’Grabher’ licence plate does not incite sexual violence, former researcher tells court
April 24, 2019
April 24, 2019 4:46 PM EDT
Lorne Grabher displays his personalized licence plate in Dartmouth, N.S. on Friday, March 24, 2017. Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS
HALIFAX — A former sex researcher has told a Nova Scotia court she doesn’t believe that a licence plate bearing the surname of a retiree — “Grabher” — would promote sexual violence against women, as the provincial government has alleged.
Debra Soh, a science journalist and former academic researcher, testified in Nova Scotia Supreme Court that the word would have no impact on the average, socially adjusted person.
She said she wouldn’t expect anyone to act in a sexually violent way after seeing the plate unless they were anti-social and already predisposed to such behaviour.
“A licence plate on the road is not going to be a risk factor as to whether someone commits and offence,” said Soh, who has a PhD in psychology from York University and describes herself as an expert in treating sexual offenders.
Lorne Grabher has been trying to reinstate his personalized plate since it was revoked in 2016 by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles following an anonymous complaint from a woman who said the plate showed hatred toward women.
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Grabher purchased the plate as a gift for his late father in 1989, and he says it expressed pride in his family’s Austrian-German heritage.
A stocky, grey-haired man, Grabher listened intently Wednesday as Soh testified. She spent most of the day on the stand during the first day of the hearing before Justice Darlene Jamieson.
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Though Jamieson accepted Soh as an expert witness, the lawyer representing the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, Jack Townsend, told the court Soh did not have academic degrees or professional affiliations related to the media, language, communications or women’s studies.
Soh argued that as a science journalist she keeps up with the latest research that focuses on why men commit sexual offences.
Townsend also took issue with a 20-page report Soh prepared for the court, citing a number of assertions that he said were not supported by citations pointing to peer-reviewed research.
And when Townsend asked Soh a series of questions about the degree to which sexual assault is a problem in Canada, Soh responded that the country was facing many problems, all of which required resources to solve.
She went on to say that removing Grabher’s licence plate from public view wouldn’t accomplish anything in terms of reducing sexual violence.
Outside the court, Soh said she believed the province was “overreaching.”
Though she agreed in court that a “cultural slogan” on a government-sanctioned plate might carry some degree of authority, she insisted that wouldn’t be enough to incite a psychologically healthy person to become sexually violent.
In March 2017, a government spokesman said the plate wasn’t related to obscene comments made by Donald Trump in 2005 and released during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, in which Trump said he grabbed women by the genitals.
Soh’s report said there was no legitimate evidence to suggest the plate would conjure any associations with Trump’s lewd comments.
“Even if it was a reference to Mr. Trump’s comments, I don’t believe this would promote someone to go out and commit a sexual offence.”
Soh was retained by the Justice Centre for Academic Freedoms to respond to a report prepared by Prof. Carrie Rentschler, a communications studies professor at the McGill University in Montreal.
The hearing is slated to continue on Thursday.