Toronto

Vanity plates reading 'F--k You' in Punjabi still on GTA roads, Brampton man warns

A Brampton man says he still sees vanity plates with phrases like "shot of liquor," "opium," and even "f--k" translated from Punjabi on the streets of Brampton, even after Ontario's Ministry of Transportation flagged dozens of offensive plates for recall.

Ministry of Transportation has staff who speak various languages, and uses translation services

Some in the Brampton Punjabi community are calling for the recall of anglicized license plates they say are offensive. (Provided by Gagandeep Kanwal)

A Brampton man says he still sees vanity plates with phrases like "shot of liquor," "opium," and even "f--k" translated from Punjabi on the streets of Brampton, even after Ontario's Ministry of Transportation flagged dozens of offensive plates for recall. 

Gagandeep Kanwal, a journalist for Samay Indo Canadian, a local Hindi newspaper, has been taking photos of the license plates and passing them on to the province. 

'Peg Sheg' means 'shot of liquor' in Punjabi. (Provided by Gagandeep Kanwal)

"I see them every day," said Kanwal. "It's disturbing because if my kid's reading it, I cannot explain to them what it means." 

The anglicized Punjabi phrases spell out colloquial words for "opium", "shot of liquor", and the F-word. Kanwal says he has also seen words for male genitalia, and one that could be interpreted as, "I want to have sex with your sister." 

Gagandeep Kanwal, who works for community newspapers in Brampton, has been documenting offensive license plates he sees in the GTA. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Several months ago, CBC Toronto published a story about the community's concerns over Punjabi plates spelling out "rifle" or "musket." 

The Ministry of Transportation reviewed 52 plates and flagged 33 of them for recall because they violated its guidelines, which don't allow offensive language or references to drugs, alcohol, violence or sex. 

But Kanwal says there's still a lot of work that needs to be done and Balpreet Singh, a spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, agrees.  

'Feem' means 'opium' in Punjabi. (Provided by Gagandeep Kanwal)

"Punjabi is one of the most spoken languages in Ontario, so I don't think it should be too difficult to look into what these language plates actually mean," Singh told CBC Toronto. 

The province told CBC Toronto it has a range of staff speaking various languages to filter out vanity plate applications that don't meet the regulations. It also uses a variety of translation tools. 

Balpreet Singh, spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, says the province could do a better job of screening license plates. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

In 2018, approximately 31,650 new personalized license plates were ordered. Of these, about 3,350 applications were rejected, according to the province.

While Singh says the plates with Punjabi swear words on them are not acceptable, he also does not see the issue as a particularly pressing one. 

"It's an irritant, for sure," he said. "But, it's a small number of people, people on the younger side trying to get a rise out of things." 

About the Author

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller, dabbling in camping, canoeing and crafting. Email Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.