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Government and Consumer Services Minister Lisa Thompson, seen here on June 20, 2019, said the province is seeking 'feedback' after complaints about the new plates being difficult to read at night.

Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government is facing criticism over the province’s new blue licence plates after police officers and others raised concerns about visibility problems that could hamper investigations.

Government and Consumer Services Minister Lisa Thompson said Tuesday the province is seeking “feedback” after complaints about the new plates being difficult to read at night. But she defended the new design, which she said underwent a “rigorous testing program", and criticized the province’s previous “Liberal plates", which she said were plagued by a defect that saw them peel and become unreadable.

“We are confident in the plate that has been presented. They work," she told reporters at Queen’s Park, adding that the plates use “new technology” found in other provinces and states.

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Ms. Thompson’s office said the Minister consulted with “key stakeholders” on the plates, which were introduced just weeks ago, but did not provide any specifics when asked for more details.

The problem was first raised over the weekend on social media by an off-duty Kingston police officer, who posted a picture of an unreadable plate in a well-lit parking lot at night. Sergeant Steve Koopman of Kingston Police posted the widely shared photo on Saturday on Twitter, asking: “Did anyone consult with police before designing and manufacturing the new Ontario licence plates? They’re virtually unreadable at night.” He did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The new plates are two shades of blue with white writing, replacing ones that were primarily white with blue writing, and also have a new slogan, “A place to grow.”

Joe Couto, a spokesman for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said the association was consulted about the changes, including visibility issues. But he said some problems are now being reported.

“We’ve been getting those concerns … from the front-line officers, who are texting or tweeting out photos of plates at night and saying, ‘This is hard to read,' " he said. “I’ve even gotten a few phone calls from concerned citizens.”

He said licence plate numbers are key to police investigations, including hit-and-runs, impaired-driving incidents and Amber Alerts for missing children. Mr. Couto said there are also concerns about whether hand-held devices will be able to scan the new licence plates. “If anything obstructs the plate ... this is a problem," he said.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the government was in a rush to brand the licence plates with partisan colours, and it backfired.

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“Wrong motivation in the first place, but then to have messed it up so badly, it’s embarrassing," she said.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the government’s defense of the plates as some officers raise concerns “doesn’t make any sense.” He added: “If our police officers are saying I can’t visually see them at night, that is a problem.”

Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario, which represents some 18,000 front-line and civilian members, said he has heard some complaints from local police associations, but he is pleased the province is looking into the matter.

Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, said his organization was not consulted on the plates, but hasn’t yet heard any complaints. “Should concerns or issues arise with our members, we will address them with the province," he said in a statement.

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