Toronto man ordered to give up religiously offensive licence plate

Daniel D’Aloisio has had his vanity plate for 15 years. It reads “VI6SIX”. But now, thanks to a complaint that it is religiously offensive, he may lose it. We’ve heard this story dozens of times before, but this time there’s an interesting twist. Daniel D’Aloisio lives in Toronto, and he’s not an atheist.

Toronto is more often associated with crack-smoking mayors and bad hockey than religious conservativism. But it only takes one complaint. The wording in the Toronto Star article (warning: auto-playing video at that URL) is a little vague, but it sounds like multiple levels of reviewers looked at “VI6SIX” and found it to be offensive enough to demand a recall.

[Daniel D’Aloisio poses with his “VI6SIX” licence plate.]

Daniel D’Aloisio poses with his “VI6SIX” licence plate. (Photo source: Vince Talotta/Toronto Star)

Quick quiz: Can you see what’s offensive about “VI6SIX”?

I honestly couldn’t. I had to read the article to figure it out.

The key is to read the “VI” as the Roman numerals “ⅤⅠ”… which is 6.

See it now? Yup, it’s “ⅤⅠ(6)… 6… SIX”… “666”.

You can probably guess why some Christian would freak out. And yes, it’s almost certainly a Christian who complained.

Interestingly, D’Aloisio is not a Satanist. Nor is he just a non-believer having a lark. In fact, he’s a practising Roman Catholic: I go to church, I was married in a church, my son was baptized in a church. Every day I wear a crucifix on my neck that was my dad’s before he died.

It turns out that the meaning of the licence plate is entirely unrelated to “666” at all. The “VI” is meant to be vie… French for “life”. He chopped of the ‘e’ for reasons of numerology: without the ‘e’, “VI6SIX” is six characters, which symbolizes the six people in his family (at the time he ordered the plate). (And, in my opinion, is a cool idea because it adds a fourth “six” to the mix.)

It turns out D’Aloisio is a huge hockey fan… not for the Leafs, but for a real team: the Canadiens. And his father had been a huge fan with him. Both were enamoured of legendary Penguins centre Mario Lemieux… famously number “66”. In 1993, still at the peak of his game, Lemieux announced he had been diagnosed with cancer… and in-between rounds of radiation therapy – which at one point was so bad he had to miss a whole season (1994–1995) – he broke at least a half-dozen scoring records, even winning the Hart Trophy in 1996 after having taken the entire previous season off. He scored 600 goals in 719 games, second only to Wayne Gretzky managing it in 718… and Gretzky didn’t take whole seasons off for radiation treatments.

One of the reasons D’Aloisio and his father were so inspired by Lemieux was because, like Lemieux, D’Aloisio’s father was diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, unlike Lemieux, cancer took the elder D’Aloisio.

Thus, the plate: “VI” (vie) for life, 6 for the 6 Stanley Cups D’Aloisio and his father saw won together (presumably 1976–1979, 1986, and 1993), “6SIX” for Mario Lemiuex’s number, and 6 characters in total for the six members of the family. You can hear D’Aloisio himself explain the symbolism in the video at the Toronto Star article.

Now I don’t think anyone that reads Canadian Atheist would think the plate “VI6SIX” is offensive… but then again I don’t think most readers would think a plate that read “666 FUCK JESUS” would be offensive either, were it possible. But the bottom line is that licence plates are the property of the province, not the individual, so the content of what is permissible on plates is limited by what the province is allowed to say… not individuals.

The mainstream news media is making a lot of noise about the fact that D’Aloisio has had the licence plate for 15 years, but I call bullshit. If it really is offensive and inappropriate, it does not magically become okay just because it took a while for someone to notice it.

The issue is not how long D’Aloisio has had the plate. Nor is it the meaning he gives to the plate. The issue is whether it is appropriate for the province to be issuing plates with that message.

Consider the following questions:

  • Should the province be allowed to say – via licence plates or otherwise – “666” or “JESUSSUX” or anything like that?
  • Should the province be allowed to say – via licence plates or otherwise – “I♥JESUS” or “GOD RULES” or anything like that?

Are your answers to the two questions above the same? They should be. If not, you’re being contradictory.

Are your answers to the questions above “yes”? That would mean you think the province has a right to proselytize.

It seems to me the only reasonable conclusion is that, while I cringe to admit it, the complainant is correct, and Mr D’Aloisio will have to give up his plates.

On the other hand….

There is a huge gulf between “666” and “VI6SIX”. I’m a Canadian Atheist writer, who is tuned to spot religiously “hot” symbolism, and I didn’t get it until I read the Toronto Star article. It takes a pretty big leap of interpretation to get from “VI6SIX” to “666”, and that leap is not by any means more “valid” an interpretation than D’Aloisio’s secular interpretation is.

So here are some other questions to ponder:

  • Just how far an interpretive leap is acceptable in determining what’s appropriate for the province to put on plates? “JESUSSUX” and “I♥JESUS” are pretty obvious, but what about “JCRLZALL” (Jesus Christ (JC) rules all)? Or even “XISLORD”, where the “X” is meant to be interpreted as the Greek “Χ” (uppercase “chi”) which is one of the symbols for Jesus… and why not Greek letters, if Roman numbers are valid for interpretation?
  • Should the standard of interpretation be “What would the average Canadian would interpret it as?” or “What would the average member of a group supposedly offended by this message interpret it as?”? In this case, I seriously doubt the average Canadian would look at “VI6SIX” and see “666” – I certainly didn’t, and it apparently wasn’t noticed for 15 years. On the other hand, average devout Christians just might be able to pick out the “666” – at least one apparently did. Suppose a plate used a slur that was only recognizable by members of a relatively small group, and opaque to the vast majority of Canadians… whose interpretation gets precedence: the majority, or the offended group?

These are not trivial questions; they require some thought. So what do you think?

18 thoughts on “Toronto man ordered to give up religiously offensive licence plate

  1. Oh reeeeeaaaaallly!!!!!!!

  2. If it was an actual slur, such as Jesus Sucks, then I think he should have to give it up, but just the numbers 666 themselves are not offensive imo.

    My first interpretation of the plate was that it was perhaps a vaguely phonetic “Vicious,” though I do admit that that’s a stretch.

    • > If it was an actual slur, such as Jesus Sucks, then I think he should have to give it up, but just the numbers 666 themselves are not offensive imo.

      Hm, I probably should have been clearer about my own opinions on the matter, but I don’t think the reason “666” should be denied is because it’s “offensive”. I think it should be denied because it’s a widely recognized religious symbol; it should be denied for the same reasons plates that say “Satan” or “Jesus” should be denied… not because some Christians will get their ginches in a twist over it.

      Put another way, if a Christian can’t have a plate that says “God”, then a Satanist can’t have a plate that says “666”. Assuming that actually means anything to real Satanists; I don’t know. But at the very least, it’s widely recognized as “the name of the Beast”, so it’s analogous to using another religious name, like “God” or Jesus”.

      But a plate that says “Darwin” is okay, no matter who it pisses off, because it does not imply any endorsement of religion.

      > My first interpretation of the plate was that it was perhaps a vaguely phonetic “Vicious,” though I do admit that that’s a stretch.

      That’s about what I was seeing, too. The words “victor” and “vexed” and their cognates were what I got stuck on. But ultimately I was scratching my head wondering what “vigsix” or “Vig Six” might mean… or maybe “vissix” or “Vis Six”.

      After I heard D’Aloisio’s explanation, I thought it was brilliant. Even though he used “vi” instead of “vie”, the “6” kinda looks like an upside down “e”, so it still works. So he gets all the elements he wants: “vie” for life, 6 for the 6 Stanley Cups, 66 for Lemieux, and 6 characters overall for his family… all in a neat little number puzzle has no less than 4 different ways of representing the number 6.

  3. “I’m a Canadian Atheist writer, who is tuned to spot religiously “hot” symbolism, and I didn’t get it until I read the Toronto Star article. It takes a pretty big leap of interpretation to get from “VI6SIX” to “666”, and that leap is not by any means more “valid” an interpretation than D’Aloisio’s secular interpretation is.”

    If a USian may butt in–sorry, but I got it right away. Which is to say, I got the purported meaning that was objected to; not anywhere close to what D’Aloisio says it really means.

    No offence to D’Aloisio, but 666 certainly seems to be the Occam’s Razor interpretation. Just when I was thinking, “finally–a personalized license plate I can understand,” along comes the owner stating it’s something different.

    BTW, I find the explanation of one of the sixes being the “number of people in his family at that time” pretty dubious. Who thinks this datum is ever of interest?

  4. It is very simple to get to the correct answer for this. When the Province of Ontario is manufacturing non-vanity plates, does it skip the number 666 in sequence. Basically, if it prints…
    SAMP 664
    SAMP 665
    SAMP 666
    SAMP 667
    SAMP 668

    then the ministry has no right to confiscate the plate… can’t have it both ways. If they have been purposely skipping 666 since before they issued his vanity plate, then they might have an argument.

    Then again, if they are not skipping numbers that are “offensive” to other cultures and religions, then they are giving Christians special treatment.

    • You’re right. A colleague instructing at a technical school in Moose Jaw was issued a 666 plate when he asked for a plate number that was easier to remember.

      He is one of those fine featured men with Hindu ancestors. With his black eyebrows and slender nose he can do a respectable Beelzebub impression.

      Moose Jaw is a big Knights of Columbus town as well as having been one of the few places that ever hosted a kkk parade.

      We teased his new plates during supper at Bonanza and had to spend some time explaining the symbol-ogy to the religiously aligned. All in good fun. After considering the student-teacher relationships he exchanged the plates, at a $10 cost, for something more difficult to remember.

    • Rented a car in Toronto once to go to the funeral of a baby who was accidentally killed – license plate was 666-CRY – creepy if you are into that stuff.

  5. I get that the reason this is even an issue is because of the of the province’s involvement, but this is pushing the bounds of common sense. Going with your hockey reference, should Miroslav Satan be refused a plate with is name on it because some idiot decides the reference is biblical and not purely personal?
    And by the way, as a proud Torontonian, screw you for the simple minded back hand to our city. You are welcome to come here any time and I will be happy to show a “city of neaighborhoods”,unparalleled by any other city in the is fair country. Bar none!

    • > Going with your hockey reference, should Miroslav Satan be refused a plate with is name on it because some idiot decides the reference is biblical and not purely personal?

      Yes.

      I don’t see how the fact that it happens to be his name means anything. What if his name had been “FUCKWHITES”? (And even better, imagine replacing “whites” with any commonly targeted minorty group.) Even though it’s that person’s name, wouldn’t you agree it should be denied because “some idiot” decides the reference is not “purely personal” to the owner?

      The fact that there may be alternate interpretations of things like “SATAN”, “JESUS”, “666”, and so on does not change the fact that the primary interpretation most reasonable Canadians will leap to is the religious one.

      Further, what is this “some idiot” bullshit? Everyone here recognizes the religious significance of “666”. Not a single commenter has asked: “Wait, what does this ‘666’ thing mean, anyway?” It’s not some obscure thing that’s only relevant to a small, culturally unrecognized group. Don’t play stupid; be intellectually honest. *You* know that “666” has powerful significance to large numbers of people, and even those that aren’t *offended* by it recognize it as a symbol *intended* to twerk the knobs of Christians. You’re as much “some idiot” as anyone: If you saw “666” on someone’s plate, you would *NOT* think “Mario Lemieux and the Habs’ 6 Cups”; you would absolutely think it has something to do with the Devil or Satanism. You may not *care*… you may not think it matters that it bothers Christians… you may even *applaud* the fact that it upsets them… but seriously, don’t pretend you don’t know that it does.

  6. Given the fact that there are no single texts upon which the xtians big book of bad ideas is based and that the texts upon which this badly written snuff porn slasher novel is based are copies of copies of copies ad infinitum of the no longer in existence originals and that there are a number of Greek manuscripts that identify the number as 616 I think that the ministry should also pull any and all “616” plates.

    And plates with the numbers 4, 5, 7 (unlucky in Chinese culture) and 13.

    • This is not about scouring obscure superstitions or religious references to find *EVERY* reference that possibly has *ANY* supernatural meaning to *ANYONE*. Nor is it about refusing to recognize widely-held religious interpretations just because of shaky documentation validating their origins. Mindless absolutism is unwelcome in reasoned discourse.

      It is about looking at the general social context, and identifying references that *most average and reasonable people* would identify as religious. If you gathered up 1,000 Canadians you’d be lucky to find 2 that were even aware of “616”. “666” on the other hand is almost universally recognized, and it is almost universally recognized as something with broad deep and emotional religious significance. Every metalhead in Canada knows you can use 666 to flip off Christians or mainstream religion in general. No one here has asked what “666” means. Everyone knows (at least vaguely).

      The same logic gets applied for everything, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the same answer in all cases. In the case of “(un)lucky” numbers, while some of them may be widely recognized, none of them are widely recognized as something with broad deep and emotional religious significance. Sure, most people recognize 13 as an “unlucky number” (or 4 or whatever), but most people don’t feel *offended* or upset at the sight of it. Virtually nobody in Canada raised an eyebrow at Mats Sundin skating around in #13 (or Bobby Orr in #4 or whatever)… but I *guarantee* you there would have been an outcry at a player wearing #666.

      For another example, consider “MARY”. While there’s no doubt that many Catholics might be reminded of the “Virgin” Mary, even *they* wouldn’t think that was the only or even the most reasonable interpretation. Even they would recognize that it’s far more likely that “MARY” is meant to be someone’s name. “JESUS”, on the other hand, is far *less* likely to be interpreted as someone’s name by an average, reasonable person – even though it certainly could be someone’s name. Same goes for “SATAN”. Be honest: if you saw something with “MARY” written, what would be your first assumption – that it belongs to someone named “Mary”, or that it has something to do with Catholicism. Now try the same thought experiment with “JESUS”, “SATAN”, or “666”; in those cases most people’s first assumption is the religious one.

      Or try “ILUVMARY”… what is your first interpretation, and what do you think is more likely? That the driver of the car has a girlfriend or daughter named “Mary”, or that they’re a Catholic with a perhaps unhealthy fixation? What about “JESUS SAVES”? Which is more likely: religious message, or reference to a frugal Hispanic?

      Hemant Mehta brings up “FSM”. Well, what do you think? If you rounded up a thousand random Ontarians, how many do you think would identify that as a reference to the Flying Spaghetti Monster? I write for CA, and *my* first guess would probably be “finite state machine” (a programming term). I think “FSM” is pretty safe. (But if you’re *really* concerned, and want empirical evidence, do a survey.)

      We do this kind of reasoning all the time. When government officials put up a crucifix, they frequently claim it’s not about expressing a religious message but merely… take your pick: acknowledging history, using a symbol that has secular meaning rather than religious, putting up an innocently donated piece of art, accidentally crossing two straight rods, whatever. (For example, here’s a case right now in the US, where officials are trying to argue that a Ten Commandments monument at a courthouse is just a Charlton Heston movie prop.) But we’re not idiots – we all know the obvious interpretation that an average and reasonable person will arrive at when they see a crucifix is “Christianity”.

      It’s about looking at things from the perspective of a hypothetical average, reasonable person; not being wilfully ignorant and trying to apply poorly-reasoned absolutes.

      • that half the time when you meet people who say they are churchgoing Christians, they don’t know what they’re supposed to believe, they don’t believe all of it, they have a lot of doubt, and they go to church largely for social reasons. I told him it’s been a really long time since I’ve met a Catholic who really will say, “Yes, I believe in the virgin birth.” And the guy said, “Well, hold it right there. I very much do believe in the virgin birth. I absolutely do believe in it.” And I said, “No, I don’t think you do. Nice try, but I don’t think you really do believe in it. I think you feel you ought to, but you don’t, if you examine yourself.” And he said, “You’re wrong. I absolutely believe in the Immaculate Conception of Jesus Christ.” And I said to him, “Do you not know that the virgin birth is a different thing from the Immaculate Conception?” And he said, “It is?” And I said, “Yes, the Immaculate Conception is of the Virgin Mary herself.”

        And that’s the thing, your “hypothetical average, reasonable person” does not exist, they just make this shit up as they go along.

        If your average hypothetical xtian is willing to discriminate against women and homosexuals and offer their children up to paedophile clerics as commanded by holy books that they have never actually read and whose understanding of is based on childhood indoctrination re-enforced by ongoing weekly grovel sessions in their local worship hut(TM) then it’s not me who is “being wilfully ignorant and trying to apply poorly-reasoned absolutes”.

        I’m just having a bit of fun pointing out how bat shit crazy they actually are.

        Their bad ideas need to be pointed out and refuted, I choose to do this with a bit of humour (in my humble opinion), you choose to do it with long winded screeds.

        • > And that’s the thing, your “hypothetical average, reasonable person” does not exist…

          No shit, Sherlock. You know what the word “hypothetical” means, right?

          And anyway, you don’t seem to understand what a statistical average of opinion is. It has nothing to do with how *coherent* people’s opinions are, or that most of them don’t even know their own theology. It doesn’t matter that everyone is “making shit up as they go along”. And it definitely has nothing to do with the fact Christian beliefs are almost certainly wrong and deserve to be refuted. (I don’t even know why you’d even bother to bring that up. Seems borderline obsessive. What, do you seriously think anyone reading this blog *doesn’t* think Christian religious beliefs should be refuted? Or were you just trying to establish some “atheist cred” to hide the fact that you had nothing substantial to refute what I wrote?)

          All that matters is that if you ask a large enough sample of random people “do you think X is religious?”, and a large enough percentage of them says “yes” – let’s say, 20% or more – then it should be added to the list of things the government should not be allowed to endorse. Simple as that.

          (And if you believe the majority of people are *wrong* when they think something is religious, then your goal should be to educate them, not ignore them.)

          My position is as simple as this:

          * Licence plates are the property of the province, not the driver (thus this is not a “free speech” issue, and has nothing to do with “censorship”).
          * The province is not allowed to endorse religions or display religious symbols.
          * The hypothetical average, reasonable Ontarian would recognize “666” as a religious symbol.
          * Thus the province should not be allowed to put it on their property.
          * Thus the province should not be allowed to put it on licence plates.

          By the same train of logic, the hypothetical average, reasonable Ontarian would *NOT* recognize “Mary” as a religious reference. Thus it shouldn’t be banned from plates for being religious.

          You can apply the same reasoning to “Jesus”, “God”, “FSM”, or whatever the hell else you please.

          The reason it seems like I have to write “screeds” to explain something this simple and obvious is because I apparently have some readers who don’t know what words like “hypothetical” mean, and thus I have to explain simple concepts in excruciating detail.

          > Their bad ideas need to be pointed out and refuted, I choose to do this with a bit of humour (in my humble opinion), you choose to do it with long winded screeds.

          Ah, the classic call of the bonehead who says something stupid then gets called out and corrected: “I was just being “Funny™”! Why doesn’t anyone appreciate my “Humour™”?”

          Well, I suppose if I *am* writing “long-winded screeds”, then unlike you and your attempts at humour, at least *I’m* not botching it.

      • For FSM I get factory service manual 🙂

    • “big book of bad ideas”

      This is a new one for me; good use of alliteration.

      I’ve been following along with some authors who claim that a writing team, working for the various Flavian emperors, created the Gospels that were selected a few hundred years later to be the Christian canon: along with some Pauline letters collected by or created by a fellow called Marcian.

      The Constantine editors, it is alleged, could easily separate their relatives’ works from the other Gospels that sprang up throughout the empire. Constantine even identified himself as Flavius Constantine.

      I’m only mentioning this because it highlights a more deliberate creation of the Good News Chronicles.

      This wouldn’t rule out any of the existing fables and or myths that were floating around at the time of the writing. After all, creative writing, even with a political purpose in mind, does require ideas from somewhere.

  7. This is from the same province that interfered in a man’s will to deny him giving to organizations for cis, white, men. In Ontario, t’s OK to base awards on gender and race as long as it’s the RIGHT gender and race (i.e. black and brown women). Because reasons.

    This plate isn’t offensive in any way (even in a Christian way). Rather, it’s merely a play on the number 6. And in religious terms, it could be supportive of Satanism. How is one to show support for Satan, without offending Christians whose “offence” is merely bigotry against the Bible’s good guy?

    But because this person actually IS Christian, and has multiple reasons for the plate, the complaint is provably garbage.

    I personally don’t think vanity plates should be allowed at all. But if Ontario is going to allow any, then it must allow them ALL (including ones that say FUCK OFF, or POLICE). No government, certainly not Ontario, should be in the business of censorship.

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