Ontario’s Vehicle License Plates are Made by its Prisoners


Whether it be regular or personalized, 800 license plates are made an hour by the country’s prisons.  Photo by Metro/Jil McIntosh
Whether it be regular or personalized, 800 license plates are made an hour by the country’s prisons. Photo by Metro/Jil McIntosh

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With more than 1.6 million new vehicles sold every year, Canadians need a lot of license plates to go on them. It’s a full-time job making them, but you wouldn’t want to apply for it in Ontario: they’re made by prison inmates.

“Ontario license plates are manufactured at the Lindsay Correctional Facility,” says Ciaran Ganley, spokesman for the Ministry of Government Services. “Most vehicle license plates appear in pairs, but other motor vehicles have a single license plate, including motorcycle, off-road, moped and trailer.”

Making a plate is a five-step process, starting with the production of blanks, which are plates that don’t yet have their numbers. A laminate sheet is made that includes “Ontario” at the top and a slogan at the bottom, usually “Yours to Discover.”

The laminate is glued onto a coil of aluminum, and a press stamps out individual plates and cuts mounting holes into them. Some 800 are made each hour.

The blanks go to an embossing press, where workers set in the dies to stamp the letters and numbers. Regular plates go quickly, since only one or two numbers must be changed in sequence. Personalized plates slow everything down, since the die has to be completely reset. If a pair of plates is needed, the machine stamps two blanks at once.

To colour the letters and numbers, the plate is fed into a machine that uses heat to apply a foil coating to the raised portion. Finally, the plates are put in plastic bags and visually inspected for quality. Any defective plates are destroyed, while the rest are boxed for distribution.

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.

“For personalized plates, any combination of letters or numbers may be ordered, provided the combination is available and meets the established criteria,” Ganley says. Off-limits are plates deemed obscene, derogatory, abusive, sexual, religious (except for religious titles), violent, discriminatory, or that describe drugs, alcohol, or criminal activity.

Things to note

• Until 1973, Ontario motorists got new license plates annually, stamped with the year. Renewal stickers were introduced for 1974.
• Most series plates (non-personalized) do not use G, I, O, Q or U, which could cause readability issues for law enforcement purposes.
• Ontario plates can be ordered with the French version of the province’s “Yours to Discover” slogan, “Tant à découvir.”

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