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OMG: They referenced the F-word on a billboard

A billboard for Virgin radio featuring hip-hop artist Usher appears on Bloor Street West at Dundas on March 22, 2011.

Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

They don't like it, but the Toronto Catholic District School Board says its hands are tied when it comes to the profanity some students can see on a billboard across the street from their school.

The billboard, posted since last week in the city's west end, shows music star Usher with the tagline "Shirt On: OMG, Shirt Off: OMFG."

For the less text savvy, the abbreviation stands for "Oh My F---ing God."

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Directly opposite the billboard is the main entrance of the Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School at the corner of Dundas Street West and Bloor Street.

TCDSB trustee Barbara Poplawski said the abbreviation is offensive and contrary to the message the Catholic school board hopes to instill in its students.

"It's a very poor choice," Ms. Poplawski said. "Profanity is not condoned and even if students are familiar with that language, it is not one we encourage them to use."

The board has spoken to the ad's sponsor, Virgin Radio 99.9, which is Astral Media's FM music radio station.

"They [Astral Media]noted our concerns that it's disrespectful, uses profanity and that we don't want it facing the school," Ms. Poplawski said. "But they told us the billboard would not be removed."

"I was kind of surprised the ad went up," said Grade 10 student Miguel Ducharme as he walked into his school. "It's sort of offensive."

Lynn Bourque, a mother of a tween and 16-year-old, said the placement of the advertisement facing the school was "not a coincidence."

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"It's definitely targeting kids that age. How many older people would know what it means?" she said.

While her children are not allowed to use profanity in their texting, Ms. Bourque acknowledged that "OMFG" is a part of the vocabulary of younger generations.

"It's nothing they don't know already but, at the same time, the ad is crass and on the edge of being profane," she said. "It should come down."

But another group of female students walking into the same school said they had "no problem" with the abbreviation. "It's just like clothing with the FCUK brand name," said Amy, 17, who did not want to give her last name. "It's a play on words and this [ad]is, too."

On Virgin Radio's Facebook page, host Jay (Mad Dog) Michaels asked for feedback from listeners, who were mostly supportive of the billboard.

He also posted: "maddog here … I think they should have had me shirtless … thats DEFINATELY an OMFG."

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It's not the first time Virgin Radio has stirred up controversy with their ads.

In April, 2009, the TTC forced Virgin Radio to pull down ads depicting a radio preparing to commit suicide by jumping onto subway tracks, with the tagline, "Give your radio a reason to live."

"That ad was not amusing," Adam Giambrone, former chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission, said at the time. "I don't believe Torontonians would find that ad funny. … Suicide is a serious issue."

Astral Media did not respond to interview requests.

Another ad, also at the corner of Dundas and Bloor, shows pop star Britney Spears with the tagline "It's Britney b****." The performer's head covers the offensive word.

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