06/21/2013 03:00 EDT | Updated 08/21/2013 05:12 EDT

'Racist' licence plates recalled in N.B.

Licence plates that accidentally made a statement some New Brunswickers took to be racist are being replaced.

Every standard licence plate in New Brunswick has three letters and three numbers. A recent combination of letters read “JAP” — which sparked complaints.

“Jap” is a derogatory nickname for Japanese people. It was used extensively during the Second World War.

Public Safety Minister Robert Trevors said the combination was an accident.

"They felt it was racist,” he said of the complainants.

Trevors said his department decided to take the plates out of circulation.

“We have an offer out there to all people that received those initials: they can return it free of cost," he said.

Approximately 1,000 plates must be exchanged by Sept. 6, or drivers could have their vehicle registrations suspended.

Vanity plates, where drivers request letters and numbers, are scrutinized for offensive messages. Trevors said there is a list of unacceptable letters and numbers for those plates.

He's called for a review “to make sure this type of thing would not happen in the future.”

The public safety minister praised his staff for moving quickly to have the licence plates recalled. Trevors said it is important to respond to citizens' concerns.

"We feel that multiculturalism is our province and I want to promote that," Trevors said.

"I want everybody in this province, no matter what your nationality is, you are a New Brunswicker and we will be there to address the concerns that you have."