The Calgary charity which is taking the lead in supporting Lorne Grabher, a Dartmouth retiree fighting for his right to a licence plate with his name on it, hasn’t been on the legal scene for long. But it is becoming an increasingly recognized name as it intervenes on a number of high-profile Canadian cases.
The Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms was founded in 2010 by John Carpay. The goal: helping people fight for their rights to individual free expression, religious freedom, and freedom of association.
“We’re pro-charter freedoms,” says Carpay, who was previously Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, and who also ran for office with the (now-defunct) Alberta Wildrose Party in 2012.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) has only been a registered charity for seven years — comparatively, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association was founded in the 1960s, and the American Civil Liberties Union was born in the 1920s. But charity filings suggest JCCF has grown quickly in that time. In 2012, JCCF had one employee and $234,960 in revenue. Four years later, in 2016, it received $1,008,807 in donations, and now boasts a staff of five (one of whom is part-time).
The centre has been selling “Grabher” bumper stickers online to raise funds for Lorne Grabher’s legal battle. Charity filings also say that the group offers “pro-bono” legal support to clients in need.
Grabher says he had a Nova Scotia vanity plate with his surname on it for 27 years without any issues. Then, in response to an anonymous complaint, the Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles rescinded the plate.
“It’s a very compelling case for us to defend freedom against oppressive government action,” says Carpay, because it hinges on the complainant’s “pretend right not to be offended.”
“If we have a right not to be offended, then we do not have freedom of expression. It’s got to be one or the other. So here you’ve got the government pandering to some anonymous individual who feels offended — and they’re trampling on Mr. Grabher’s charter freedoms.”
And Grabher’s is not the only DMV-related imbroglio on the centre’s docket.
This April in Winnipeg, Manitoba, another man was told his sci-fi-themed vanity plate was no longer permitted because of its perceived message.
According to the centre, Nicholas Troller bought an “ASIMIL8” licence plate to reference the motto of Star Trek’s fictional alien group “The Borg.” Troller put the plate in a custom border that said “We are the Borg” and “Resistance is futile.” But the plate was later cancelled by Manitoba Social Insurance: in a letter, they wrote the message was “considered offensive.”
The centre responded, demanding Manitoba allow Troller to share his message once more. A lawyer for the province refused, writing that “The word ‘assimilate’ has become strongly associated with Canada’s residential school system.”
Troller’s battle is ongoing.
Some of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom’s cases, like Grabher’s and Troller’s, involve people becoming entangled in bureaucracy. The centre’s other clients tend to be associated with specific causes considered anathema to leftists and liberals. Men’s rights activists and pro-life groups on campus — as discussed by University of Toronto student newspaper The Varsity — and traditionalist religious schools are a few examples.
The JCCF recently supported Trinity Western University Law School as it successfully sued the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society, after the professional body refused to accredit the school. (TWU is a Christian institution that makes students promise, among other things, not to have same sex-relationships in order to attend.) And the JCCF’s website recently posted a column by Carpay decrying so-called “reality-denying, feelings-worshipping, and equality-obsessed SJWs,” who he perceives as advancing “an anti-freedom agenda through aggressive name-calling, internet activism and other forms of intimidation.”
The organization’s board of directors includes Barbara Kay, a columnist for the National Post who also wrote briefly for Ezra Levant’s news site The Rebel in 2017. JCCF also recently published a report opposing a transgender rights bill, referring to trans identity as “transgenderism.”
While the JCCF hasn’t represented people or groups with left-wing ideologies, “We would, if their free speech rights were threatened,” Carpay says. “We don’t take a position on the issues… the clients we have are based on the reality of what’s going on in Canada.”
For now, Grabher is waiting. A hearing over whether he can have his licence plate back is set for September 5 and 6 of 2018.
Jay Cameron, Grabher’s lawyer, says that this case is about more than a licence plate: “it’s about accountability.” He says right now, a bureaucrat can deny a vanity licence plate if they deem it “is offensive or may be offensive” — and that’s an unreasonable standard. He says regulations should be clear enough that they don’t rely on the whims of a bureaucrat deeming what’s socially acceptable.