Crown report says 'GRABHER' licence plate 'supports sexual violence against women'
Lorne Grabher had the plate bearing his last name revoked in 2016 after an anonymous complaint
Lawyers in the case of a Nova Scotia retiree who is fighting to regain a personalized licence plate argued Thursday over a report that links derogatory comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump to the "GRABHER" plate.
Lorne Grabher had his licence plate with the text "GRABHER" — his last name — revoked in 2016 after government officials agreed with an anonymous complainant that it was a "socially unacceptable slogan."
In court Thursday, Grabher's lawyer, Jay Cameron, fought to strike a Crown report that claims the licence plate "supports sexual violence against women."
The report was done by McGill University professor Dr. Carrie Rentschler, who has expertise in communications and gender studies. She referenced Trump's boast that he could grab any woman he pleased by her genitals, which was caught on a 2005 tape released during his presidential campaign.
Cameron told Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Pierre Muise the Rentschler report does not consider "GRABHER" as a word or name, but instead infers that the plate relates directly to the phrase used by Trump.
He said Trump is irrelevant to Grabher's case.
Cameron said the document has a "sustained and pervasive focus on Donald Trump," and that it attempts to link Grabher's plate with rape culture.
He said: "That is scandalous."
"There is zero evidence in this case that refers to Donald Trump, with the exception of this report," said Cameron, who works with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in Calgary.
"I think that the court should ask itself whether or not the freedom of expression of Canadians is influenced in any way by comments by a foreign dignitary."
He asked why Rentschler relied so heavily on Trump's comments to determine whether or not the plate is offensive.
Complainant says report shouldn't be allowed
The battle over evidence comes ahead of Grabher's trial on Sept. 5 and 6, where he will make constitutional arguments against Registrar of Motor Vehicles regulations and its decision to revoke the plate.
Outside of court Thursday, Cameron said Rentschler's report does not meet the criteria set out by the Supreme Court of Canada to be submitted as evidence in the case.
"It's a serious thing to have an expert come in and give opinion evidence in a case. There is a tremendous amount of authority that's given to that testimony," said Cameron.
"She has created her report so that when she views his name, she infers other words. She assumes their existence as being self-evident to the remainder of the population.… She's assumed things that aren't there and then crafted an expert report."
He said there's no evidence to suggest there were acts of violence related to the plate over the 27 years it was in use, and no evidence to suggest Nova Scotians are "more safe today because Mr. Grabher doesn't have his licence plate."
'Is this phrase offensive?'
Crown lawyer Alison Campbell argued the report is relevant and necessary in deciding the case, saying the expert was simply asked to objectively determine: "Is this phrase offensive?"
"Dr. Rentschler's report is not a salacious magazine. It is a review of academic literature on the ways in which gender violence is represented and reinforced in society," said Campbell, adding that the report notes that language can take on new meaning as the context changes.
Campbell said the registrar accepted there was an inference of a vulgar word with "GRABHER," and the fact that Trump's name was never specifically referenced is not important.
She noted the widespread media coverage after Trump's comments came to light.
"Donald Trump's statement about grabbing women is disgraceful, and yes, it is scandalous. But Dr. Rentschler is not the author of that statement. She is critiquing it, and discussing its impact on society and the broader understanding of consent," said Campbell.
Grabher sat in the gallery with his wife Elizabeth on Thursday. He declined to comment, saying the day's proceedings had upset him.
He has said his licence plate is an emotional issue for him.
Grabher first purchased the personalized licence plate as a gift for his late father around 1990. It then became an expression of family pride in their Austrian-German heritage.
Also Thursday, arguments were made in relation to an affidavit submitted by Grabher.
Campbell had argued that certain parts of the affidavit should be struck out, including that Grabher's son has a similar licence plate in Alberta.
Campbell said the assertion has no bearing on Nova Scotia's regulations and is therefore not relevant.
But Cameron argued the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies across the country, so the fact that the plate is legal in Alberta is relevant.
Muise reserved his decision on the expert report. He'll rule on the motions related to Grabher's affidavit on Friday.