Vehicle registration plates of Canada

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In Canada, licence plates are issued by an agency of the provincial or territorial government. The spelling license is used in the U.S. for the noun and verb, while the spelling licence in Canada is for the noun and license for the verb.

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). The international code for Canadian plates is "CDN".[1][2][better source needed]

Designs and serial formats[edit]

An Ontario licence plate mounted to the front and rear of the vehicle by law.

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. The letters I, O and U are not used to avoid confusion with 1, 0 and V. 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 letter. In late 2006, plates with B as the first letter were assigned, and have continued from there sequentially. Plates with C as the first letter began to be issued in the middle of 2016.

Many provinces distinguish their licence plates through distinctive colour schemes and logos, which have historically 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. In the Northwest Territories and formerly in 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.

Showing current registration on plates[edit]

Licence plate of the province of New Brunswick.

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.

Plates 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 sticker 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 stickers, 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. Quebec no longer issues plate stickers and has not done so since 1992. Saskatchewan stopped issuing the stickers on November 1, 2012, as a cost saving measure.[3]

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.

Currently, Québec and Saskatchewan are the only provinces in which decals are not used. Instead, the police rely on the use of cameras and computers that automatically report any plates for which the registration is expired (making the use of fake stickers obsolete), the car has been reported as stolen and/or similar reasons. That said, the Registration Certificate is the only way for the owner to prove that a vehicle has valid registration.

Temporary licence plates/Special Permits (temporary permits)[edit]


Each province issues temporary licence plates differently. Ontario issues 10-day temporary permits available up to twice in a 365-day period[4] 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 four 10-day temporary permits. As of 2008,[4] Ontario issues regular licence plates with a registration sticker that is labelled "T" to owners of recently purchased used vehicles. Classic vehicles (older the 25 model years) use the paper printed window temporary plate (as pictured in this article).

If you purchase a vehicle in BC, ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) will issue you a 15 days permit for approximately $60 CAD which will be a piece of paper you attach to the windshield of the vehicle and this is along with insurance since auto insurance in BC is not privatized but brokerage is. Autoplan brokers are authorized to do this. If you are a BC resident purchasing a vehicle elsewhere in Canada/USA, you may obtain temporary insurance from ICBC directly over the phone (one of the few times you deal with ICBC directly). Likewise is the case for MB & SK. I don't know how they go about it in MB (MPI - Manitoba Public Insurance) but in SK, you go to the SGI (Saskatchewan Government Insurance) if you purchase a SK vehicle to obtain a temporary permit which costs approximately $30 and allows you to drive anywhere across USA/Canada for 7 days.

SGI had informed me that with the temporary permits you are not allowed to be in one place for over 24 hours. I would assume this must be the case with other special permits issued as well. In other provinces, it is a pain in the butt to get temporary insurance coverage and those who do issue them are very anal about the requirements. This is because other provinces have private insurance and without insurance the provincial government would not issue the temporary permit. As a visitor/foreigner, SK, BC & AB will be your best bets to begin your Canada-wide journeys from.

Life cycle[edit]

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 Newfoundland and Labrador plates typically stay with the vehicle and the registration transferred between owners, with new plates being issued to new vehicles. Exceptions include Veteran, Fire fighter, and Amateur Radio Operator Plates.

In Ontario, motorists may apply to transfer licence plates with the approval of the Ministry of Transportation Ontario under special circumstances, such as from one immediate family member to another. Motorists may also purchase Year of Manufacture plates for classic vehicles up to the plate issuing year of 1973 in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Ministry of Transportation Ontario.

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 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[edit]

An Ontario vanity licence plate.

In each province but Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec,[5] 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.

Beginning in 2010, Saskatchewan issued specialty plates[6][7] in celebration of the Saskatchewan Roughriders' centennial. The plates feature the slogan "Pride Lives Here." Plates in the first series begin with an R, followed by four digits (R####); subsequent series begin with a digit, then an R, then three digits (#R###). These plates are also available as five character vanity plates for an additional fee. In the first sixteen months, 22,000 Roughrider plates were issued,[8] resulting in $585,000 profit for the football club. In 2012, SGI made Rider plates available for motorcycles and snowmobiles.[9]

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", British Columbia's "Beautiful British Columbia." or Ontario's "Yours To Discover". These are arguably also general commemoratives. Saskatchewan's "Land of Living Skies" slogan may be interpreted as a reference to the province's drastically changing weather within minutes or a 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 had been installed, but never went through with the plan.[citation needed]

In preparation for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games held in Vancouver, the Province of British Columbia and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia issued special "Olympic" registration plates. The special plates feature an image of the mountain peaks of Garibaldi Provincial park as the background, with the Vancouver 2010 logo in the foreground between the letter and number groups of the registration plate. The plates were optional, requiring an initial fee of $35.00, as well as a yearly renewal fee of $25.00 per year. These "Olympic Plates" were only offered until December 31, 2010, whereby owners could continue to display them on their vehicle as they are an official provincial licence plate.[10]


Royal and viceregal automobiles[edit]

When in Canada, The Queen rides in a car that bears a licence plate showing a gold St. Edward's Crown on a red field. The Governor General's car bears a plate similar to the Flag of the Governor General of Canada, or standard auto plates of the province of Ontario with flags of the Governor General on the front hood.

Armed Forces[edit]

Licence plate of the province of Quebec
Licence plate of the province of Alberta
Licence plate of the territory of Yukon

Vehicles owned by the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence are also specially plated, and authorized for movement on all highways and roads. Called a "Canadian Forces Registration" (CFR), these licence plates are white with a green border and the text "Canada" written on them at the top in green, with a red maple leaf on either side of the text at the top. CFR serials are five-digit numbers for vehicles and for trailers. These plates also do not bear any form of validation tag / sticker, as there is no need for annual renewal.

British Columbia[edit]

The official vehicle for the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia does not have a licence plate and instead, an embossed Coat of arms of British Columbia is affixed to the plate area.

When the Queen undertook her Golden Jubilee Tour in 2002, her official vehicle bore the embossed Royal Crown on a red background.

Official government vehicles do not use distinct licence plate or numbers unlike other provinces within this section of the article.


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. Ontario Superior Court judges receive SCO-123.

The Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario receives licence plates that bear 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[edit]

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.

Newfoundland and Labrador[edit]

All government vehicles (including construction equipment and trailers) in Newfoundland and Labrador are issued plates that begin with G. Depending on the level of government the plate format can be GFx-123 for Federal vehicles, GPx-123 for Provincial, and GMx-123 for Municipal.

Government vehicles in Newfoundland and Labrador do not display registration stickers.


Former licence plate of the territory of Nunavut; the Northwest Territories still use this same design

As of 2012, vehicles owned by Members of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut receive plates in the format of MLA-123.


The Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan receives licence plates that bear an embossed crown rather than a number.

Official government vehicles do not use distinct licence plate or numbers unlike other provinces within this section of the article. Federal Government vehicles are issued "vehicle class" stickers bearing the letters "GC."

General Registration Licence Plates[edit]

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. The dealer, his/her family or the employee of the dealership or the employee's family may also use such a vehicle for private use.

Cop troubles: TPS - Toronto Police does harass people driving dealer plates, especially late night. They mostly are aloof of the laws themselves. Just man up and admit you were indeed using the vehicle of the inventory for personal use and that the laws allow you to do so. There are clauses you may find yourself in the MVDA (Motor Vehicle Dealers' Act) of Ontario.

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.

British Columbia Demonstration (dealer) plates: In BC, they call it the demonstration plates. Similar regulations are in place which allow the personal use of a dealership's vehicle by the dealer or his/her family or by the employee or employee's family.

Diplomatic licence plates[edit]

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.

British Columbia[edit]

The provincial government introduced new vehicle plate template for consular officials in 2006. The plates are red background (contrast with blue or white background for regular plates) and white letterings. These plates do not have slogans such as "Beautiful British Columbia" or "Best Place on Earth" that appear on plates for regular plates.

BC Diplomatic Vehicle Registration Plate

Format of the plates are XX ###X where XX can be CC (Consular Officers), HC (Honorary Consuls), CS (Administrative, service or technical staff) and SR (sub-state foreign officials), followed by 3 numbers and a letter.


Ontario plates are colour-coded. Car, motorcycle and trailer plates use blue letters on a white background. Commercial vehicle, bus and farm plates use black on white; diplomat plates are white on red; dealer plates are red on white; and green plates are for electric vehicles 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.


Saskatchewan Consular Corps plates maintain the colour scheme of standard plates (green on white). "Land of Living Skies" is replaced with "Consular Corps." The plates have a 2-letter, 3-number format, coded as follows:

  • CC = Consular

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Saskatchewan Licence Plates are Going Stickerless". Government of Saskatchewan. 2 Oct 2012. Retrieved 2013-12-21. 
  4. ^ a b "Getting a Temporary Vehicle Registration or a Special Permit". Ministry of Transportation. Government of Ontario. February 21, 2012. Retrieved May 27, 2012. 
  5. ^ Agency, Q. M. I. "No personalized licence plates for Quebec". 
  6. ^ "Roughrider licence plates available soon from SGI". Regina Leader-Post. Retrieved July 2, 2014. 
  7. ^ "SGI scores with Roughrider licence plate". Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI). Retrieved July 2, 2014. 
  8. ^ "News Release: 22,000 RIDER PLATES AND COUNTING". Government of Saskatchewan. Retrieved July 2, 2014. 
  9. ^ "News Release: SGI EXPANDS RIDER PLATES TO MOTORCYCLES AND SNOWMOBILES". Government of Saskatchewan. Retrieved July 2, 2014. 
  10. ^ "2010 Winter Games licence plates". Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. Retrieved May 27, 2012. 

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