Nova Scotia

Too rude for the road — government yanks man's last name from licence plate

A Dartmouth man is furious that after 25 years the Nova Scotia Registry of Motor Vehicles has cancelled his personalized licence plate with his last name Grabher on it, following a single complaint.

'Where does the province of Nova Scotia ... get the right to discriminate against a person's name?'

Lorne Grabher said he's had his personalized licence plate for 25 years and it's ridiculous the province has cancelled it. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

Mr. Grabher wants his licence plate back.

A Dartmouth man is furious that after 25 years the Nova Scotia Registry of Motor Vehicles has cancelled his personalized licence plate with his last name Grabher on it, following a single complaint.

Lorne Grabher is of German heritage. He said he bought the plate as a gift for his father's 65th birthday. His father passed away in the 1990s and the plate has remained in the family.

Last December, he received a letter telling him the plate would be cancelled in January because the public cannot be expected to know it is his last name and "can misinterpret it as a socially unacceptable slogan."

"I was taken aback. How can you say my name is a slogan when it is not?" Grabher told CBC News. 

"Where does the province of Nova Scotia and the government of Nova Scotia get the right to discriminate against a person's name?"

Proud of his last name 

Grabher said his father taught his children to always be proud of their name and where they come from. 

He was even more offended by an email sent to CBC News by a spokesman from the Department of Transportation, Brian Taylor. It said: "A complaint was received outlining how some individuals interpret [the name] as misogynistic and promoting violence against women."

The email went on to say, "With no way to denote that it is a family name on the plate, the department determined it was in the public's best interest to remove it from circulation."

CBC requested an interview with Janice Hartland, the director of road safety at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, but was told there would not be one.

"I've never once had anybody come up to me and say they were offended," Grabher said. "They would look at it and say, 'Am I reading this right?' And I would go, 'Yes.' And they would go, 'Is this your last name?' And I would go, 'Yes.' And they would always just give a little chuckle."'

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 said he is not Trump and that is not the intention of his plate.

Grabher worries that U.S. President Donald Trump's misogynistic comments have hurt his ability to retain a licence plate featuring his own last name. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

"Donald Trump is a totally different person. He's ignorant. He doesn't care about anybody and I shouldn't be put in a class like him," Grabher said.

Banned words

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: 

  • GOD4U2
  • 69PRIX

"I guess now I'm going to have to take my name out of the phone book because a person's been offended by it," Grabher said.

"I guess my wife has to change the name of her consulting company, Grabher's Consulting. That has to be taken away? I guess I'm going to have to change my birth certificate."

Looking for help

Grabher said this is very personal, not only for himself, but his children and grandchildren. He's hoping someone will help him fight the government.

In the meantime, he has a Grabher licence plate his son sent him from Alberta. He's put it on the front of his car.

Grabher's son sent him another licence plate from Alberta. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

"I'm proud of it and as far as I know in Nova Scotia we're allowed to put whatever we want on the front of the car." 

Taylor, the transportation spokesman, said the list of banned words "is always evolving, as slang and language also continue to change and evolve."

He said the department does not take decisions like this lightly and understands Grabher's frustration.

The department has offered to print alternative wording or to reimburse Grabher for the cost of the remaining life of the plate.

Too rude for the road

6 years ago
Duration 2:16
N.S. bans man's surname from the personalized licence plate that has borne the family name of 'Grabher' for 25 years


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