Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia man loses legal bid to reclaim GRABHER personalized licence plate

Lorne Grabher says even though he's lost the case, he's not giving up his bid to reclaim his vanity licence plate.

Lorne Grabher says he's not giving up on taking back his vanity licence plate

Lorne Grabher has lost his bid in Nova Scotia Supreme Court to reclaim his GRABHER vanity licence plate. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

Lorne Grabher has lost his bid in Nova Scotia Supreme Court to reclaim his GRABHER vanity licence plate.

"I'm not giving up. I'm in it for the long haul," Grabher said in a phone interview Friday.

He said he'd pursue appeals up to the Supreme Court of Canada if that's what it takes.

Grabher applied for the plate for his father approximately 27 years ago as a celebration of his family name. 

When his father moved to Alberta, the plate was transferred to him.

Plate revoked in 2016

But late in 2016, the Nova Scotia Registry of Motor Vehicles revoked Grabher's licence plate due to a public complaint. 

Officials agreed the plate could be interpreted as encouragement to grab a woman without her consent.

Grabher appealed to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia saying banning his name from a licence plate violated his charter rights to equality and freedom of expression.

"And it's just the principle. I put my name on everything else and there's no problem," he said.

"It's not the licence plate. It's the name. They're using it as a word. It's not a word, it's my name," he said.

Subject to interpretation

In a written decision on Friday, Justice Darlene Jamieson upheld the province's right to revoke the plate.

In her decision, Jamieson wrote that without context, the licence plate GRABHER can be interpreted as promoting sexualized violence.

"Preventing harm that could flow from such a message on a government plate must be seen as pressing and substantial," she said.

She said Grabher is not facing discrimination due to his Austrian-German heritage.

"The registrar's actions indicate that anyone with the personalized plate 'GRABHER', regardless of their national or ethnic origin, would be denied such a plate," Jamieson said.

"The plate was recalled because the seven letters "GRABHER" could be interpreted as a socially unacceptable statement (grab her), without the benefit of further context indicating this was Mr. Grabher's surname," she said.

Lawyer objects

Grabher was represented by Calgary lawyer Jay Cameron, who works for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a non-profit public interest law firm.

Cameron believes the judge was wrong to rule that vanity plates are not covered by the charter's guarantee of freedom of expression.

He thinks interpreting the plate as offensive makes too many assumptions.

"It's an Austrian name. You have to turn it into an English word and create something that isn't there," Cameron said.

"It doesn't say, 'Grab her in a sexual fashion.' If you're going to make a thing out of it, it could just as easily be, 'Grab her a bag of chips' or 'Grab her, she's too close to the road,'" he said.

Continued court fight?

Cameron doesn't believe that potential offense outweighs Grabher's right to celebrate his family name.

"Just because somebody is offended by something doesn't mean something shouldn't be on a licence plate," he said.

Cameron said he is still analyzing the decision, but he believes there are grounds to appeal. He said if the legal case is there, his organization will continue to support Grabher's legal fight.

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