In Grabher v. Nova Scotia (Registrar of Motor Vehicles), 2021 NSCA 63, for over 27 years, the appellant applied for, and was granted permission to, display GRABHER on his government-issued license plate. In December 2016, the Registrar of Motor Vehicles (the “Registrar”) advised the appellant that his personalized license plate was to be recalled as it may be misinterpreted as a “socially unaccepted slogan”.
The appellant brought an application in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, where he asked the court to find the Registrar’s decision to recall his personalized license plate, and the regulation that permitted her to do so, contravened his freedom of expression (s. 2(b)) and equality rights (s. 15) guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”).
The hearing judge concluded that the revocation of the appellant’s personalized license plate did not contravene either s. 2(b) or s. 15 of the Charter. The appellant appealed this decision.
Bourgeois J.A. upheld the hearing judge’s conclusion that s. 2(b) rights do not apply to personalized license plates in Nova Scotia. Bourgeois J.A. set out the three-part test, laid out in Montréal (City) v. 2952-1366 Québec Inc., 2005 SCC 62, which required consideration of:
The second prong of the test was the heart of the analysis. Bourgeois J.A. found that the hearing judge was correct in concluding the nature of personalized license plates make the location incompatible with the guarantee of open, free and unconstrained expression (para 71). For the following reasons:
The appellant did not demonstrate the decision to revoke his license plate arose due to his ethnicity. Nor did he establish the Registrar’s action served to perpetuate disadvantages suffered by persons of Austrian-German heritage. The appeal was dismissed (paras 78-80).