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A court ruling is preventing a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia senior citizen from regaining his personalized licence plate which he has used for 27 years. The licence plate has his last name in all caps—GRABHER—on it which the court is suggesting could be misinterpreted.
Lorne Grabher based his claim on equality rights and freedom of expression which are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To challenge Nova Scotia’s regulation, Grabher made a list of words that are “banned” on personalized plates in Nova Scotia, showing the seemingly random nature of the system. The list included “AND”, “SAMPLE”, “FENCE”, “SAFE”, “NONE” and “GOLD”. The list was declared irrelevant by Justice Darlene Jamieson.
According to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, Justice Jamieson has made much worse words legitimate to use on public property. Words like “Swastika”, “Dildo”, “Negro Lake”, “Blow Me Down” and “Sh*t” have been allowed while Grabher’s vanity licence plate containing his family name could be considered “offensive” to others.
“The provincial government cannot sanction having vehicles with government-owned plates traveling the highways of this province and country bearing messages that could be considered ‘offensive or not in good taste,’” said Justice Jamieson.
Grabher and his family have gone 27 years with their names on the vanity licence plate without incident. His son also has a licence plate with the family name in Alberta.
A single complaint about the plate was received by the Nova Scotia government through an anonymous individual. Grabher was informed that his vanity licence plate had become cancelled in a letter from the Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles on Dec. 9, 2016. The letter suggested that the plate could be seen as a “socially unacceptable slogan.”
The JCCF was not not in agreement with the decision and made contact with the Registrar. They called the decision “unreasonable”, “discriminatory”, “arbitrary” and a free expression violation. After the Registrar refused to allow Grabher’s plate to be reactivated, JCCF took legal action against them on Grabher’s behalf. A hearing ensued in April of 2019.
Jay Cameron, the Justice Centre Litigation Manager who represents Grabher said, “Mr. Grabher and his family are profoundly disappointed”, and added “We are reviewing the decision.”