Tuesday, 10 January 2012


Bureaucrats and police or people who perform police-like functions are being given increased powers to levy punishments against individuals without having to resort to the courts. This is occurring at all levels of government.

While they do not have the power to jail people, they can levy substantial fines or assess large costs and lien or seize property. The consequence for the individuals who are targeted may often be far worse than a couple of weeks in jail. While police and others have long held the power to "ticket" offenders, in the past the amounts involved were small and it was relatively simple and inexpensive to contest the ticket. This is now changing; the new punishment initiatives are often designed to make it difficult and expensive to contest them.

At the municipal level fines can be huge and almost whimsically imposed. The most infamous recent example in this Province is the City of Mission’s electrical inspection campaign. Based on above average electricity consumption readings a posee made up of by-law officers, electrical inspectors and RCMP came knocking at the doors of Mission residents. It did not matter whether there was a grow-up present; a $5,200.00 fine was levied whenever there were even minor defects in electrical wiring.

Fortunately the mayor of Mission and most of council were deposed in the last municipal election by a slate led by the one councillor who had bravely opposed these tactics.

In Surrey the Arkinstall-Green family refused to allow a four person troop (the usual group of RCMP and municipal inspectors and officers) access to their home. A legal battle ensued which went all the way to the B.C. Court of Appeal which ultimately said that at the very least a warrant is required before authorities can carry out a highly intrusive invasion of people’s home. 

Just as insidious is that municipalities can and will assess enormous costs against individuals in connection with the exercise of various by-law powers. For example, municipalities often have very broad, unsightly premises by-laws. By-law officers make the judgment as to whether or not the premises are unsightly. If compliance is not forthcoming, the City may, by its employees, enter a property and effect the removal of the material at the expense of the person who failed to comply. The assessed costs of cleanup are often very large (far more than that which would be charged by any reputable private contractor) and may be recovered by being added to taxes if unpaid. Ultimately there is a forced sale of property and an individual or family is out on the street stripped of their home.

There is the case from Milwaukee where a gentleman had parked his unregistered van in his own driveway. City zoning ordinances won't let property owners park unregistered vehicles on their own property. The van required some repairs to pass the state vehicle inspection but apparently it was not unsightly nor was it sitting up on concrete blocks with wires hanging out, nor did it have a propped up hood; it merely needed radiator work and was undriveable, The owner was originally fined $50.00 but the fine continued to be assessed over and over again until it reached $1,475.00 at which point the city filed a tax lien. While the owner paid his property taxes, he never paid the $1,475.00 for the zoning violation and the city foreclosed on his clear title $200,000.00 house.

In British Columbia the Office of Civil Forfeiture was recently given further powers. If the amount involved in a forfeiture is under $75,000.00 and it does not concern real property, it is now classified as an administrative forfeiture and the Office does not have to have the Court "confirm" the property seizure. The target (of the seizure) can dispute it but, of course, that entails enormous costs; ironically (I shouldn’t say ironic; it is a quite deliberate outcome of the legislation) the seizure itself invariably removes the target’s financial ability to fight it. Arkinstall and Green spent thousands of dollars fighting the Surrey Troopers but that option is open to very few people and even if the target is vindicated, actual costs will not be recovered.

The age old problem is that when a person or persons are given too much power or there are no checks and balances on the exercise of that power, it gets abused. Bureaucrats are unelected and carry on their activities within a densely constructed, protective cocoon. Most legislation creating bureaucratic power is replete with provisions that limit the liability of officials and which make it virtually impossible to sue for wrongheaded exercises of that power.  

Bureaucrats also bring to the table a certain mentality. Bureaucracies rarely allow for human judgment to interfere with the efficient functioning of the state machinery. They have a presumptive, we-are-always-in-the-right attitude. The bureaucrats in the Office of Civil Forfeiture in B.C. boast that they have never lost a case - they have in fact lost cases at the Supreme Court of B.C. level but then with their virtually unlimited resources they have been able to appeal to the Court of Appeal. 

Social democrats can not understand the logic of the anti-government attitudes often prevalent among blue collar people. There is, however, a validity to these attitudes. Government officials quickly learn that when they mistakenly target the wealthy, they usually lose and lose embarrassingly. Consequently they typically pick weak targets; the poor, the uneducated, the unsophisticated, the misfits and the eccentrics.

1 comment:

  1. Suggest you look at these incidents of bureaucrats gone wild: