Monday, 10 December 2012


A teen suicide is attributed to bullying by the media - often when there are a complexity of reasons- and shortly afterwards various levels of government are producing new laws and statutes to deal with issue. Regina, Saskatchewan’s anti-bullying bylaw exemplifies the bad legislation that is often borne from this media induced hysteria. Regina, of course, is not alone in passing such laws although it proudly boasted that it was the first municipality in Canada out the gate with an anti-bullying measure. Unfortunately other municipalities are now citing the Regina example.
Its anti-bullying by-law is thoroughly bad legislation. First lets look at the definition of bully. The bylaw says "bully" means: (a) any objectionable or inappropriate comment, conduct or display by a person; (b) directed at an individual not of the same household; (c) intended to intimidate, humiliate, ridicule, or isolate; and (d) which causes or is likely to cause physical or emotional distress. 
Distill the reach of this law at its widest: Bully means any .... objectionable ... comment (conduct or display) ... by a person ... directed at an individual not of the same household ... intended to ... ridicule ... which ... is likely to cause ... emotional distress. 
The by-law says it is illegal to bully a person in a public place. A public place includes any building to which the public is ordinarily permitted access (which would include a shopping mall, restaurant or other commercial outlet)and "any street, highway, sidewalk, lane, alley, bridge, causeway or other place, whether publicly or privately owned, that is used or intended for the passage of pedestrians or vehicles. By this definition the sidewalks leading to your front door are public places. A public place is essentially any place outside a residential unit.
It is also illegal to bully another person through written or electronic communication.
Most insults - even fairly mild ones - are offside this law. Eg. A young couple have a spat in the lineup outside a movie theatre. The young woman calls her boyfriend a "stupid jerk" - very likely "objectionable", it was undoubtedly intended to ridicule and probably it causes some emotional distress.
What about political satire? Consider a standard definition of satire: "the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues". Yes political satire involves ridicule; it often has an objectionable aspect; it may cause some emotional distress to its target. In Regina politically satire is probably illegal.
The by-law includes an objectionable display in its expansive definition of "bully". Consequently political protest signs which refer to a particular politician in a derogatory manner could contravene the by-law. 
The by-law also bans fighting in a public place although it exempts fights that occur as part of an organized sporting event. You might think that this exemption pertains to boxing, wrestling or martial art matches but in Saskatchewan the number one concern is most likely hockey. As everyone knows fighting is endemic in hockey - there is no other sport on the face of the earth where fighting is tolerated and accepted as part of the game - unless it is some form of fighting sport itself.
The by-law also says no person can "record, photograph, or distribute any videotape, recording or photograph of any person involved in a fight". Record would include taking notes about a fight. Thusly if a person takes a picture or makes notes about a policeman assaulting a member of the public he or she runs afoul this by-law. Very handy since the Chief of Police (and police officers under him or her) is authorized to administer and enforce the provisions of the Bylaw. 
There have been a number of allegations in recent years by citizens that they have been the victim of brutal beatings by officers with the Regina Police Service. What better way to prove (or disprove) the allegations than a photograph or videotape of the alleged incident? 
Regina’s by-law masquerades under the ant-bullying label. In essence it illegalizes mean and insulting behaviour and is really very similar to Section 5 of the UK’s Public Order Act which specifically outlaws ‘insulting words or behaviour’. 
Proponents of municipal by-laws like Regina’s claim that it is a softly used tool and that there have few people charged under it. While Regina’s by-law may not yet have been used extensively, the same can not be said of the UK Act which has been in place since 1986. It has been zealously used by police and prosecutors in a string of controversial arrests of Christian street preachers, critics of Scientology, gay rights campaigners and even students making jokes. It is inevitable that when laws like this are available they will be increasingly exploited by the police as a people control instrument.
There is another thing wrong with by-laws like Regina’s. A lower level of government is essentially getting involved in criminal law - defining a new type of criminal behavior and creating penalties for this behavior. Three levels of government, local, provincial and federal are now in the act of defining criminalized behavior.
It is a spider web of laws that is being created by well meaning legislators at the federal level, in provinces and states, in towns, cities and counties. As types of social behavior once considered part of the normal ebb and flow of human interactions becomes illegalized, more and more people will bewilderingly be caught up in this web.




1 comment:

  1. What about protecting the public. This bylaw is meant to protect against serious cases of harassment only. I trust that the police will not abuse this bylaw. Why do you hate law enforcement so much? It is their duty to protect us. This law will contribute to making the City of Regina a safer place, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.