Cal­gary man wins ap­peal for ‘FREE AB’ van­ity plate

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - SAMMY HUDES With files from The Cana­dian Press shudes@post­ twit­­my­hudes

A Cal­gary man will be al­lowed a per­son­al­ized “FREE AB” li­cence plate af­ter win­ning an ap­peal of an ini­tial de­nial from the prov­ince.

To­mas Manasek, who ran as an Al­berta In­de­pen­dence Party can­di­date in Cal­gary-fish Creek dur­ing the 2019 pro­vin­cial elec­tion, had ap­plied for the per­son­al­ized plate last December to ex­press his views about Al­berta in­de­pen­dence.

But his ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected by the Reg­is­trar of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ser­vices, which wrote in a December 12 let­ter that his re­quested van­ity plate “does not fit within the guide­lines” of the Al­berta Per­son­al­ized Li­cence Plate Pro­gram.

“The Traf­fic Safety Act pro­vides au­tho­riza­tion for the Reg­is­trar of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ser­vices to refuse to is­sue, or re­call at any time, any li­cence plate con­fig­u­ra­tion that is deemed in­ap­pro­pri­ate for a gov­ern­ment-is­sued li­cence plate,” the let­ter stated.

Manasek ap­pealed the de­ci­sion. On March 12, the Jus­tice Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tional Free­doms also filed a court chal­lenge on

Manasek’s be­half.

The JCCF ar­gued that the Reg­is­trar of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ser­vices had in­fringed on Manasek’s right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion un­der the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms. It also stated that “FREE AB” didn’t vi­o­late any re­stric­tions on the con­tent of per­son­al­ized plates listed by Ser­vice Al­berta, such as the for­bid­den use of eth­nic or re­li­gious slurs, foul lan­guage or po­lit­i­cal slurs.

“Per­mit­ting ‘FREE AB’ on a Per­son­al­ized Plate ad­vances the un­der­ly­ing val­ues of self-ful­fil­ment and demo­cratic dis­course,” the JCCF con­tended in its ap­pli­ca­tion for ju­di­cial re­view.

“Cen­sor­ing ‘FREE AB’ in this space harms th­ese val­ues and pro­tects none.”

A May 14 let­ter from the Reg­is­trar of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ser­vices in­formed Manasek his ap­peal had been granted and he was free to or­der his per­son­al­ized plate for the re­quired fee.

This marks the fourth case in­volv­ing per­son­al­ized li­cence plates that the JCCF has taken to court. In a case that drew con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion, a Man­i­toba man lost his le­gal fight against Man­i­toba Pub­lic In­sur­ance over its de­ci­sion to re­voke a per­son­al­ized “ASIMIL8” plate af­ter re­ceiv­ing a com­plaint that it was of­fen­sive to Indige­nous peo­ple.

A judge ruled last Oc­to­ber it was rea­son­able for the in­surer to re­voke Nick Troller’s plate be­cause the word is con­nected to the Indige­nous ex­pe­ri­ence and gov­ern­ment poli­cies of forced as­sim­i­la­tion.

The van­ity plate had been a ref­er­ence to a slo­gan from Star Trek, ac­cord­ing to Troller.

Also last year, the JCCF ne­go­ti­ated an out-of-court set­tle­ment with Man­i­toba Pub­lic In­sur­ance to re­turn a per­son­al­ized “NDN CAR” plate to Bruce Spence, a Ne­hiyaw man from Opaskwayak Cree Na­tion.

Spence had got­ten the li­cence plate about seven years ear­lier as an ode to “In­dian Cars,” one of his favourite songs by Indige­nous mu­si­cian Keith Secola.

But the plate was re­voked and the in­surer told him in May 2018 it was con­sid­ered of­fen­sive and eth­nic slang. The in­surer later de­ter­mined the plate could be re­turned.

Lorne Grab­her has taken his case to the Nova Sco­tia Court of Ap­peal over his “GRAB­HER” plate, which was re­voked in 2016 af­ter 27 years of use.

The prov­ince re­voked the van­ity plate bear­ing his sur­name af­ter a woman com­plained it pro­moted ha­tred to­ward women.

Grab­her has ar­gued the prov­ince in­fringed on his free­dom of ex­pres­sion, but the Nova Sco­tia Supreme Court said that con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected right does not ex­tend to gov­ern­ment-owned plates.

JCCF lawyer James Kitchen said in a state­ment that the re­ver­sal in the “FREE AB” case is an ac­knowl­edg­ment “that in a free Al­berta, FREE AB is per­mit­ted to be freely ex­pressed on a per­son­al­ized li­cence plate.”

“The Char­ter pro­tects cit­i­zen ex­pres­sion on per­son­al­ized plates,” Kitchen said. “The gov­ern­ment, af­ter invit­ing in­di­vid­u­als to ex­press them­selves on such plates, can­not ar­bi­trar­ily re­ject phrases like FREE AB merely to avoid con­tro­versy or be­cause it dis­ap­proves of the mean­ing or mes­sage of the phrase.”

To­mas Manasek, left, holds his FREE AB plate with lawyer James Kitchen.

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