Dorothy Dobbie
Issue in the News

A version of the article was published in Lifestyles about a decade ago. It still applies with the few updates I have added.

One error that governments make over and over again is passing laws that they can’t enforce with any success.

This would include everything from prostitution to banning drugs, including marijuana, to abortion, all things a certain percentage of people will do and can do without detection, but which are part of human desires and do not exploit or harm others outside the perpetrators themselves.

We have tried banning alcohol, to no effect. Animals, even certain insects, get “high” deliberately for some atavistic reason. Why would people be different? Yet billions were spent, people incarcerated, and lives ruined over the need by an element of the population to impose their will and idea of morality on others.

The same is true of the other “sins” listed above.

Apart from morality, the other motivator is money. Governments like to pass laws that extort “fines” for certain behaviour. I remember as a six-year-old in Toronto and being told to run inside, turn off the radio and hide it in the dresser drawer. Why? Because my mother and some ladies were gossiping in the garden and word came down the street that the radio license inspector was on his way. They all ran home to shut off their radios, too. He got no license money that day. They eventually abandoned the “law”.

Governments should also never pass laws that are meant to punish as a way of deterring behaviour. Punishment doesn’t work; in the case of punitive fines, it can do great harm to those least able to pay; in the case of jail terms, it simply exposes the perpetrator to new opportunities to live on the fringes of societal norms.

Today, governments are assessing extortionate fines and punitive penalties on people for having the minutest bit of alcohol in their blood when they are in control – or were recently in control – of a car. Yet the statistics do not bear out the claim that .08 has any impact on the number of traffic deaths being experienced. The MADD people have, however, convinced lawmakers that this is justified.

The silliest of all is the carbon tax which is supposed to “punish” your pocketbook with an escalating tax to deter gas guzzling behaviour with one hand – I think they forgot about home heating – and with the other hand reward you for . . .? Well, we haven’t figured that one out.

This law is based on a double whammy: money and morality. You are very bad if you don’t want to save the planet (even though with 1.6% of world wide emissions, our tax is hardly doing that) and we’ll pinch your pocket book to make sure you comply – except, we will give it all back . . .Huh?

All this is not to say that we can’t form consensus about what is good and desirable social behaviour, but we should question whether spending money on law enforcement for things that cannot be stopped or even for things upon which there is no consensus is the wise course of action. Would we not be better served through education and support for changing self-harming behaviour?

Governments should never pass laws that don’t address real issues or are based on false information or faulty logic.

There are many examples of these: the law against using email addresses without explicit permission was one such. It was justified as a means of cutting down SPAM. Big spammers simply moved their accounts offshore, so that didn’t work at all, but small business and non-profits were put to tremendous expense and trouble to avoid breaking the law. Privacy laws are another. The only privacy being protected is that of government agencies and corporations and meanwhile you can’t access information about your own telephone bill because it is in your husband’s name. Nor can you access information to help your 19-year-old child with mental or drug issues, because he or she is now an “adult” and their privacy is protected under the law.

A few years ago, the federal fisheries department passed regulations banning boats from coming within 100 metres of beluga whales. If you’ve ever been to Churchill during whale birthing season you would know how ridiculous that is. The belugas are curious creatures; they approach the boats, the kayaks, even brave, wet-suited swimmers.

There are many such laws on the books that should never have been passed because they were based on false premises or were subverted by regulations that twisted the intent of the original bills into something entirely different.

Recently, the federal government tried to come up with laws to ban “fake” news! So far, they have been unsuccessful because the concept is completely ludicrous. Success would have serious implications for the future of free speech. How could intelligent people who believe in democracy even contemplate such a thing? It has never been possible to stop people from presenting their version of the truth. Just because you see things differently doesn’t make the other guy wrong. Just ask any investigator about eye-witness accounts. And when it comes to issues, that credibility gap between observers widens considerably. Government sanctioning is anti-constitutional, anti-democratic and simply anti-common sense!

Not only that, but the whole thing is totally unworkable. You simply will not be able to shut down chatter on any of the social media channels, not to mention publishers and broadcasters of the old-fashioned kind.

Passing unworkable and punitive laws simply begs for civil disobedience. There are always those who can only be pushed or herded so far. They, like the truckers who descended on Ottawa, will eventually refuse to obey and, in my humble opinion, that is a good thing for democracy!