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Court battle looms over licence plate

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WINNIPEG—A “Star Trek” fan who had to give up a personalized licence plate says the Manitoba government is acting like a villain on the science fiction series.

Nick Troller is heading to court next month to try 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 said 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's being assimilated by the government bureaucracy and losing his freedom of expression.

“The irony of the rescission of my freedom of expression is not lost on me: I have been assimilated by the bureaucratic machine,” Troller's affidavit reads.

“The individualized expression on the plate has been subsumed and erased,” it adds.

“Like the Borg, MPI is vastly more powerful than I,” Troller noted.

“And like the Borg, it feels no need to explain itself to the people in its path when it suddenly reverses course.”

In his affidavit, Troller said his licence plate clearly was tied to the “Star Trek" series. It was in a frame that contained other phrases from the Borg, including "Resistance is futile" and "We are the Borg.”

Manitoba Public Insurance has not yet filed a response to the legal action, but previously has said it retains the right to recall plates that might be considered offensive.

“The corporation's position in this matter was clearly stated in the letter to the customer,” spokesperson Brian Smiley wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

“With legal proceedings impending, Manitoba Public Insurance respectfully has no further comment to provide,” he added.

According to MPI's policy, licence plates can't contain words, phrases, or innuendoes that “may be considered offensive.”

Even after they are issued, the plates can be recalled since they are the property of the Crown.

Troller's case is similar to a legal battle over a personalized licence plate in Nova Scotia.

Lorne Grabher had his plate with the text “GRABHER”—his last name—revoked after it was deemed offensive to women.

Both Grabher and Troller are being supported in their court cases by the Calgary-based, non-profit Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

In its court application, Troller's lawyer said the revocation of the licence plate contravenes the freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

An initial court hearing on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 16.

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