Saturday, January 30, 2010

Honey, get my picket sign

You might already have heard about it from this Ottawa Sun article by Jon Willing or this Sun column by Earl McRae, but I learned about it from browsing through upcoming City Hall agendas.

On the agenda for next Wednesday's Transportation Committee meeting, Councillor Georges Bédard will be presenting a motion that would make it illegal, while on a City street, to:
engage in loud, boisterous, threatening, abusive, insulting or indecent language, or engage in any disorderly conduct or behaviour
or to:
engage in any activity so as to interfere with or become a nuisance to the general public using the highway or to adjacent property owners.
Pretty broad-reaching stuff, and at Transportation committee no less.

According to the Sun article, Bédard got the idea from the Police, who wanted a way to deal with rowdy folks spilling out of bars and clubs after closing time in the Byward Market. That is, a way that didn't involve all the mess and paperwork of criminal charges.

The thing is, that's not the only thing this law does. It allows police and by-law officers to charge you for a wide range of vague activities, phrased in a list that allows officers to pick and choose what they want to enforce: "insulting language," "indecent language" are both on the menu, as are "any disorderly conduct" and "any disorderly behaviour" (presumably so officers can avoid boredom while writing tickets by alternating between the two terms).

In the Sun column by Earl McRae, barfly Art Cormier points out the absurdity of these powers:
"who the hell is going to decide what’s loud and boisterous or insulting? Will some cop show up with a meter in his hand —oh, oh, you’re over the line. Loud, boisterous, and insulting. Like, gimme a break."
And if that broad mandate doesn't scream "police state" to you, Byward Market BIA Executive Director Jasna Jennings cements it with that famous line:
"If you behave, you have nothing to worry about."
Sorry Jasna. If I get hit by a car, I'm not the one who should be getting a ticket because I called the driver a motherfucker—especially not on top of the one I'd get for being a pedestrian.

And despite Bédard's stated intentions, this law could also be used against his other nuisance, panhandlers and homeless people. And never mind that silly bylaw requiring protests to be across the street—this law will get protesters off the street altogether!

We already have a noise by-law that works pretty well against late-night boisterousness, plus the existing criminal charges that the police don't seem intent on enforcing.

I won't go into the constitutionality of such a law, because it's such a patently obvious violation of free speech that even Bob Monette should be able to realize it. If this motion passes Transportation Committee (and I highly doubt it will), the City's top lawyer will probably talk Council out of approving it like he did with the attempted ban on Atheist bus ads.

I've already sent an e-mail to Committee members expressing my disapproval of such a regulation, and I managed to restrain myself from using words that would earn me a visit from the green hornets.

As a member of the Committee, Georges Bédard has the right to present this motion. But in this case, it would be wiser for him to exercise his right to withdraw it.

- RG>


zoom said...

Another great post. You're on a roll.

Anonymous said...

When people run out of ideas they always make new laws. We have the same issues at work. When stuff isn't working right, instead of fixing it at its source, they pile on some new rules and regs. Ho hum, the short-sighted

John said...

Holy Crap!
I'm gonna email my Councillor - and maybe even use some bad language!

Anonymous said...

The wobblies won Free Speech on the west coast of the USA (and I am not 100% sure but I think parts of Canada too) in the epic direct action Free Speech Fights.

You can hear Utah Phillips talking about it here:

"The state can't give you free speech and the state can't give it away. You're born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Like old Campbell used to say, 'Freedom is something you assume. You wait for someone to try to take it away, and the extent to which you resist is the extent to which you are free.'"

And here's some first-person accounts: (oh there's a great photo in that of a sign that says, "Wanted: 200 men to go to Spokan for the Free Speech Fights." What a great illustration of how our tactics have narrowed over time!)

Free Speech was won on the back of a labour movement which was already powerful... With a weakened movement I don't know if we are in a position to go to war in this way. :( Sad almost to the point of being disgusting, but true.

But surely in Ontario there is already a breach of the peace law or something? Why do they need to create a new law at the municipal level?

Anonymous said...

And while we are watching U. Utah Phillips on youtube, have you ever heard the poem, The Two Bums?

Unknown said...

Fines for being loud and obnoxious in the market?

Could be lucrative.

Anonymous said...

How very interesting that your comments are moderated, considering your take on free speech. Hypocrite much?

You ever see those fucking drunk, arrogant pricks that come out of bars, pointing at cops and saying "what's your badge number"?
Those little arrogant drunk useless fuckers, who think they have some magic control over the police by saying that?

That's one of those fucking little crappy pieces of "sound advice" the bar crowd circulates among themselves. They say, "oh if a cop bugs you, just say what's your badge number, because they have to tell you".

So what? I hope they tell you their badge number, and then still haul your fucking useless ass off to jail.

That's the kind of "nuisance" that I'd be glad to see swept off the streets. Useless jackasses with big egos and big mouths who have nothing better to do than get drunk and think they are God's gift to mankind.
College students with low grades who think everyone else is stupid, instead of spending time realizing the human condition applies to all of us.

RealGrouchy said...

Anonymous - yes, my blog comments are moderated. You're free to start your own blog if you want unmoderated comments. You can post the spam you get, too.

I see those assholes on Elgin street. And they are assholes. But being an asshole in and of itself isn't, and shouldn't be, a crime. Where do you stop? By your logic, you yourself should be fined for being an arrogant asshole in my comments section.

As for hypocrisy, I love the last line in your comment, about the human condition applying to all of us. I suppose that puts the college kids under the category of "them"?

Come back anytime, anonymous, and maybe even use a name next time.

- RG>