The Ontario government rejected Patty McConnell's bid for a licence plate that says URBLEST.

CATHOLIC REGISTER PHOTO

The Ontario government rejected Patty McConnell's bid for a licence plate that says URBLEST.

April 9, 2012
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

TORONTO – You may be blessed, but Ontario's Ministry of Transportation wants nothing to do with it. The provincial government won't allow drivers to be randomly blessed on Ontario highways and byways.

Patty McConnell thought she had a simple, uplifting message staked out for a vanity licence plate for her car. She was willing to pay $250 to have URBLEST above her back bumper.

The ServiceOntario products and services office said, oh no you don't.

"The licence plate URBLEST is not appropriate under the Ministry (of Transportation's) criteria," wrote S. Wilde, a ServiceOntario business analyst, in a letter to McConnell.

"Any combination that could be perceived by the general public as religious subject matter, messaging or meaning is not permitted."

That was a shock to McConnell, who drives around in a Smart Car with a plate that reads PEACE4U.

"I never in a million years thought this would be turned down," said the 63-year-old from Burlington. "I'm trying to leave an uplifting, a good message for people."

Persnickety officiousness driven by fear of offence has become typical of the Liberal government, said Progressive Conservative transportation critic Frank Klees.

"I can see why someone might want to dispute the fact that people should communicate that they are blessed in the province of Ontario under the McGuinty government," said Klees.

"They may be more inclined, if they are conscientious, to allow the message that you are cursed."

In fact the ministry has loosened its rules governing religious expression on licence plates, said Ministry of Transportation spokesman Bob Nichol.

"Only a few years ago, no religious phrases at all were allowed, including religious titles," Nichols wrote in an email to The Catholic Register. "Religious titles were allowed in June 2009 and we think that was a positive step that reflected what people want."

But the eight-member ServiceOntario panel doesn't want any hint of proselytizing on plates, which always remain government property.

"Balancing the right of personal expression and community standards is a difficult task," said Nichols.

McConnell can't fathom what sort of community standard she would be violating, or who would be offended.

"Whether you be Christian, Muslim, Jew or any other expression of faith, we all believe in a God who loves us and looks after us," she said. "And that he gives us blessings."

While she can imagine a few atheists dismissing her message as naive, foolish or based in fantasy, she can't imagine them actually being offended.

As far as McConnell is concerned the freedom to express her religion is part of religious freedom and she worries that fundamental rights are disappearing.

"Slowly, in sly ways right now, our freedom really is being taken away," she said.

McConnell is done with appeals and pleading with the government for URBLEST. She's going to try her luck with URLOVED.