Canada Condemns Netflix for Using Rail Disaster Images

January 31, 2019 Updated: January 31, 2019

OTTAWA, Ontario—Canada’s Parliament passed a motion on Jan. 30, saying Netflix should compensate the people of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, for using footage of the 2013 rail disaster in the post-apocalyptic survival film “Bird Box.”

The footage involved the disaster created when an unattended train carrying crude oil rolled down an incline, went off the tracks and exploded into a massive ball of fire, killing 47 people in the Quebec town.

The motion is non-binding but is a stern rebuke from Canada’s Parliament for the use of footage from the rail explosion in “Bird Box” and in the series “Travelers.”

Members of Parliament voted to demand that Netflix remove all images of the Lac-Megantic tragedy. Netflix has apologized but has refused to remove the images. Netflix licensed the footage of the disaster from the stock image vendor Pond 5 and used it in “Bird Box” in an early TV news montage to set up its horrific premise. The Sandra Bullock-led thriller is about monstrous entities that compel any human who sees them to quickly try to kill themselves. To survive, they don blindfolds.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Pond 5 said the footage “was taken out of context” and the company wanted to “sincerely apologize.” Pond 5 footage of the crash was also used in Netflix’s “Travelers.”

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The Netflix company logo is seen at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., on April 13, 2011. (Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images)

But a Netflix spokesman told the AP that it wasn’t planning to cut the footage from “Bird Box,” saying, “We will keep the clip in the movie.” But he acknowledged that Netflix will be looking at ways to do things differently moving forward.

Pierre Nantel, a legislator with the opposition New Democrat party who introduced the motion this week, said he cannot accept Netflix not removing the footage.

“We know people are going to go and watch this film, and again these real images will be used,” he said. “For people in Lac-Megantic, they saw images of their own downtown burning, and could imagine their own family members in it.”

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Sandra Bullock, Susanne Bier, and Trevante Rhodes attend the New York Special Screening Of The Netflix Film “BIRD BOX” at Alice Tully Hall,n New York City, on Dec. 17, 2018. (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Netflix)

The mayor of Lac-Megantic, Julie Morin, has decried the use of the footage in an interview with The Canadian Press, calling it “a lack of respect.” Criticism has also been leveled by Canadians on Twitter, who argue that the footage may trigger feelings of PTSD and additional victimization.

But the Lac-Megantic mayor and a Netflix representative talked on Jan. 19, and Morin said the conversation was productive.

“They’ve committed to reflecting with their partners on the use of these images so that the situation does not repeat itself. We also felt they were sensitive to our citizens’ recovery. I’m satisfied with this exchange,” Morin said in a statement.

It’s not the first time “Bird Box” has caused an outcry. YouTube is cracking down on a wave of users committing so-called “Bird Box Challenges” — like driving a car while blindfolded.

Netflix refused to comment Wednesday, pointing only to a letter the company sent last week to Quebec’s culture minister in response to her concerns. In it, Netflix public policy director Corie Wright said the company “understands that many feel frustration and sadness at seeing images of this tragic event,” but it cannot make changes to “finished content.”

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Dylan Clark, Trevante Rhodes and Sandra Bullock attend the Netflix “Bird Box” Press Conference, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images for Netflix )
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