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Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of Nova Scotia’s man’s ‘Grabher’ licence plate case

Lawyer’s had maintained Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruling violated right to freedom of expression
The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear an appeal by a Nova Scotia man who was seeking to reverse the revocation of his personalized licence plate bearing his surname, “Grabher.” Lorne Grabher displays his personalized licence plate in Dartmouth, N.S. on Friday, March 24, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

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.

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 Grabher’s lawyer, Jay Cameron of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

Cameron said there was no evidence “whatsoever” that 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,” 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 does apply to personalized licence plates. 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 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 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 Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantees of “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.”

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.

— Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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