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Oh, the vanity

British Columbians love personalized plates – and seeing what they can get away with
credit: Joseph Sohm /

The Orca’s Poll Series asked important questions like: is the province heading in the right direction? What do British Columbians think of LNG? If the election were held today, how would you vote?

This is not one of those days.

Earlier this month, The Orca submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to ICBC, asking for the list of all rejected vanity licence plates in the past two years.

It’s a very revealing list.

Unfortunately, the list doesn’t come with any explanation of why the plate was rejected. In many cases, it’s almost certainly just that someone else already has it.

For their part, ICBC is somewhat vague about what’s allowed. Their website simply says “ICBC will not issue personalized licence plates that may be interpreted as vulgar, indecent or offensive.”

“May be interpreted” is a pretty broad brush.


With all that in mind, there are some interesting conclusions to draw.

First of all, British Columbians love personalized license plates. In just two years, ICBC rejected 1,617 of them – more than two per day.

That love could lead to some lucrative business opportunities. For example, whatever far-sighted citizen has the BC plate “CHEEMA” is sitting on a gold mine. Cheema, (can I call you Cheema?) if you’re reading this, ICBC rejected fully eight different applications for your plate, along with one for “CHIMA.”

Let the bidding begin.

Political signalling is also popular – and apparently allowed – but there are limits. Among the rejected plates were MAO, AL AQSA, and…yes…TRUMP.

Some trends defy quick interpretation. No fewer than 58 different plates were rejected that start with “PB” and then a combination of numbers. At the risk of sounding even more out of touch – I have no idea what that’s about.

A lot of rejected plates don’t seem immediately offensive or controversial, but you have to think someone dodged a bullet. 4MYEGO practically begs “please give me a speeding ticket.” Inconvenient, but probably better than the full body cavity searches ILEGAL was asking for. You too, OUT L4W.

In the same vein, FOXXXXX wouldn’t be my first choice to pick up the kids at school, nor XXXMIAO. Speaking of which – really, H8 KIDS?

Others are words you don’t usually see in North American English, but common as pigeons elsewhere. Whoever had BOLLOX rejected missed an opportunity to sound clever and naughty all at once. Condolences.

That said, most of the obviously rejected plates are shots in the dark to see where the “may be interpreted” line might fall (looking at you, BOUDOIR, RINKRAT, and SWINGR), or reek of adolescence – really, BIGEVIL? Who are you going to impress with DAMGOOD or D-BONER?

And who hurt you, X 666 X?

Predictably, there are a looooooot of attempts to sneak the F-word past the censors.

These range from the depressingly obvious (FOX OFF, FOX XOF) to slightly more clever (FUGLY, FAKKAR, PHA-CUE) to apparently and weirdly political (FCK QC.)

And then, finally, there are those plates that really give you pause. Words that make you question your fellow citizens’ humanity.

Hang your head in shame, GOLEAFS.


Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca