Vehicle registration plates of Canada

Vehicle registration plates of Canada

In Canada, licence plates [The spelling "license" is preferred in the U.S., the spelling "licence" in Canada for the noun and "license" for the verb.] are issued by an agency of the provincial or territorial government. Diplomats and consular staff are issued plates by the province their consulate or embassy is in.

Generally, the appearance of plates is frequently chosen to contain symbols, colours, or slogans associated with the issuing jurisdiction.

Often, licence plates are called "registration plates" (drivers are licensed, vehicles are registered), but the term "licence plate" is common in informal usage. In most licence plates, there is a small sticker, which indicates the month and year of plate renewal, that the driver sticks to the licence plates.

In some parts of Canada, special plates are issued to persons with disabilities having the International Symbol of Accessibility on them, which entitle them to special parking privileges. Some provinces issue a parking permit for people with disability to display the permit on their dashboard to park at designated spots in the parking lot (which are always closest to the shopping mall entrances).

Designs and serial formats

Licence plate numbers are usually assigned in ascending order, beginning with a starting point such as AAA-001. Thus, someone familiar with the sequence can determine roughly when the licence plate was issued. After Ontario's transition to an ABCD-123 format in 1997, plates were issued in ascending order starting with AAAA-001. It took close to ten years to exhaust the supply of plate numbers with A as the first digit. In late 2006, plates with B as the first digit were assigned, and have continued from there sequentially.

Many provinces distinguish their licence plates through distinctive colour schemes and logos, which historically have been changed annually. For example, the reigning monarch's crown has appeared on every Ontario licence plate - including customized plates with no "dash", in the form of a second validation sticker - since 1937. Licence plates of the Yukon have long featured a prospector panning for gold. Northwest Territories and Nunavut, all licence plates are cut in the shape of a polar bear, but meet the standardized mounting guidelines.

Typically, the registration number is embossed or, more rarely, impressed onto the licence plate. Other identifying information, such as the name of the issuing jurisdiction and the vehicle class, can be either surface-printed or embossed

In 1956, the U.S. states and Canadian provinces came to an agreement with the Automobile Manufacturers Association that fixed the size for all their passenger vehicle plates at six inches in height by twelve inches in width, although these figures may vary slightly by jurisdiction. In North America, only Saint Pierre and Miquelon has not adopted these standards. (Although the Northwest Territories and Nunavut plates are cut in the shape of a polar bear, their mounting holes are compatible with those of the rest of Canada and the U.S.) Smaller-sized plates are used for motorcycles and, in some jurisdictions, mopeds and certain types of trailers and construction equipment.

howing current registration on plates

Historically, many Canadian plates were replaced every year, although the most common practice in modern times is to send new validation stickers to vehicle owners every year or two, to indicate that the vehicle registration is still valid.

Tags that are not up to date quickly attract the attention of law enforcement, because registration "renewal" is a transaction that can usually be undertaken only by the car's registered owner, once certain requirements have been met, and because registration fees are a source of government revenue. A delinquent registration tag is often an indicator that the vehicle may be stolen, that the vehicle's owner has failed to comply with the applicable law regarding emission inspection or insurance, or that the vehicle's owner has unpaid traffic or parking tickets. Even with the tags, most provinces previously required that all licence plates be replaced every few years; that practice is being abandoned by many provinces because of the expense of continually producing large numbers of plates.

The sticker is usually placed on one corner of the plate, while the month of the year in which the plate would expire is printed in an opposing corner. Some jurisdictions combine the year and month on one sticker. In others, the plate's validation is a decal displayed from the inside of the windshield. The colour of plate stickers and windshield decals often change annually, to allow for easier detection by police.

Most validation stickers are either serialized (with the serial number recorded on the registration), or are printed by a special printer at the time of registration or renewal with the vehicle's licence plate number on them to discourage fraudulent sticker use, as the sticker will be valid only for the plate for which it was intended.

Temporary licence plates

Each province issues temporary licence plates differently. Ontario issues 10 day temporary permits available one time when a licence holder purchases a used vehicle, as long as the vehicle was legally registered as 'Fit' with the previous owner. An 'Unfit' vehicle (has not passed safety standards with the previous owner) can not be issued a temporary permit. If a vehicle passes safety standards inspection, but does not pass emissions testing it may be issued up to 4, 10 day temporary permits.

Life cycle

Plates typically stay with the owner rather than the vehicle, and motorists usually transfer plates from their previous vehicle to the new one as a cost saving measure. For this reason, in Ontario it is possible to see a brand new vehicle with valid 1973-issue licence plates, while a 15-year-old vehicle may have brand new plates if there were no previous plates to transfer. In Ontario, motorists may also chose to transfer or "sell" any licence plate to a new owner for registration on another vehicle, although this rarely occurs.

Various provinces have different schemes for reissuing licence plates, a process known as "replating." In some jurisdictions, plates are issued on a permanent basis and are not replaced unless the owner requests a new plate or that his or her existing plate be remade. These jurisdictions include New Brunswick and Ontario. Other jurisdictions replate on a rolling basis, replacing a particular motorist's plate when it reaches a certain age. Yet other jurisdictions may recall a particular series of plates for reissuance at regular or irregular intervals. This is particularly common in jurisdictions in which only one licence plate series or design is valid at any given time. Optional-issue plates may or may not follow the same rules for replacement as standard-issue plates, depending on the jurisdiction.


In the Canadian provinces and territories of Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon, licence plates are currently only required on the rear of the vehicle. The remaining provinces, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Ontario, require the licence plates to be mounted on both the front and rear of the vehicle. Dealership plate frames or custom plate frames are allowed as long as the frame does not obstruct view of validation stickers or district. Neon light plate frames are generally illegal, but have been known to be tolerated by most law enforcement, they are sold as off-road-use because they distract drivers' attention from brake lights.

Vanity and specialty plates

In each province but Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec, motorists are given the option of extra-cost "vanity plates" (also known as "personalized" or "prestige" plates), which are licence plates with a custom serial (sequence of letters and/or numbers). Generally vanity plates are not permitted to have profane or obscene messages on them, although standards vary widely among issuing jurisdictions as to what constitutes an unacceptable message.

In some jurisdictions, vehicle owners may also pay extra for "specialty plates". With these, the plate serial is chosen by the licensing agency—as with regular plates—but the owners select a plate design that is different from the normal licence plate. For example, an alumnus or student of an area university might purchase a plate with the school's logo, or an outdoorsman might decide to pay extra for a plate depicting a nature scene. A portion of the extra cost of these licence plates often ends up as a donation for a related school or non-profit organization. In 1996 the province of Ontario issued an optional "Star Trek" licence plate. It was discontinued in the early 2000s. Some jurisdictions allow for some or all of their specialty plates to also be vanity plates, usually for an additional fee on top of the cost of the plate.

Veterans are allowed to have a special licence plate.

In addition, provinces may provide commemorative plates as a standard issue. A number of provinces issued plates recognizing the 1967 centennial of the Canadian Confederation during that year. Several provinces have issued plates commemorating milestones in their own province. Provinces often issue plates with their motto or slogan, such as Quebec's "Je me souviens" and British Columbia's "Beautiful British Columbia." These are arguably also general commemoratives. Saskatchewan's "Land of Living Skies" slogan may be interpreted as a wryly self-deprecating reference to the province's summertime mosquitoes and grasshoppers or a more straightforward nod to the northern lights, aurora borealis.

All provinces offer specialized licence plates for licensed amateur radio operators, in many cases at no extra charge or at a discount compared to standard vanity plates. The owner's radio call sign is used instead of a standard-issue serial.

Ontario considered issuing purple-on-pink licence plates for vehicles where an ignition interlock system has been installed, but never went through with the plan.Fact|date=December 2007

Professional and governmental licence plates

Vehicles owned by the Canadian Forces may circulate on the streets and have white licence plates with a maple leaf and "Canada" written on them.


Cars owned by the federal government in Ontario are in the format FDx-123, not in the usual four-letter format, with the first two letters always being "F" and "D" and the third digit being either a letter or a number. Cars owned by the provincial government in Ontario use standard series plates, but with specialized validation stickers exempt from annual registration. These exempt stickers are yellow with black stripes, informally dubbed "bumblebee stickers". Ontario plates assigned to Members of Parliament are in the format of MHC-123 for Members of the House of Commons and SEN-123 for Senators. Members of the Canadian Cabinet receive CAN-123 plates, with the Prime Minister assigned CAN-001 and remaining members of cabinet assigned numbers sequentially based on order of precedence. Federal court judges receive FCJ-123.

The Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario receives a licence plates that bears an embossed crown rather than a number. Members of Provincial Parliament receive MPP-123 plates. Members of the Ontario Cabinet receive ONT-123 plates, with the premier assigned ONT-001 and remaining members of cabinet assigned numbers sequentially based on order of precedence. Provincial judges receive PJO-123.

New Brunswick

Cars and pickup trucks owned by the Province of New Brunswick also use standard series plates, but with black "Permanent" validation stickers exempt from annual registration.

Municipally-owned vehicles larger than a pickup truck receive plates that begin with M, in the format M12-345.

Diplomatic plates are in the format of DP-123.

The Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick receives a licence plate that bears an embossed crown.

General Registration Licence Plates

In Ontario, motor vehicle dealers licensed under the "Motor Vehicle Dealers Act" use a single portable plate with the word "DEALER" on the left side and red alpha-numeric characters on a white background. It is for exclusive use by motor vehicle dealers only on motor vehicles owned as part of the dealer's inventory of vehicles for sale. It may also be used for private use vehicles that are owned as part of the dealer's inventory of vehicles for sale.

Quebec has a similar scheme. Plate numbers with the prefix "X" followed by five or six digits may be used on any vehicle that is part of a dealer's inventory.

Service providers, including anyone who repairs, customizes, modifies, manufactures or transports motor vehicles or trailers use yellow and black DLR series plates (Dealer and Service Plate).

A Service Plate may be used:

* on a trailer or motor vehicle other than a motorcycle or motor-assisted bicycle for purposes related to the repair, road testing, customization or modification of the vehicle, if the vehicle is in the possession of the person to whom the service plate is issued, or
* for the purpose of transporting the vehicle by a person engaged in the business of transporting vehicles, or
* for purposes related to the manufacturing or sale of a trailer, or
* for the purpose of towing the vehicle by a person engaged in the business of transporting vehicles, or
* to tow a vehicle to a location where its load will be removed or to an impound facility.

Private use of motor vehicles or trailers with a service plate is not permitted.

Diplomatic licence plates

The diplomatic plates are issued by the province in which the consulate or embassy is located. Thus, most plates are issued in Ontario, where the capital Ottawa is located. The Ontario plates are white on red. There is no country coding so that the general public can target particular diplomats. The plates have been permanent since 1987 and have a 3-number, 3-letter format, coded as follows:

* CDx = Diplomat
* CCx = Consular
* XTx = Non Diplomatic Embassy Staff
* XOR = Foreign missions without diplomatic status.

Ambassadors or Heads of Missions use plates in the 010 to 019 number series, i.e., starting at 010-CDA.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office is the main user of XOR plates.

ee also

* History of US and Canadian license plates
* Canadian veteran licence plates
*Vehicle registration plates of the United States


External links

* [ Current High-Issue License Plates (U.S. and Canada)]
* [ A Pictoral History of British Columbia Licence Plates]
* [ License Plates of North America, 1969-Present]
* [ Quebec (SAAQ)]

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