HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government has to reimburse a retiree for a court skirmish over a report suggesting a licence plate bearing his family name supports sexual violence against women.
Lorne Grabher has been trying to reinstate his personalized licence plate since it was revoked in 2016 by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles following an anonymous complaint about the plate.
He was awarded $750 in court costs in a decision released this week, although he won’t actually be getting a cheque. The money matches the $750 that Grabher was to have paid the Crown for an earlier skirmish over an affidavit.
The same-costs award “will do justice between the parties,” said Supreme Court Justice Pierre Muise in a decision released Thursday.
In February, Grabher’s lawyer, Jay Cameron, had fought to strike a Crown report linking the plate, which reads “GRABHER,” to derogatory comments about women made by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The report was done by McGill University professor Dr. Carrie Rentschler, who has expertise in communications and gender studies. She referenced Trump’s boast that he could grab any woman he pleased by her genitals, which was caught on a 2005 tape released during his presidential campaign.
At the time, Cameron argued that Rentschler’s report did not consider “GRABHER” as a name, but instead inferred that the plate was a direct reference to Trump’s controversial statement.
“There is zero evidence in this case that refers to Donald Trump, with the exception of this report,” said Cameron in February.
“I think that the court should ask itself whether or not the freedom of expression of Canadians is influenced in any way by comments by a foreign dignitary.”
Crown lawyer Alison Campbell had argued that the report is relevant and necessary in deciding the case, saying the expert was simply asked to objectively determine: “Is this phrase offensive?”
“Dr. Rentschler’s report is not a salacious magazine. It is a review of academic literature on the ways in which gender violence is represented and reinforced in society,” said Campbell, adding that the report notes that language can take on new meaning as the context changes.
The hearing of Grabher’s motion in February took around 2.5 hours — around the same amount of time it took to hear the registrar’s motion to strike portions of Grabher’s affidavit.
In his decision this week, Muise said he partially granted Grabher’s request to strike the report, saying the opinion expressed would need to undergo “substantial revisions” before it could be admissible in court.
Grabher first purchased the personalized licence plate as a gift for his late father around 1990. It then became an expression of family pride in their Austrian-German heritage.
His case will resume in early September, when he will make constitutional arguments against the registrar’s regulations and its decision to revoke the plate.