CALGARY — Tomas Manasek says he’s thrilled that his beliefs about Alberta independence didn’t end up costing him his personalized FREE AB licence plate.
Manasek, who is 68, has lived in Calgary for the last 35 years. He escaped from a repressive regime in Communist Czechoslovakia in 1977.
Now he’s won a battle to get a licence plate initially rejected by the Alberta Registrar of Motor Vehicles. A rejection letter said the plate didn’t fit within the department’s guidelines.
“They said it doesn’t fit with the guidelines of the program and that they have a right to refuse anything deemed inappropriate. I guess asking for freedom and democracy is deemed inappropriate,” Manasek said.
Manasek, an Alberta Independence Party candidate in last year’s provincial election, fought the ruling with help from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
“This plate is not offensive. It’s not vulgar, so I fail to see any reasons for the rejection,” he said Thursday as he held up his FREE AB licence plate under his chin at his home in southwest Calgary.
“My personal views shouldn’t make a difference. I think our democracy is strong enough to be generous. I’m entitled to my views and I am entitled to promote them.”
Anger over the reelection of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with frustration over delays in completing a pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, sparked an uptick in western alienation sentiment last fall. Some called for Alberta to separate from the rest of Canada.
James Kitchen, a lawyer with the Justice Centre, said the reversal in the plate decision shows that in a free province like Alberta, FREE AB belongs on a licence plate.
“This is a pretty innocuous expression. Free expression is on this guy’s side,” he said.
Kitchen previously lost a court challenge against Manitoba Public Insurance, which had revoked the ASIMIL8 plate of an avid “Star Trek” fan because of a complaint that it was offensive to Indigenous people.
The Justice Centre won the case of a Manitoba Indigenous man, who wanted his NDN CAR plate returned.
The centre is currently representing a Nova Scotia man named Lorne Grabher, whose GRABHER plate was revoked, in a case before the province’s Appeal Court.
Kitchen said the FREE AB case doesn’t belong with the others.
“The other three all have something about them where people could say, ‘I could see why somebody could get upset about that,’” he said.
“This one? I mean how can you get upset about a free Alberta?”
Manasek was low key about his victory.
“I’m quite happy,” he said with a smile.
“I will celebrate when Alberta becomes a republic.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press