‘Tone deaf’ billboard in Etobicoke removed

Click to play video: '‘Tone deaf and ignorant’: Etobicoke billboard removed'
‘Tone deaf and ignorant’: Etobicoke billboard removed
WATCH ABOVE: After being labelled racist, tone deaf and ignorant online, a billboard showing two men promoting themselves as “COVID real estate ninjas” has been taken down. Miranda Anthistle has the details – Oct 10, 2020

A billboard featuring two men awkwardly posing with the words, “COVID real estate ninjas at your service,” is gaining attention, but not for the intended purpose of attracting business.

Reaction to the advertisement ranges from people describing it as being racist, to tone-deaf and ignorant.

“Use of cultural appropriation, or tone-deafness, or ignorance as a form of marketing, there really isn’t any place for it,” said Trevor Lui, who first saw the billboard Friday morning with his daughter.

It was located at Royal York Road and Evans Avenue in Etobicoke in between two middle schools. He said he’s most disappointed with the process it would have gone through to be approved.

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“It would have had to cross through at least seven sets of eyes and hands… there’s the brokerage, the marketing team, there’s the corporate office for the real estate company, there’s a graphic designer, a photographer, and in the end there’s the company that owns the billboard,” said Lui.

“It was acceptable at every one of those points before someone from the public noticed it was not acceptable.”

Global News contacted Dylan Fieldhouse and Michael Majeski, who appear on the billboard. Neither were available for comment. RE/MAX Integra for Ontario-Atlantic Canada responded with a statement saying it wasn’t aware of the billboard and will be contacting the franchise owner with whom the agents work.

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“The messaging in the advertisement directly conflicts with our values and belief in equality, inclusiveness and access to homeownership for all,” the statement said.

“We appreciate you bringing this to our attention and helping us ensure our network members represent our brand’s values of respect and dignity for all Canadians.”

By Friday evening, the billboard had been removed, but a photo of it posted on the real estate agents’ Instagram account (which has since been made private) remained with the caption, “I didn’t set out to be this way. But a ninja doesn’t choose his path, the path just appears.”

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Read more: Asian communities across Canada report rising racist behaviour during COVID-19 crisis

And while there are a number of people who take issue with the billboard, there are many others who don’t understand why. That, said Lui, is part of the problem.

“This is, to me, a perfect definition for the word systemic. It’s up there, it’s accepted through all the levels that it got to the point, it was put up on a billboard and [people] can walk by it and feel like it’s OK,” he said.

“My disappointment stems from having to explain why things like this shouldn’t happen anymore.”

Lui said he wants to see companies form a foundation where they build their business through diversity and inclusion, rather than just reacting to issues that come up.

He explained calling out this billboard isn’t meant to be an indictment of the business, but rather it’s about learning from mistakes and correcting those.

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