A Nova Scotia man’s long fight to get back a personalized licence plate bearing his surname, “Grabher,” came to an abrupt end Thursday as the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear an appeal of his case.
As is customary, the court did not give reasons for its decision in denying Lorne Grabher leave to appeal.
Mr. Grabher’s defence team had maintained that a previous Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruling violated his right to freedom of expression.
“We are disappointed with the decision,” said Mr. Grabher’s lawyer, Jay Cameron of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
Mr. Cameron said there was no evidence “whatsoever” that Mr. Grabher’s licence plate had caused harm to anyone in the community at large. He pointed out that the surname is of Austrian-German origin.
“In order to make his name mean anything, you have to anglicize his name and add words to it, which is what the government has done and then it has censored them,” Mr. Cameron said in an interview. “I think that there is still a problem with the way that the law is being interpreted here.”
He pointed out that a “Grabher” plate is currently in use in Alberta, while he said a Manitoba court had previously ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does apply to personalized licence plates. Mr. Grabher was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
His Nova Scotia plate, which he had for nearly 30 years, was recalled by the province’s Registrar of Motor Vehicles in December, 2016, after it received a complaint that the word promoted hatred toward women.
He first took the matter to court in 2017, arguing the registrar’s decision violated his Charter rights to equality and to freedom of expression.
The case came before the country’s top court after the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal unanimously ruled last August that the trial judge was right to conclude that Mr. Grabher’s licence plate was not an area to which freedom of expression applied.
Writing on behalf of the three-judge appeal panel, Justice Cindy A. Bourgeois also noted that the licence plate could in fact be interpreted as a call to gender-based violence.
In Mr. Cameron’s submission to the Supreme Court, he argued that the question to be settled by an appeal was whether government-owned personalized licence plates should be excluded from the scope of the Charter’s guarantees of “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.”
Mr. Grabher’s case was not the first licence-plate case to be taken on by the Alberta-based justice centre.
In June, 2020, the centre successfully got the Alberta Registrar of Motor Vehicles to reverse a decision denying Tomas Manasek his personalized FREE AB licence plate. It also won a case involving a Manitoba Indigenous man, who wanted his NDN CAR plate returned.
Another court challenge against Manitoba Public Insurance proved unsuccessful, after it had revoked the ASIMIL8 plate of an avid Star Trek fan because of a complaint that it was offensive to Indigenous people.
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