Lorne Grabher v. Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles

In an effort to raise awareness about this case, and to support the legal defence of Mr. Grabher, the Justice Centre is selling ‘GRABHER’ bumper stickers. Buy your sticker through the order form below and show your support for free speech, today!

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) has filed a court application against the Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles (the “Registrar”) after it refused to reinstate the personalized licence plate of Dartmouth, NS pensioner Lorne Grabher, whose surname was deemed too “socially unacceptable” for the road.

Lorne Grabher first purchased the personalized license plate as a gift for his late father in 1991.  It has since become a source of family pride, spanning three generations - Grabher’s son has the family name on his own personalized Alberta license plate.

Mr. Grabher received a letter dated December 9, 2016, from the Office of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles which stated that a complaint had been received regarding his personalized license plate. As a result of the complaint, the Registrar decided to cancel Mr. Grabher's plate, despite acknowledging it was an explicit reference to Mr. Grabher's surname. The reason provided for the cancellation was that the plate could be "misinterpreted" as a "socially unacceptable slogan".

The Justice Centre wrote to the Registrar on March 31, 2017. In its letter, the Justice Centre calls out the Registrar’s decision as “discriminatory,” “arbitrary,” “unreasonable” and in violation of free expression as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It further states that the decision is “an affront to the dignity of Canadians, and particularly those Canadians who are not of Anglo-Saxon descent.” The letter advised the Registrar to reinstate the plate or face further legal action. The Registrar responded on April 6, 2017, indicating that it would not voluntarily reinstate Mr. Grabher’s plate.

On behalf of Mr. Grabher, the Justice Centre filed a Notice of Application with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on May 11, 2017. A substantive hearing date is scheduled for April 24, 2019. On February 1, 2018, the court heard Mr. Grabher’s motion to strike the affidavit and “expert” report of Professor Carrie A. Rentschler submitted by the Crown, which cost the Nova Scotia government $15,800 to commission. Mr. Grabher’s motion notes that the expert report is not impartial, objective or relevant, and improperly asserts legal opinions when the author, Professor Rentschler, has no apparent legal training and is unqualified to advance legal opinions as an expert in this case.

On January 31, 2020, Justice Darlene Jamieson denied Mr. Grahber the return of his licence plate.

Justice Jamieson legitimized governments’ use of words like “Dildo”, “Crotch”, “Swastika” and “Sh*t”, and phrases such as “Negro Lake” and “Blow Me Down”, on public property, but ruled that Mr. Grabher cannot use his family name on a licence plate because it might be “offensive”. Justice Jamieson also disagreed with a recent Manitoba Court ruling in finding that “the nature of a [personalized] licence plate is not compatible with free expression.”

She held that “the provincial government cannot sanction having vehicles with government-owned plates traveling the highways of this province and country bearing messages that could be considered ‘offensive or not in good taste.’” A recent ruling out of Manitoba found that personalized licence plates are a form of free expression protected by the Charter, but Justice Jamieson disagreed.

Justice Jamieson relied heavily on the report by Professor Carrie Rentschler, a McGill University professor of “feminist media studies” who specializes in things like “the construction of new political subjectivities,” “emergent forms of social collectivity,” and “the shape and practice of contemporary feminisms in social media networks and hashtag publics.”

Professor Rentschler suggested that the “GRABHER” licence plate supports or increases violence against women; that exposure to cultural slogans normalizes sexual violence against women; that Mr. Grabher’s plate creates an elevated risk of rape; and that Mr. Grabher’s surname is a statement in support of physical violence against women.

During cross examination at trial, Professor Rentschler testified that the neighborhood would be safer if Mr. Grabher put his car in the garage at night than if he left it on the driveway with the plate showing.

Mr. Grabher contends that his last name is not a slogan. For Mr. Grabher, this case and the latest ruling denying him his license plate, is about his family’s name, personal dignity, and the ongoing insult by the Nova Scotia government in its censorship of the plate, as if his surname is not acceptable.

On March 9, 2020, the Justice Centre legal team announced Lorne Grabher will appeal the decision of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Read more updates about this case here.

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