British Columbia

Vanity plate declares 'I'm drunk' — in Punjabi

Vanity plates licence plates that some people say promote drunk driving have snuck past B.C.'s public auto insurer because the messages are in anglicized Punjabi slang.

Regulator says failure to catch offending plates is ‘disappointing and upsetting'

Photos of personalized B.C. plates supplied to CBC News show anglicized Punjabi slang glorifying drinking and driving. (Baltej Pannu/Facebook)

Vanity licence plates that some people say promote drunk driving have snuck past B.C.'s public auto insurer because the messages are in anglicized Punjabi slang.

Members of the Punjabi-speaking community say the plates fly in the face of the Insurance Corporation of B.C.'s (ICBC) mission to combat drinking and driving, and they are upset the Crown corporation issued them without thoroughly checking their meaning.

"I was like, seriously, is this happening in Canada?" said Raj Saini, who contacted CBC News about the plates.

"There is a system for everything. There are so many rules. How are these people getting these plates?"

Saini, 36, says similar plates have also been spotted in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario — and posted to social media sites. 

One example from B.C. reads "PK-TUNN" — which several members of the Punjabi community said can be interpreted as "wasted after drinking" or "I'm drunk."

On another, "PK3PEG," translated as "drink three shots" or "after three drinks."

'These should be off the street'

ICBC is responsible for reviewing and issuing personalized licence plates in the province.

According to its website, plates can have "practically any unique message that's fit to print," but warns the corporation "will not issue… plates that may be interpreted as vulgar, indecent or offensive."

Saini, a mother of a six-year-old girl, says she feels the plates are offensive.

"My concern [is] what are we telling our kids? Whoever is looking at these plates is getting the message it's OK to get drunk and be on the streets," she said.

"These should be off the street."

ICBC spokesperson Joanna Linsangan is shown photos of the plates in question by CBC reporter Eric Rankin. (Nicolas Amaya/CBC)

ICBC spokesperson Joanna Linsangan admits the plates are "certainly disappointing and upsetting."

Linsangan says all applications are reviewed by just one person, assisted by a small committee with "representatives from various demographics."

Considering potentially offensive slogans in another language "can be challenging," she said. "We are human."

ICBC says last year it received 5,200 applications for personalized licence plates — 810 of which were rejected.

ICBC says it will issue 'practically any unique message that's fit to print', but not 'vulgar, indecent or offensive' slogans. (Nicolas Amaya, CBC)

Within 24 hours of ICBC being informed about the offending plates, Linsangan said one was "not on the road and will not be issued to another driver should they make that application."

​The other will be revoked.

"We have issued a letter and we will be asking the driver to return that licence plate," says Linsangan.

'Not a joke'

Some Sikh community leaders say those who applied for the plates should take the heat, not ICBC.

"From my point of view, ICBC cannot be held accountable for this," said Kal Dosanjh, CEO of KidsPlay Foundation, an outreach program for underprivileged youth in the Vancouver area.

Dosanjh suspects these kind of "disturbing" slogans are usually submitted by young drivers.

"They think it's funny and it's a prankster move."

But Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says the ICBC should be more careful.

"There should be due diligence on ICBC's end," said Tracy Crawford, the group's regional manager for Western Canada.

"Impaired driving is not a joke. It is a serious and potentially deadly crime. Promoting drinking and getting 'drunk' on a license plate is in very poor taste and sends a negative message. Personal licence plates context should be properly screened."

ICBC says it has no plan to change its application review process, and asks the public to call in if they see inappropriate personalized plates.

Saini says that isn't good enough.

"I think they're lazy about it, that's how I see it."

About the Author

Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.