Owning a vehicle is not a licence to be tasteless

Lorne Grabher displays his personalized licence plate in Dartmouth, N.S. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Lorne Grabher displays his personalized licence plate in Dartmouth, N.S. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Vanity licence plates on vehicles have become increasingly popular over the years. They can mean all sorts of things. They can be fairly straightforward and some can leave other drivers shaking their heads when it comes to trying to decipher them. They can be cute, curt, clever and potentially off-colour.

It’s the inappropriate or offensive licence plates with which provinces have a problem. For instance, a not-so-closeted Neo Nazi may request a vanity plate that says WYTEPWR (white power) or perhaps a religious nonbeliever has asked for 8THEIST (atheist). In any case, thousands of licence plate requests are turned down by provincial governments each year.

Categories for the off-putting

Basically, there are distinct categories in which these requests fall:

  • Those that are simply inappropriate like KISTHIS, 50SHADZ or M1STR1S;
  • Those that have a religious connotation like SINNR, HEHEALS or LUC1F3R;
  • Those that suggest illegal activity like SNIPR, GUN4HRE or LSD1;
  • Those that are alcohol-related like ABSINTH, TQELA or CABRNET;
  • Those that are socially or politically insensitive like TIMEBMB, ENUFWAR or ANRCHY;
  • Those that are sexual in nature like SEK5Y, 3 SUM or PRTYNKD;
  • Those that are foul language based like BAD A55, GTFO or WYF NOW;
  • Those that are ethnic like BLACK13, PANJAB1 or 5INGH;
  • Those containing an ‘O’ like D1SCO, TURBO 8 or FROSTY5.

Must pass the cut

In Ontario, personalized licence plates have to pass several checks before being given the green light. First, an applicant must give the meaning of the plate at the registry office, at which time the clerk will decide if the request meets the provincial criteria.

Just to be on the safe side, requests are run through a database of thousands of unauthorized possible plate configurations. If the requests pass, then they go through a team that reviews each one before the vehicle owner is granted his or her plate.

What is offensive or inappropriate to some, may not be to others

Some drivers who have been given their plates by the provinces in which they live have found themselves facing problems in other ways. For instance, a Manitoba resident whose licence plate reads ASIMIL8 is suing Manitoba public insurance for violating his rights to free expression after it said it would not insure him as long as his vehicle sported that plate.

Similarly, a Nova Scotia resident is still in a legal battle over whether the province violated the Canadian constitution after it ruled his licence plate, GRABHER, offended women. The plate is actually the man’s last name. The man is arguing that he is being discriminated against because he has an unusual last name and had already been using the plate for 27 years.

Misinterpreted meanings

People can report licence plates they find inappropriate or offensive, but there are times when the meanings of plates have been misconstrued. An Ontario man with the plate VI6SIX was reported as being ‘666’ or “the mark of the beast.”

In fact, the licence plate was a memorial to the vehicle owner’s father who died when he was young. The plate actually refers to the jersey number (66) of Mario Lemieux and to the Montreal Canadiens. The man and his deceased father celebrated the team’s six wins together.
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