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Nova Scotia refuses man's licence plate showing surname Grabher

Lorne Grabher displays his personalized licence plate in Dartmouth, N.S. on Friday, March 24, 2017. The Nova Scotia government has withdrawn a man's eponymous personalized licence plate, saying Lorne Grabher's surname is offensive to women.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Nova Scotia government has withdrawn a man's eponymous personalized licence plate, saying Lorne Grabher's surname is offensive to women when viewed on his car bumper.

Grabher says he put his last name on the licence plate decades ago as a gift for his late father's birthday, and says the province's refusal to renew the plate late last year is unfair.

"What you're doing to me is you're discriminating against my name," he said. "This director at the motor vehicle branch, she thinks she's God."

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However, Transport Department spokesman Brian Taylor says while the department understands Grabher is a surname with German roots, this context isn't available to the general public who view it.

In addition, there was a complaint from a woman last October who said she regarded the plate as being hateful towards women.

The personalized plate program introduced in 1989 allows the province to refuse names when they're deemed offensive, socially unacceptable and not in good taste.

"This plate was originally applied for later that year (1989)," said Taylor in an email. "So, fair to say the regulations and program were in their infancy. It would likely have been approved at that time because it came in as the individual's last name, and the person processing it did not interpret it as it could be today."

He provided a list of a wide variety of name applications rejected since then by the province, including words such as Ficaca, Callgl, Dognut and Eseguy.

Taylor said the rejection of Grabher's licence wasn't related to obscene comments made by Donald Trump in 2005 and released during last fall's U.S. presidential campaign, in which Trump said he grabbed women by the genitals.

"It (Trump's comment) wasn't referenced in any official correspondence I saw," said Taylor.

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Other provinces also have rules on what people can put on their licence plates, though wording varies.

In Ontario, the provincial website says names can be rejected if they are objectionable due to "sexual messaging or meaning," as well as "abusive, vulgar, derogatory, obscene or profane language."

However, Grabher says his son was able to use his surname on an Alberta licence plate without difficulties.

"It was no problem whatsoever, and he sent me one of his and I put it on the front of the car," he said.

A spokeswoman for Service Alberta said each request is approved individually, adding that the applicant has to submit the "intended meaning," and in Grabher's son's case the licence was approved because it's a name.

In Alberta, restrictions on plate names include that they cannot contain foul language or have "sexual connotation."

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Grabher said when he originally applied for the personalized plate in Nova Scotia it was a smooth process.

"Back then, there was none of this crap. I just went in and told them what I wanted and they wrote it out and sent it away," he recalled.

Taylor says the list of acceptable names on licence plates is always evolving, "as slang and language also continue to change and evolve."

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