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Vanity plates saying 'gun' and 'rifle' in Punjabi promote violence, activist claims

The Punjabi community is raising concerns about vanity licence plates that when translated from say things like "gun" and "rifle"

Ministry of Transportation says words not allowed because they insinuate violence

The Ministry of Transportation says the word 'Bandook' would not be allowed on license plates in Ontario. (Bandook Group/Facebook)

A community activist in Peel Region is sounding the alarm about vanity licence plates that violate provincial laws because they have words on them that he claims promote violence.

Sudeep Singla, of Brampton, says the plates have escaped the province's notice because they're written in South Asian languages.

Some photos posted on a Facebook page called Bandook Group show several cars with variations of the word "bandook" on their licence plates. In Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu, "bandook" means "gun," "rifle," or "musket." 

Sudeep Singla wants the province to take a closer look at vanity plate applications. (CBC)

"It tells people we're promoting violence and gun usage," he told CBC Toronto.

"Our kids who are born here, brought up here, they're going to ask us, 'What does this mean? Why this car with a bad plate is roaming around on the street?' I'm personally feeling very offended." 

CBC Toronto reached out to Bandook Group, which said it's a music label that launches Punjabi songs. Members declined an interview but said the group does not condone violence.

Singla disagrees. 

"In the U.S., in Canada, we're talking about stopping the violence," he said. "By giving somebody a plate which means weapon, are we not promoting the violence? We can't be playing double standards." 

'Bandook' means 'rifle' in Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. (Bandook Group/Facebook)

'Choose an appropriate personalized message'

Service Ontario, the provincial agency responsible for issuing personalized licence plates, states on its website a plate message "may be created using almost any combination of letters and numbers" but plates will not be approved if they include: 

  • Sexual messaging.
  • Abusive, obscene language and derogatory slang.
  • Religious messaging.
  • Drugs/alcohol references.
  • Political figures, dignitaries/law enforcement officials.
  • Violence/criminal activity.
  • Human rights discrimination.

The Ministry of Transportation says it would not allow a licence plate spelling out "rifle," "gun," "musket," or "weapon" in English or any other language, and says sometimes vanity plates "are unintentionally issued which may prove to be offensive to some members of the public."

The ministry says there are staff dedicated to the Personalized License Plate program (PLP) application process. It includes initial screeners and members of the review committee. Staff use a "variety of online tools such as translation sources, slang dictionaries, etc." 

In 2017, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services received 29,900 personalized licence plate requests in. Approximately 2,570 applications were rejected. 

'These are a bunch of kids who like gangsta rap'

Community leaders like Balpreet Singh, spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, say similar plates spotted in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have no place on the roads, but the ones in Ontario may be a stretch. 

In British Columbia, recent vanity plates include "PK-TUNN," which could be interpreted as "I'm drunk" or "PK3PEG," which could mean "after three drinks." 

"The ones I did see out of B.C. were quite offensive, about alcoholism or drinking," said Singh. "That has no business being on a car. Bandook just means rifle or musket. It's hard for me to read anything into it." 

Balpreet Singh, spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, says tying 'bandook' to violence is a stretch. (Jon Castell/CBC)

Singh say while the word may be against the province's rules, he does not see the licence plates on cars owned by members of Bandook Group reflecting poorly onto the community as a whole. 

"These are a bunch of kids who like gangsta rap," he said.

About the Author

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller. Email her at Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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