Friday, May 16, 2008

Live Free or Die

Once upon a blog, a long time ago, I was a member of loose federation of Canadian bloggers knows as the Red Ensign Bloggers, and as was our tradition one member would host the carnival of Red Ensign Bloggers bi-monthly. I wrote this the last time I hoisted the Red Ensign Standard:
Fifty years ago, school children in Canada could have told you what it means to be a Canadian but the parameters have changed so radically that I fear we are in danger of losing not only our place in the world but our national will. Regionalism threatens all the ties that use to bind us. And sorry, I cannot rally around our healthcare system and do not see waiting patiently in line for years for a hip replacement or an MRI as a value that I want to pass onto my children.

We live in a land whose geography leaves its imprint upon our character early in life, and we were a nation forged and tempered by war from the Plains of Abraham, to Vimy Ridge, to the beaches of Normandy. Freedom meant something beyond an existential definition - which is all the value we place on freedom today. Here is the new Canada's truism; I am less free today by law than I was in 1985. In 2005, freedom is now measured by the quantity of law and by-laws that weighs down and restricts our daily existence.

The new Canada denies our warrior past and says we are a nation of peacekeepers with blue helmets. Frankly, I'll take Vimy Ridge and you can keep Rwanda and the helmets. For there will be no peace to keep if our leaders have lost the will to fight to keep the peace for freedom's sake.

We claim tolerance as a national virtue and yet we have Hate Speech laws. Tolerance in the New Canada seems to mean; think as I think, do as I do, speak as I speak, rather than allowing individuals the freedom to speak what they think or even reason - if that speech could potentially create division or dissonance in this new Canada. Our national tolerance seems a very shabby fragile thing.
After I wrote my little piece, a ferocious discussion broke out in the comment section of a fellow Red Ensign blogger (whose blog has since gone awol). I watched the discussion from sidelines for the sake of my mental health. I was appalled at the absolute ignorance and obtuseness of my critics, but what made me despair was the defense offered up by my so-called defenders. Moreover, here I thought I had made my mind so obvious and plain. Talk about a virtual comeuppance.

It appeared my critics had very little knowledge or perspective on Canadian military history. This nation was built on the backs of rugged and unruly individuals who more often than naught deliberately chose to exercise their own best judgment and then act, rather than blindly carrying out any command order which flew in the face of reason or was contrary to the spirit of the mission.

I deliberately chose the year 1985 as my reference point, as it was well after our constitution was repatriated. I did not want to get blogged down in any discussion on whether or not the repatriating of the constitution was a good or bad thing as it was not relevant to my point that - there are far, far too many laws regulating the most minutiae detail of our lives. This sorry state of affairs has not enriched us nor made us better people.

Why bring up all this old history? Because my new hero is a skateboarder from Fredericton, New Brunswick who displayed more sense than the asinine city councilors who passed these horrendous by-laws curtaining our freedom for our alleged own good. The Toronto Star carried the details:
A 25-year-old Fredericton man is behind bars today after surrendering to police. His crime? Skateboarding on the streets. Lee Breen was originally ticketed in the summer of 2007 for skateboarding on the streets of Fredericton. This was after receiving several warnings about Bylaw S-9, which makes it illegal to use a sled, toboggan, wagon or skateboard on the streets of New Brunswick's capital.

"I was skating on King St. in Fredericton (and) was actually going to buy my brother a skateboard helmet," he said yesterday. "(When) I saw the police car, I jumped off my board. The officer who pulled over and approached me had actually given me a warning the day before."

Breen, a local businessman who has no previous criminal record, said he politely told the officer he wasn't going to pay the fine or stop skateboarding. In April, a judge increased the fine to $100 and gave him the choice of paying it or spending five days in jail. Breen decided he'd rather be locked up. "I won't pay because I believe I'm following the Fredericton Green Matters campaign in finding alternative transportation with my skateboard," he said yesterday at a rally in support of him at city hall. "If I pay the fine, I would be admitting I was doing something wrong."
But a City of Fredericton spokesperson said it all boils down to the issue of safety. "It's a public safety issue," said Wayne Knorr. "It's not about a 12-year-old kid going through a neighbourhood, it's about an adult male, endangering himself and the motorists around him. "The bylaw itself is related to nuisances. When you're out in traffic, obstructing traffic, backing up traffic, you're creating a nuisance by endangering yourself and others."

Breen said he takes all the necessary precautions when skateboarding by wearing a helmet, staying clear of sidewalks and using hand signals – making it no more dangerous than riding a bike in the city.

Let me go straight to the point. I pay taxes, in fact, I pay a great many taxes. A fair portion of those taxes goes to the creation and maintaining of public roads. A public road does not mean it is for the exclusive use of anyone who drives an automobile or a truck. I have just as much right to drive my bike, my wagon, dog sled, or use my in-line skates on the public road as anyone else in their gas guzzling air polluting car. If concern for public safety turns your crank - why are you not lobbying for the banning of all motorized traffic from our roads? Cars, trucks, taxis, and motorized scooters (driven by unlicensed cripples) poise a far greater hazard to the public than a guy on a skateboard or a woman on her in-line skates.

But Breen's situation is just so wrong on so many different levels and is indicative of just one of the things which ails modern Canadian society. Why do we even allow city councilors to pass traffic by-laws which target and restrict the free mobility rights of citizens? Or elect councilors to pass by-laws restricting the use of a clothes line on one's own property? What kind of country are we, when a judge decides the refusal to pay a minor traffic ticket is an offense worthy of being incarcerated for five days, and yet, I know people convicted of criminal offenses who never spend one day in jail - let alone be sentenced to five days. Is there such a shortage of criminals that we need to start jailing minor traffic violators?

Why do we presume that the risk inherent in living can be legislated out of existence if only there are enough laws passed? Why are we so willing to let others define for us the quality or shape our lives should take or allow others to limit the measure of our freedom?

1 comment:

Temujin said...

But Breen's situation is just so wrong on so many different levels and is indicative of just one of the things which ails modern Canadian society

*Nods* You were right in 2005 and you're right today.