posters were put up on May 29 by Crime Stoppers of Newfoundland and Labrador, but there is nothing on the posters to indicate they were created by the organization.
According to an NL Crime Stoppers news release issued Tuesday, the campaign is “designed to reinforce the message that we all, as citizens, play a role in making our communities safer for everyone. By contacting Crime Stoppers with a tip, you are 100% anonymous.”
It has received backlash from residents and businesses, many of whom posted their concerns about the campaign on social media. Some critics of Project Anonymous said it gives tourists a negative view of the city, while others called it fearmongering.
Many of the posters have been torn down.
On Twitter, feminist activist Jenny Wright said the poster about a man assaulting a woman “can make survivors of sexual assault feel very unsafe and anxious in their own city.”
Other than the posters, the campaign also includes radio and online advertisements. Like the posters, it is not clear in the radio advertisements that Crime Stoppers is responsible for the message.
“We fully expected a reaction and dialogue surrounding the campaign, and we welcome all discussion surrounding how we can continue making our communities a safer place,” states the news release.
“Project Anonymous was never created as a commentary on the amount of crime in our communities, but rather to focus on what has been the backbone of Crime Stoppers in Newfoundland and Labrador since 1992 — anonymity.”
The release says the group is about to launch the second phase of the campaign, but no details were provided about what that will entail.
“This campaign is not about fear, nor is it an attempt to impact the citizens or business owners of this province, it is to create a conversation — to make us think,” states the release.
Council asked for ‘reversal’ of campaign
Information about the advertising campaign was originally included in the regular city council meeting agenda posted online in the days leading up to the May 27 meeting, but was removed sometime before the Monday meeting.
O’Leary said the only reason it came before council was because heritage bylaws required it. She said the campaign was discussed during council’s special meeting rather than the regular public meeting because Crime Stoppers wanted it to be a surprise campaign.
Since the public backlash, O’Leary said, she and Mayor Danny Breen spoke with Crime Stoppers many times to see whether the campaign could be reversed, but Crime Stoppers is continuing the campaign until June 21.
O’Leary said the city does not control the messaging of an advertising campaign. She said individual businesses also approved displaying the posters on their property, and council does not have the right to tell private property owners what they can and cannot post.
“So, this campaign will continue in its state right now. How the public views it or deals with it, certainly, is up to them.”
O’Leary said she and Breen have requested a meeting with the Crime Stoppers of Newfoundland and Labrador board.
“We’ve been longtime partners for many years because we are all coming from the same angle that we want to see crime prevention – we want to make sure that we live in a safer city – but the methodology behind this campaign is certainly very questionable.”
O’Leary said had she known more about the messaging of the campaign, she would have rejected it when it came before council.
A sample advertisement was included in the original council agenda that was first posted online before a new agenda was uploaded with the campaign details removed.
However, O’Leary said council “saw very little of the messaging” and the methodology of the campaign was unknown to councillors.
NL Crime Stoppers said the organization will not give interviews about the campaign, and no further statements will be issued.