Re: Hypocrisy of the LeftJan 5th, 2019
Whether “assimilation” is by fictional aliens in the television series Star Trek or in real life against Indigenous people, the meaning is the same and should never have been approved for a personalized licence plate, a senior executive with Manitoba Public Insurance says in internal email.
The unusual government discussion of alien species came during panicked discussions by senior staff at the non-profit Crown corporation that approves and issues the province’s licence plates after social media buzz about a Star Trek fan’s personalized plate “ASIMIL8.”
The government immediately cancelled the plate in 2017, after two years of it decorating Nicholas Troller’s truck. For Troller, the phrase is associated with the Borg, a partially cybernetic group of protagonists in the science-fiction series. The Borg grow by assimilating new species into its collective.
His plate was surrounded by slogans reflecting the Borg’s other catchphrases: “We are the Borg” and “Resistance is futile.”
Troller filed a court challenge in 2017, supported by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a conservative non-profit organization that defends constitutional freedoms through litigation.
As part of the court process, government emails from staff at Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) were recently filed in court.
The communications show the plate was cancelled not after a formal complaint but when a social media post was spotted by a government employee. Further, the plate should never have been issued in the first place, Ward Keith, vice-president of communications with MPI, said in emails.
“Are there other plates out there that we need to be concerned about? We need a complete listing for review,” Keith wrote in an email April 24, the day he learned of the plate.
“This is really, really serious and we are considering serious disciplinary action for those who were involved and contributed to approving a plate that is so obviously inappropriate at a time when there was significant media coverage about the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, etc …”
Even after he heard Troller’s explanation that it was a Star Trek reference and not meant as an offensive message about Indigenous people, Keith said it made no difference.
“Even with the rationale he provided, the meaning is the exact same regardless of what race — human or alien — it applies to. My only concern is if we get asked why we issued it in the first place. We are still vulnerable.”
Alarm bells started ringing when a fellow Manitoba government employee saw a Facebook post about the plate and forwarded it to MPI on April 24, 2017, asking: “Is this a real MPI-issued plate?”
By day’s end, a whirlwind of emails had ensued, stretching into the evening.
“I hope the people involved in this mess now see why we take this stuff so seriously and expect some common sense judgment to apply — or at the very least, following our own procedures,” Keith wrote.
Bosses at MPI were asking how the plate passed through the committee set up to stop inappropriate plates from being issued. The documents include a long list of plates that were refused, including INJIN, DRG DLR, and HITNRUN.
The committee, the emails say, searches requested words on the online slang repository Urban Dictionary.
“An Urban Dictionary search was done on the slogan and no hits were found. No concerns were raised to the committee about the slogan,” wrote Dave Burns, manager of licensing services.
In response, Carla Hocken, Registrar of Motor Vehicles, sent a link to the website’s entry on assimilation that defined it in racist terms. Burns replied: “I can’t say with certainty why that entry in the Urban Dictionary wasn’t called out.”
The day after MPI staff heard of the plate, Troller was called to return the plate to any MPI bureau. He said he wouldn’t be able to do that until the end of the week.
“We can’t wait the week,” Burns wrote later that day. Hocken, he said, “wants the plate off the road immediately.”
When Burns called Troller to retrieve the plate, Troller hung up on him, the emails say. Troller asked who had complained but wasn’t told.
The emails show that a complaint was filed, but it came after the decision was already made to pull the plate. It came after an Ontario woman saw the plate on Facebook.
MaryAnn Wilhelm, of Owen Sound, Ont., the outreach director for the NDP’s Aboriginal Commission, said in an interview with National Post she found the ASIMIL8 plate offensive, especially in a province with a large Aboriginal community.
“When I came across this photo on social media, it was pretty blatant to me,” she said. Most people would see it as a racist sentiment rather than a science-fiction reference, she said.
“I was very comfortable going ahead and filing the complaint.”
Once the media learned of MPI’s demand to return the plate, the MPI emails went into overdrive. When CTV asked for comment, debate over “scripting” and messaging ensued and whether a spokesperson should speak on camera. They wondered if CTV might “kill” the story.
“Ward doesn’t want us doing an interview,” Burns wrote on April 27.
Later that day, Troller seemed to accept he had lost the plate and requested a replacement with a different Star Trek reference.
He asked for: LOCUTUS. (The name of an important Borg character.)
The department said he could have it for free — as long as the ASIMIL8 plate was returned and the new plate approved by MPI.
A court date in the challenge has not yet been set.