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Monday, November 29, 2021

Replacement plan for Ontario’s new licence plates still in the works year after concerns raised

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It has been more than a year since concerns were first raised publicly about the visibility of Ontario’s redesigned blue licence plates, but several months after the plates were ultimately sidelined the government says a replacement plan is still in development.

“Blue plates continue to be valid until further notice,” Gillian Sloggett, a spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Government and Consumer Services Lisa Thompson, told Global News on Tuesday.

“The blue plate replacement plan is still in development as our focus has been on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the time comes, Ontarians who received the blue licence plates will receive instructions on how to replace their plates.”

Brian Patterson, president and CEO of the Ontario Safety League, is one of those who have expressed concerns over the safety issues surrounding the usage of the blue plates across the province, especially at night when there have been many instances reported of a lack of visibility of the numbers and letters.

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Patterson said while the Ontario Ministry of Transportation has been overwhelmed with a multitude of issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, he called for the plates to be fully replaced by the end of the Ford government’s mandate in 2022.

“They become invisible at times … the letters themselves disappear. There hasn’t been a fix for them because I don’t think it is fixable. I think going back to the other licence plates is a fix,” Patterson told Global News.

“If I see an impaired driver, if I see someone speeding recklessly and carelessly, I need to be able to get it right so if I can’t read the plate correctly, it just screws up the whole process down the line. I mean if I call in a correct plate number, it gives the police a number of options.”

It was in April 2019 when Ontario residents learned as part of that year’s provincial budget process the government was changing the plates.

At the time, officials said the licence plate redesign cost $89,000 but were quick to add that there could be up to $4 million in savings by changing the manufacturing and going to a universal licence plate size versus the specialty size currently being used in Ontario. It was also said that current stock would be cleared out before ordering new plates.

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Also, there were issues with the durability of some of the old stock of licence plates that predated the Ford government. For instance, there were a batch of plates that experienced peeling issues.

The plates started to be handed out at ServiceOntario locations months later. However, in mid-February, posts on social media called attention to the problems viewing the characters on the plates. A post by a Kingston police officer late on Feb. 15, 2020, showing near-invisible letters and numbers went viral, prompting questions and concerns to be raised.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request recently obtained by Global News outlined how the government worked to respond to several media requests looking for comment, including from international organizations.

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FIle photo. New Ontario licence plate.

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As part of the messaging at the time, the government stressed there were multiple consultations with “key stakeholders” and law enforcement agencies. Officials said the new, blue, high-definition plates were tested using “advanced plate reader technology (ALPR) under multiple visibility conditions and the plates were successfully read under those conditions.”

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An information memo relating to ALPR from Ontario Provincial Police included in the FOI request and dated Nov. 7 confirmed two tests were done by the service. Police said ALPR devices could read the plates, but (at the time of the memo at least) the service only had 35 cruisers with ALPR technology and there are only 100 cruisers across approximately 35 police services with the same capability.

Under a section entitled “risk,” there was information that was redacted, citing a provision of FOI legislation that allows refused to “disclose a record where the disclosure would reveal advice or recommendations of a public servant, any other person employed in the service of an institution or a consultant retained by an institution.

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) traffic committee provided “a few items” for “consideration” on Nov. 15, 2019, with respect to the proposed licence plates design. Those comments were redacted and it’s not known what advice was provided. Also, there haven’t been recent concerns shared publicly by policing agencies with respect to the blue plates.

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