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N.S. top court dismisses vanity plate appeal

October 1st, 2021  |  Auto

Source: The Canadian Press

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has dismissed a man’s bid to reverse the revocation of his personalized license plate bearing his surname, “Grabher.”

Lawyers for Lorne Grabher filed for an appeal in January on the grounds that his right to freedom of expression had been violated. But the Court of Appeal issued a unanimous ruling on Aug. 24, declaring the trial judge was right to rule that Grabher’s plate was not an area to which freedom of expression applied.

“I do not agree the hearing judge erred in concluding there was no 'history of free expression' in relation to personalized license plates,” Justice Cindy A. Bourgeois wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.

The “GRABHER” license plate, Bourgeois noted, could in fact be interpreted as a call to gender-based violence.

Grabher’s Nova Scotia plate, which he had for nearly 30 years, was recalled by the province’s Registrar of Motor Vehicles in December 2016 after it received a complaint the sign promoted hatred toward women.

He took the matter to court in 2017 to recall the registrar’s decision, arguing it violated his charter rights to equality and to freedom of expression.

The lower court judge, Justice Darlene Jamieson, ruled that license plates are not typically viewed as “public places” with a history of free expression, a sentiment the Court of Appeal agreed with.

Under provincial regulations, Nova Scotia’s registrar can refuse to issue personalized license plates if the proposed combination of characters expresses or implies a word, phrase, or idea that could be considered offensive or in poor taste.

During the appeal process, one of Grabher’s lawyers, Jay Cameron, pointed out that the registrar had decided that Grabher’s plate was appropriate for 27 years and only decided it was illegal following an anonymous complaint.

“On what basis? What had changed?” Cameron asked the Court of Appeal panel. “Mr. Grabher’s name was the same, the plate was the same, the law was the same, the Constitution is the same. There is no evidence that for nearly three decades the plate harmed anyone.”

Crown attorney Jack Townsend, however, argued all license plates are Crown property and they remain so even when displayed on a vehicle.

“What I would submit is precious little can be accomplished in that space in terms of expression which promote values relating to democracy or the search for the truth,” Townsend said.

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