Court hears free speech challenge to Manitoba Government revocation of “ASIMIL8” Star Trek licence plate

Today, Winnipeg resident Nicholas Troller will get his day in court as his legal challenge against Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) will be heard by the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench (3rd floor, 373 Broadway, Winnipeg, Manitoba).

Troller’s Star Trek themed licence plate

The hearing commences at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, April 8, and is open to the public. 

Mr. Troller, a Star Trek enthusiast, applied to receive the personalized licence plate “ASIMIL8” in 2015, and paid the required fee.  MPI approved his application and issued the plate.  Mr. Troller installed the plate on his family vehicle, along with a licence plate border that stated “WE ARE THE BORG” and “RESISTANCE IS FUTILE”.  The plate and accompanying border are a reference to the fictitious alien race, the Borg from Star Trek.

filed affidavit before the Court details the circumstances that led to the revocation of the plate.  On April 24, 2017, MPI became aware of a social media post by MaryAnn Wilhelm, an Ontario resident who identified herself as working for the New Democratic Party. Ms. Wilhelm complained that the plate is offensive to Indigenous peoples, and shared her complaint with local media. In response to Ms. Wilhelm’s online post, MPI revoked the plate later that same day, April 24, 2017, without giving any consideration to Mr. Troller’s freedom of expression, protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  As is detailed in the Justice Centre’s filed legal brief, Mr. Troller received a letter from MPI informing him that the personalized plate “is considered offensive.”  The letter did not say why the plate is considered offensive, or by whom, nor did the letter acknowledge that revoking the plate is a violation of Mr. Troller’s freedom of expression. In its letter, MPI informed Mr. Troller that he had until May 1, 2017, to surrender the plate, and did not provide him any recourse to appeal its decision.

Mr. Troller seeks a declaration from the Court that MPI’s decision to revoke his personalized plate is a violation of his Charter-protected right to free expression. The court application further seeks reinstatement of Mr. Troller’s plate, and the quashing of the initial decision to revoke it.

This is the first of two court hearings this month that will test the limits of Canadians’ free speech on personalized licence plates.  In both cases, governments had specifically permitted and invited individuals to express themselves on such plates, only to trample on freedom of expression after the fact.

Mr. Troller’s hearing will be followed by a hearing of the case Lorne Grabher v. Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles in Nova Scotia commencing April 23. Mr. Grabher is suing the provincial agency for its decision to revoke his personalized plate depicting his surname, “GRABHER” because it was deemed “socially unacceptable,” despite the “GRABHER” plate having been used by the family for almost three decades. 

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a non-profit charitable organization based in Calgary, is providing pro bono legal representation to both Mr. Troller and Mr. Grabher, to assert their right to freedom of expression.

“These cases matter because of what’s at stake: the right of Canadians to express themselves peacefully, regardless of whether this expression is considered offensive by one or more others,” explains Justice Centre President John Carpay. “There is no right to be free of offence in Canada,” continued Carpay.