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Have you heard the one about the province that made licence plates people couldn’t read and then fined a driver for having licence plates people couldn’t read?

John Petrosoniak had previously tried to have his faded and peeling plates replaced at Service Ontario, but the folks there told him he would have to pay a $59 fee, because the plates were more than five years old, according to a recent CTV News Toronto article. Petrosoniak refused and was later stopped in mid-March and charged for driving with “entire plate not plainly visible.” He was given a $110 ticket. Petrosoniak is determined to fight the fine in court.

It’s an ironic twist, considering that the current Ontario provincial government is responsible for creating thousands of licence plates people had trouble reading.

The fiasco was dubbed “Plategate” and occurred in February 2020. That month, Ontario launched its new license plates. They were blue with white numbering and the slogan “A Place to Grow.” A spokesperson for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services declared them “stronger, brighter and longer lasting than the current Ontario licence plate.” About half a second later, drivers began to tweet that the new “brighter” license plates could not be read at night. The City of Toronto maintained that they posed “visibility challenges to both photo radar devices and red-light cameras.”

Kingston Police Sgt. Steve Koopman tweeted a photograph of a vehicle parked with a barely discernible license plate.

Faster than you could say, “After thorough testing by law enforcement and other key stakeholders, we are following their advice and will not be moving forward with the new plate for passenger vehicle use,” they were gone.

That Ontario charges drivers to replace old faded and peeling plates is odd, considering the government just eliminated license plate renewal fees and stickers. If you’re not charging for these, why pin a $59 bill on someone who has aged plates and just wants to have new ones? It’s not John Petrosoniak’s fault his plates are faded and peeling, it’s the fault of governments who produce lousy licence plates.

After all, it is possible to build plates that last. Prince Edward Island introduced new ones using 3M Reflective Licence Plate Sheeting in 2017. There was no trouble and the province was nominated for “Best License Plate” by the Automobile Licence Plate Collectors Association. Of course, PEI has a history of licence plate acumen. In 1973, it won “Best Licence Plate.” Little Prince Edward Island!

First introduced in France in 1893, licence plates are often a source of peculiar controversy. Normally, these incidents involve a man (it’s almost always a man) who wants a personalized plate that others find objectionable.

Some cases are quite simple. In 2020, many COVID-19 inspired plates were rejected. Among them, “FKCOVID and FKCOVD19.” There were also the scatological rejects, such as “DR PP, FARTER, GOT POOP.” An Alabama man had his “LGBFJB’ – which translates as “Let’s Go Brandon” accompanied with a vulgar dig at the U.S. President – rejected as objectionable.

In other cases, it’s more complicated. Lorne Grabher, of Nova Scotia, recently lost his six-year quest to use the personalized plate “Grabher.” Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear his appeal. In August, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal upheld a Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision that Grabher’s constitutional rights were not violated by cancelling his plate. The “Grabher” plate was deemed offensive in 2016, despite the fact that it’s not profanity, it’s his name (he’s of Austrian-German descent) and he’d been using it for 27 years at that time. The court maintained that without any context, “Grabher” could be offensive to some citizens.

Licence plates. More proof that human beings can take something very simple (a rectangle with numbers and letters on it) and make it very fraught and complicated.

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