Nova Scotia

Grabher considering legal action over licence plate flap

A Nova Scotia man whose personalized licence plate was pulled because of one complaint about his last name, Grabher, says he is overwhelmed by the support he’s received from around the world.

Lorne Grabher has received support from as far away as Austria, where the name is common

Lorne Grabher with his now-cancelled licence plate. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

A Nova Scotia man whose personalized licence plate was pulled because of one complaint about what it said — "Grabher" — says he is overwhelmed by the support he's received from around the world.

"This is just blowing my mind," Lorne Grabher said. "You wouldn't believe the amount of phone calls and emails I have received not just [from] here but everywhere — the United States, Austria, three people from Moscow on my Facebook page, the U.K. It's just totally unbelievable."

Grabher is considering legal action in an effort to reclaim his plate, originally bought 25 years ago as a present for his father's 65th birthday. He said his father always taught him to be proud of the family's name, which is of German origin.

A family name

The plate, which has been passed down through the family since his father's death, was on his car until he received a letter from the provincial government in December. The letter said the plate was being cancelled because the public cannot be expected to know it is his last name and "can misinterpret it as a socially unacceptable slogan."

In correspondence with CBC News, a government spokesman said, "A complaint was received outlining how some individuals interpret [the name] as misogynistic and promoting violence against women."

Grabher said that's disgusting and he has received countless emails and messages of support from around the world.

Austrian mayor weighs in

One of those calls was from Kurt Fischer, the mayor of Lustenau, Austria, where the surname Grabher is a common one.

"At first I didn't know if I should laugh or if it was a sad story, but actually it's an absurd story to me," Fischer told CBC News in a phone interview.

"I thought that it was political correctness reduced to absurdity."

Kurt Fischer is the mayor of Lustenau, Austria, where the surname Grabher is common. (Kurt Fischer)

Fischer said there is no question misogyny and violence against women are huge problems. But he said that, as a Canadian citizen proud of his surname, Grabher should get his plate back.

Worldwide headlines

Grabher's story has also been featured on Fox News, as well as online news sites in the U.K. and India.

The Nova Scotia government has refused requests for interviews on this subject, referring CBC News to a statement and the regulations around personalized plates.

Those say the registrar may refuse to issue personalized plates "if in the opinion of the registrar [the plate] ... implies a word, phrase or idea that is or may be considered offensive or not in good taste."

67 pages of banned plates

A spokesperson refused to say what source is used to determine acceptable words, saying each request is considered on a case by case basis. He would not disclose whether government uses a slang dictionary or the Urban Dictionary when making its decisions.

Nova Scotia has a 67-page list of word, letter and number combinations that it has banned from plates, including END, DOG, HEN, CHIKEN, BLUE, ODD and PEA.

In some instances, religion, sex or bad taste are cited as reasons for refusal.

Others are simply noted as "unavailable." The government spokesperson said that means "staff did not input a specific reason into the system at time of entry."

Lorne Grabher's son Troy added this sticker near his licence plate to avoid any misunderstanding about what the plate means. (Troy Grabher)

Grabher's son, Troy, has a personalized plate bearing his surname in Alberta.

"He said he was starting to get worried that they were going to hound him so he went to a vinyl place and had a sign made up pointing to his licence saying, 'This is my last name,' so people will understand this is our name," Lorne Grabher said.

He has been contacted by a lawyer at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in Calgary who is interested in pursuing the case.

Grabher is hoping the government will change its mind but says if not, "I'm going all the way. I'm not stopping now. If I have to take this province to court, I will, because I want justice. Not just for myself but for other people."


Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at