New court documents shed light on ASIMIL8 licence plate revocation by Manitoba government

Winnipeg resident Nicholas Troller has filed new material supporting his legal challenge against the provincial government entity, Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI), over its decision to revoke his personalized Star Trek licence plate, “ASIMIL8”.

Mr. Troller, a Star Trek enthusiast, applied and paid the required fee to receive the personalized licence plate “ASIMIL8” (the Plate) in 2015.  MPI approved his application without reservations, 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 Borg from the Star Trek TV franchise.

As is detailed in a recently filed legal brief,  Mr. Troller received a letter from MPI in April of 2017 informing him that the Plate “is considered offensive.” The letter did not state how the Star Trek Plate is considered offensive, or explain how the revocation of the Plate does not unjustifiably infringe Mr. Troller’s freedom of expression. In its letter, MPI informed Mr. Troller that he must surrender the Plate “immediately”. MPI did not provide him any recourse to appeal its decision.

What lead to MPI’s decision to revoke the Star Trek Plate is revealed in a recently filed affidavit. On April 24, 2017, MPI became aware of a social media post by Ontario resident MaryAnn Wilhelm, in which she posted a picture of the Plate and commented that she was “appalled” by the Plate. In the post, Ms. Wilhelm, who happens to be the Outreach Director for the NDP’s Aboriginal Commission, also demanded an apology from MPI for the issuance of the Plate. Ms. Wilhelm then proceeded to contact local media regarding her post.

In response to Ms. Wilhelm’s post and the ensuing media attention, MPI decided on the same day, April 24, to revoke the Plate.

Then, on April 25, after MPI had already decided to revoke the Plate, Ms. Wilhelm submitted a complaint to MPI regarding the Plate. MPI responded to Ms. Wilhelm’s complaint on the same day, stating, in part:

We greatly apologize for this plate having been issued.

We can confirm that the licence plate in question has already been recalled. Your concerns will be forwarded to the Personalized Licence Plate department.

Instead of considering Mr. Troller’s freedom of expression, a constitutional obligation on all government bodies, further emails among MPI staff reveal an obsession with media coverage of the Plate and removing the Plate from Mr. Troller’s possession as quickly as possible. For example, in the hours and days following the decision to revoke the Plate, MPI staff stated to each other in internal emails:

Given the media attention and sensitivity of the issue… I want to be very careful with our response given how sensitive this is. … Shannon, can you offer some wording that we can provide back in terms of our commitment to diversity… Important we get back to [Communication Services Manitoba] before this story runs… They are definitely not killing this story. The plate owner is making a lot of noise: makes for good TV. … Do you think they’ll kill the story on this basis – or at least position MPI as having taken quick action to address once the matter was brought to our attention? I hope they don’t run with it.

[The Registrar of Motor Vehicles] doesn’t want to wait for the customer to attend a broker and wants the plate off the road immediately. … We can’t wait the week. Please contact the customer tomorrow and ensure the plate is returned immediately. … We’ll send the certified letter to the customer and contact him again tomorrow so the plate is off the road immediately.

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

A hearing date for this application has yet to be determined, but will likely occur in 2019.