Thursday, November 18, 2010


A few years ago, there was a controversy over license plates belonging to Whitby clergy, Reverend Joanne Sorrill. It appeared that she had been given a gift of personalized plates for her 50th birthday some 20 years earlier. These same plates, acceptable in 1987 were considered offensive in 2007. Clearly, someone at the provincial motor vehicle license bureau was far more worldly than the rest of us. "Rev Jo" were the letters on the plate. These apparently promote speeding and drinking particularly when seen on the vehicle of a septuagenarian. Eventually, she was able to renew her plates and a story that appeared newsworthy became yet another folly of beaurocracy.

In 2008, Edward Johnston tried to replace his nine year old worn plates. They said "BILT4SPD". His application was denied. According to the Windsor Star, April 24, 2008, the personalized license review committee said "his plates could be considered by some members of the public as contradicting the ministry's mission to promote road safety as it could be perceived to denote speeding or racing." Apparently, rules for personalized plates have been revised since Mr. Johnston originally purchased his, so the ministry feels they are within their rights to revoke and cancel plates which a person has paid for and owned for many years.

The Ministry of Transportation now has a ten member review committee which meets weekly to determine whether proposed plates are acceptable or whether they fall under the guidelines of obscene, derogatory, racist or contain words about drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, criminal activity, politics, trademarks and religion. According to the Toronto Star, October 28, 2010, " more religion referencing plates were rejected than those that referred to sex, violence and alcohol."

I have inherited two sets of personalized license plates. One set has the letters "I E W" on it. They belonged to my mother and those were her initials. Should these letters be considered a short form for an offensive phrase at some future time, will I be forced to return them? My dad's former plates which now reside on my car have the word "Weinheim" on them. This is the name of the town where we were both born. Translated it means "home of wine". Does this not promote drinking? Will I likely be losing these plates?

I totally agree with a review committee for the purpose of looking at "new" requests for vanity plates. In fact, I believe that this is necessary since some people are unable distinguish between humour, creativity and impropriety. On the other hand, the committee should also use a modicum of common sense and I feel that they should leave existing plates alone.

Having said all this, I'm wondering where the review committee was when the plate that I observed today was approved. Perhaps, it wasn't a vanity plate. Maybe it was just one that was issued in sequence along with all the rest beginning with the letter "B". If that's the case however, what are the odds that it would be followed by the word "JOB"?

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