Nova Scotia

Court to decide if 'GRABHER' licence plate is too rude for the road

Dartmouth resident Lorne Grabher is taking the Nova Scotia Registry of Motor Vehicles to court to get back a licence plate that bears his surname. The registrar cancelled the plate after someone complained that it was offensive.

'I don't think the government has a right to discriminate against a person's last name,' Lorne Grabher says

Lorne Grabher says he's had his personalized licence plate for 26 years and it's ridiculous that the province is forcing him to get rid of it after a single complaint. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

Lorne Grabher, the man behind the personalized GRABHER licence plate that made national and international headlines after it was deemed offensive by Nova Scotia's registrar of motor vehicles, is headed to court.​

The Dartmouth resident wants a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge to reissue the cancelled plate, which has been passed down in his family for 26 years. He also wants the court to declare that the decision to revoke his plate violates right to freedom of expression under the charter, as well as his equality rights as a person of Austrian/German heritage.

Grabher is also seeking court costs.

"I don't think the government, or anybody in particular, has a right to discriminate against a person's last name. That's what you were born with," Grabher told CBC's Maritime Noon Monday.

"When they approve something and then 20-some years down the road say, 'Oh, we can't have this anymore, we're going to take it away,' that's not right."

A hearing date will be set on May 31.

Plate purchased as a gift

Grabher first purchased the personalized licence plate for his father as a birthday gift in 1991. Grabher's son, Troy, also has the family name on his licence plate in Alberta.

Grabher said a woman took a picture of his licence plate at Tim Hortons and then complained to the registrar of motor vehicles.

The registrar notified Grabher in December that it had received a complaint about the plate and concluded that his surname could be "misinterpreted" as a "socially unacceptable slogan."

The plate was cancelled on Jan. 13.

GRABHER bumper stickers

"Mr. Grabher and his family, were, and remain deeply offended and humiliated by the cancellation of the plate, and the respondent's ongoing insult to their heritage and family name, which includes the censoring of expression of the Grabher surname via the plate," Grabher's lawyer Jay Cameron, wrote in the court application, dated May 11.

Cameron works with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in Calgary.

To raise awareness about the court application and to help pay Grabher's legal costs, the centre is selling GRABHER bumper stickers. 

The province said it is not commenting because the matter is before the courts.

Possible backlash from Trump? 

Grabher is familiar with the infamous recording of U.S. President Donald Trump using offensive language to say he wanted to "grab her" in reference to a woman. But Grabher has said he is not Trump and that is not the intention of his plate.

There are approximately 3,100 words that the provincial government has deemed unacceptable on licence plates. 

Words are banned for religious reasons, for being sexual, or for being in poor taste. In some cases a specific reason was never inputted into the system.

Some of the words that can't be on licence plates include: 

  • HESHE
  • GONADS
  • GRINGO
  • GOD4U2
  • 69PRIX
  • HOOTCH
  • HOTFU
  • DOOBIE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca

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