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Regina man ordered by SGI to turn in 'MAGAUSA' licence plate

Leader Post logo Leader Post 2019-10-03 Mark Melnychuk
a man standing in front of a car: Rod Kletchko stands near the Saskatchewan Legislative Building next to his Mercedes-Benz, which wears a Saskatchewan license plate bearing the letters MAGAUSA. © BRANDON HARDER Rod Kletchko stands near the Saskatchewan Legislative Building next to his Mercedes-Benz, which wears a Saskatchewan license plate bearing the letters MAGAUSA.

Rod Kletchko believes surrendering his “MAGAUSA” vanity plate to SGI would be the equivalent of selling his soul for 30 pieces of silver.

The plate, which is a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, was approved by SGI and put on Kletchko’s Mercedes SL550 in May.

Last Thursday, Kletchko said he was told by SGI that the plate was no longer approved. He has 30 days to turn the plate in or it will be cancelled. According to the Crown, plates with political slogans are off limits. SGI has offered to refund the cost of the plate and cover the price of a new one.

Kletchko is conflicted. As a supporter of Trump and a proponent of freedom of self-expression, the thought of giving the plate up doesn’t sit well.

“I feel that my integrity is at stake here. So if I capitulate, how good is that for me when I tell everybody to fight for the right of free speech?,” said Kletchko, who operates a point-of-sale equipment and supplies business.
  a sign on the side of a building:  A Mercedes-Benz, belonging to Rod Kletchko, wears a Saskatchewan license plate bearing the letters MAGAUSA. © BRANDON HARDER A Mercedes-Benz, belonging to Rod Kletchko, wears a Saskatchewan license plate bearing the letters MAGAUSA.

According to SGI, Kletchko should never have been issued the plate in the first place. The Crown does not permit vanity plates with slogans that have political connotations, derogatory terms or references to drug use. SGI plates are the property of the Crown, and are not meant to be political in nature.

“It’s important to us that we stay politically neutral, understanding that politics of any sort can be quite divisive in the community. So our objective is to maintain neutrality,” said SGI’s VP of Licensing, Customer and Vehicle Services J.P. Cullen during a phone interview.

Cullen said SGI became aware of the plate after getting three or four complaints. He said Kletchko’s plate was approved “in error.”

“We recognize the inconvenience that we’ve caused this gentleman,” he said.

Kletchko said getting the plate was a nod to the friendly banter between him and his real estate agent, who despises Trump and jokingly refers to Kletchko by the nickname “MAGA.”

Kletchko has a different view of the president.

“Anyone who does their research would know the guy’s not an evil guy. He’s villified,” said Kletchko, who was born in Regina but briefly lived in Dayton, Ohio during his childhood.

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Although he isn’t an American, Keltchko has an affinity for American values and the concept of freedom of speech.

He said he’s never been confronted or experienced any hostility over the plate. He’s baffled by why someone would be so offended that they would contact SGI.

“Are we not supposed to be an open society with freedom of expression and free speech? And now I have to sell my soul, my integrity, for 30 pieces of silver.”

Kletchko understands the plate is the property of the government. However, he doesn’t agree with the policy of not permitting political slogans.

“Anything could be a political slogan. I mean, if you assume that a licence plate means something because you choose to assume that, that’s up to you. I mean, if you choose to be offended, I’m offended that you’re choosing to be offended,” he said.

Cullen said Kletchko has the right to express himself; he just can’t do it through a government-issued licence plate.

“He can use a bumper sticker, he can shrink-wrap his car, he can do all sorts of things. But the fact remains that the licence plate is Crown property, and we don’t allow political slogans on that property,” said Cullen.

Kletchko has yet to decide if he’ll turn the plate in.

“I’m going to think about it. I’m going to see what I should do and what I shouldn’t do. But in giving the plate back for 30 pieces of silver, that goes against every bit of freedom of choice and freedom of speech that I hold dear.”

mmelnychuk@postmedia.com

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