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Licence liberty: Calgary man allowed to use 'FREE AB' vanity plate
CALGARY -- Several months after a Calgary man was denied his 'FREE AB' vanity plate, the Alberta government has allowed him his freedom of expression.
Tomas Manasek, who came to Alberta from the former Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, first applied to purchase the personalized licence plate on Dec. 10, 2019, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said in a release.
Two days later, Manasek was contacted by Alberta's Registrar of Motor Vehicles. It told him the "FREE AB" plate "did not fit into the guidelines" of the office and could not be used.
No reason was given for the rejection, but Manasek, who ran for the Alberta Independence Party in the last provincial election, said it expressed his desire for "Alberta independence."
"I was kind of disappointed and surprised," he told CTV News. "My impression was we have rights and freedoms as long as we don't ask for them."
He then went to the Justice Centre for help in securing the plate, which then filed a court application on March 12 to allow him use of the plate.
However, before it was heard in court, the registrar reconsidered its position, said James Kitchen, a lawyer with the Justice Centre that represented Manasek.
In a letter addressed to Manasek, dated March 14, the registrar approved his appeal and allowed him to use the plate.
Kitchen said it's "exciting."
"It was a nice moment to have the plate in hand and see it. I was quite excited too, I'll be honest."
He said the fight is primarily about freedom of expression and any situation where those rights are infringed on is never a good thing.
"The government cannot be opening up spaces for expression and then be able to decide based on the content what they let in and what they don't. That's not the government's role," Kitchen said. "If the government can censor licence plates, it's only one step to censoring on the legislature grounds and nobody wants to go there."
While he's glad to be able to use his chosen plate, Manasek said he enjoyed a far larger reward than just the piece of metal.
"People who are willing to defend our democracy and act on a principle," he said. "This licence plate, it was just one point that democracy scored."
Manasek's case is the fourth time the Justice Centre has fought a court battle to secure a citizen's freedom of expression through personalized licence plates.
In 2019, the group managed to secure the return of the personalized plate "NDN CAR" to Bruce Spence, an Aboriginal man living in Winnipeg.
The Justice Centre is also set to represent Lorne Grabher in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
His highly publicized "GRABHER" plate was seized by the Nova Scotia government after 27 years.