HALIFAX — A legal battle over whether Nova Scotia violated the constitution when it ruled a man's personalized licence plate was offensive to women is expected back in court with fresh arguments on Wednesday.
Lorne Grabher had his licence plate with the text "GRABHER" — his last name — revoked last year after government officials agreed with a complainant that it was a "socially unacceptable slogan."
Grabher's lawyers say they'll provide the Nova Scotia Supreme Court with an amended affidavit stating that the regulation is so vague that it violates the freedom of expression guarantee in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
His previous application argued that the provincial decision itself was unconstitutional, while the new motion goes after the law itself and claims its wording is imprecise.
"The restriction of a fundamental freedom ... cannot be justified on the basis it 'might be offensive.' 'Might be offensive' provides certainty of law to neither the registrar nor the citizen," says the legal document prepared by lawyers with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
"The requirement that laws be precise is fundamental to the rule of law and constitutionalism."
John Carpay, a spokesman for the group, said in an interview that it's absurd and arbitrary that an ordinary citizen's last name should be determined to be offensive.
He says allowing the decision to stand would create wider dangers to guarantees of freedom of expression.
"The single biggest threat to freedom of expression is this notion that some people have that they have the right not to be offended. If that becomes the law of the land ... then we have no more freedom of expression," he said.
"The very purpose of freedom of expression is to allow for speech that is offensive."
Grabher wants his name reinstated on the plate, and the 69-year-old has argued he shouldn't face discrimination just because his name is unusual, adding that his family had used the plate for 27 years.
He has said his last name is a point of pride for his family and its Austrian-German heritage.
Nova Scotia's Justice Department was not available for comment on its plans for the legal action.
Transport Department spokesman Brian Taylor has said while the department understands Grabher is a surname with German roots, this context isn't available to the general public who view the plate.
The personalized plate program, introduced in 1989, allows the province to refuse plates deemed offensive, socially unacceptable or in bad taste.
A similar case involving a "Star Trek" fan who had to give up a personalized licence plate is reportedly scheduled to go before the Manitoba courts later this month.
Nick Troller is seeking to regain his licence plate that bears the message "ASIMIL8."
It was confiscated in April by the Crown-owned Manitoba Public Insurance after two Indigenous people complained the word "assimilate'' is offensive because of the long history of government assimilation policies.
But Troller says his plate refers to the catchphrase "you will be assimilated'" that is used on "Star Trek: The Next Generation'' by aliens called the Borg, who absorb their enemies into a hive-like collective.
In an affidavit, Troller said he was being assimilated by the government bureaucracy and losing his freedom of expression.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press