A Cree man from Manitoba is losing his personalized licence plate after someone complained it was “offensive.”
Bruce Spence of Winnipeg obtained the “NDN CAR” vanity plate about seven years ago but Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) is now revoking the plate.
“Your slogan ‘NDN Car’ has been identified in our review as phrases or innuendoes that may be considered offensive,” the Crown corporation’s Licensing Services Department said in a February 7 letter to Spence.
“As a result, it is now being recalled as it is prohibited, as per our guidelines.”
Spence, who is a producer at APTN News, disagrees with that assessment.
“I didn’t know how it could be offensive,” he said. “Everybody in Indian Country knows that song.”
The licence plate is a nod to Spence’s heritage and “the Native American national anthem” – the Indian Cars song by Keith Secola and the Wild Band of Indians.
“People ask for pictures of the car or with the car,” said Spence, noting he first had an “an Indian car” when he obtained the plate.
“The bumper was taped up. The muffler was OK; it was old.”
Spence has since updated his ride to a Toyoto Prius but said he still gets honks of appreciation.
He has until February 21 to surrender the plate and accept a $100 refund for what he originally paid for it.
A decision he called “heavy handed and unfair.”
MPI said personalized plates can’t include any “profane, sexually suggestive, racial/ethnic slang, religious or alcohol/drug-related words, phrases or innuendoes that may be considered offensive, suggestive or discriminatory, promote violence, or contain political messages of any description, in any language.”
MPI spokesman Brian Smiley said the corporation was reviewing personal plates after controversy erupted around another Winnipeg man’s Star Trek-inspired ‘ASIMIL8’ plate.
He said MPI received complaints from Indigenous people who found the message offensive and the plate was revoked.
Smiley said Nick Troller of Winnipeg, who had the vanity plate for two years, is now challenging MPI’s decision in court.
A similar argument broke out in Nova Scotia after Lorne Grabher’s personalized licence plate, which reads “GRABHER,” was deemed offensive to women.
And, in Saskatchewan, a man named Dave Assman was twice denied a vanity plate after Saskatchewan Government Insurance called his surname an “unacceptable slogan.”
Smiley said NDN CAR could be derogatory – not complimentary – in some situations.
“We’re trying to be fair on this but again we’re into a culture and a society now where sensitivity is at an all-time high, so we’re going to err on the side of caution on this stuff now.”
Smiley said a committee helps set the guidelines but the final word belongs to the province’s registrar of motor vehicles.
“The plates are owned by the province. If they want to call the plate back that is their right,” he said.
“There really is no appeal system in place.”
Spence, the son of an Indian residential school survivor, is disappointed in MPI’s decision in “this age of reconciliation.”
He said “that settlers want to reconcile with us on their terms” yet he can’t express himself on a personal licence plate.