Posts Tagged ‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse’

What we have here is a severe lack of common sense

December 14, 2010

I don’t really know if it has always been thus, but those with some manner of authority seem to be more inclined to go for the throat rather than deal with people in a kinder and gentler manner. The thinking seems to be that if you aren’t breaking the law at the moment you most surely intend to break it at your first available opportunity.

Reading the news it sometimes appears that this philosophy is endemic, but then in all fairness we probably don’t hear about those cases that are handled with a little more sensitivity and common sense. Unfortunately there are a lot of stories that indicate the worst case situation.

A case in BC:

B.C. Mounties are warning the public about toy weapons after officers conducted a high risk take down of a man following reports of a person thought to be loading a gun in a crowded parking lot.

Onlookers on Thursday night reported seeing a man with a pistol who made motions as if he was loading it, said Vernon RCMP on Friday.

Officers responded with a high-risk take down of the man in his Chevy Blazer and discovered he was playing with an air soft pistol, similar in appearance to a police service weapon.“Police want to warn the public to please use common sense when taking these guns in public. The citizens of any community get very concerned when they see someone with a gun on our streets and at a glance you cannot tell it is not real,” said police in a release. “Police are concerned it is only a matter of time before someone who thinks it is fun to point or show this type of gun on the streets are going to get hurt or possibly worse because of the actions they took.”

The 22-year-old man was given a warning, and the toy gun was seized for destruction.

The police didn’t charge him because he hadn’t done anything wrong in the first place. They seized his property and destroyed it when they had no legal authority to do so. Except that they probably threatened the guy, that if he didn’t give up his air soft pistol for destruction that they would charge him with mischief or some other generic crime that he would eventually be found not guilty of but in the meantime the legal costs he incurred would be more than the cost of  a trunk full of air softs. All the guy was guilty of was either naivety or stupidity in letting the gun be seen in public.

Cynical? Maybe, but I have heard of too many cases that fit this scenario to think that it didn’t happen here.

Or this one from Ottawa.

A teenage boy carrying what looked like a rifle in the streets surrounding his high school in Papineauville, Que., has been charged with careless use of a firearm.

As it turns out, the 16-year-old wasn’t carrying a rifle Tuesday afternoon near Louis-Joseph Papineau high school — it was a BB gun. And Sûreté du Québéc police said the teen hadn’t been using it to any malicious end, but had simply taken it there from home to show to a friend who wanted to buy it.

Quebec provincial police got the call at about 1 p.m. Upon their arrival, officers controlled the scene, locked down the high school and began a search of the area. A nearby elementary school continued normal operations, police said.

Just under an hour later police apprehended the 16-year-old in the streets around the school, and he was no longer carrying the BB gun, police said. No one was injured, no one was threatened and the BB gun was never used on school property, police said.

The teen was taken in for questioning and his BB gun was seized. He was later released from custody, with release conditions, on a promise to appear in court.

If the news story is correct in its facts, the kid did nothing wrong. If it was a BB gun it isn’t even classified as a firearm. When the police ran him to ground he didn’t even have the item with him. Then they seized it and graciously released him from custody on the understanding that he would appear in court. On what charge? I suppose mischief or creating a public disturbance or inciting a riot for all I know. But wouldn’t it have made more sense to say, “Kid, you didn’t break any law with what you did, but for chrissakes next time put the damned thing in a sack if you are going to take it somewhere”.

Tijssen uses his farming and butchering skills to opt out of the commercial food supply. For years, he has inspected his own meat while still on the hoof, slaughtered it himself and packaged it for later use. In November 2009 he and a friend bought a pig, intending to share it.

But for unknown reasons, a neighbour reported to the Ontario government that Tijssen was running an unlicensed slaughterhouse on his property.

It’s perfectly legal to butcher your own pig and serve it to your immediate family in your own home. What’s not legal, as a result of new Food Safety and Quality Act regulations that quietly took effect in 2005, is letting someone else take home-butchered meat off the property.

It fell to conservation officer Graham Ridley of Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to deal with Tijssen’s neighbour’s complaint.

Ridley could have phoned or visited Tijssen to make sure he knew about the 130-page regulation and warned him against violating it. A responsible person like a Canadian Forces major would surely have wanted to avoid getting into trouble with the law if he knew about it.

But instead, Ridley staked out Tijssen’s home for five full days in November 2009, watching from a tree-house on the neighbour’s property, waiting to see whether anyone would leave Tijssen’s property with meat. How gratifying it must have been when he finally saw the co-owner of the pig leaving with a box of pork. At last, a charge could be laid!

Ridley sprang into action, following the friend down the road and confiscating the pork.

Tijssen, on learning from his friend what had happened, telephoned Ridley the next day and acknowledged having butchered the pig. But faced with this golden opportunity of explaining the 2005 regulations to Tijssen, Ridley once again declined.

Instead, the following evening, after dark, Ridley raided Tijssen’s property accompanied by four police cars and two MNR trucks, lights flashing. Armed police officers searched the property painstakingly and carried off 14 articles of butchering equipment — evidence of Tijssen’s heinous offence — even though Tijssen had already acknowledged in the previous day’s phone call that he had killed the pig.

Tijssen now stands charged with four offences and theoretically faces penalties of up to $100,000. The MNR lawyers quickly offered him the chance to settle for a fine of only $8,000. They then reduced their demand to $2,000 and eventually to a paltry $1,000–not nearly enough to pay for officer Ridley’s five-day surveillance and the multi-officer raid, let alone their lawyers’ services.

I think that the lawyers are of the opinion that their charges aren’t going to stick once it comes in front of a judge as per their pre-trial bargaining to try and get Tijssen to plead guilty for a lesser fine.

Karen Selick, the author of the article, lays out the real problem.

The maxim “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” made sense back in the days when the only kind of acts that were illegal were genuine crimes that caused palpable harm to innocent victims: murder, rape, theft, etc.

But with the growth of the regulatory state, every individual is now subject to thousands of pages of densely written federal, provincial and municipal statutes and regulations. The law is also embodied in innumerable judicial decisions. And it’s all in continual flux: Regulations are passed without parliamentary debate, and courts release new judgments daily.

There is probably not a single law professor, judge or legislator in Canada who has even a passing familiarity with, let alone full comprehension of, all the laws we are required to obey. The average joe doesn’t stand a chance. We are all potential offenders every day, no matter how law-abiding we might wish to be.

Unfortunately the law enforcement people work on the principle that ‘the law is the law’. Actually they take that a step further in too many cases and manufacture their own interpretation of the law and bully confused and frightened citizens into giving up their legal rights.
Just one more recent situation, this time from our neighbours south of the 49th parallel.

A Columbia Falls High School student was suspended last week after inadvertently bringing a hunting rifle to school.

Demari DeReu, a 16-year-old junior, was suspended Dec. 1 and likely faces expulsion after telling school officials about the gun she had forgotten to remove from the trunk of her car.

She had gone hunting over Thanksgiving weekend with family friends.

They had taken a friend’s pickup truck, and when they returned, the friend had put DeReu’s unloaded rifle in the trunk of her car and the rest of her hunting gear up front. She forgot about the gun when she unloaded her gear at home.

The following Wednesday, the school announced during first period that contraband-sniffing dogs were at school. Only then did DeReu remember the rifle in her car, which was parked in the school parking lot.

“I was glad I don’t have to worry about that. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs,” she recalled thinking to herself. Then she thought, “Did I get my rifle out of my trunk?”

She said she remembers a teacher — she can’t remember who — telling her that in some cases, the school would allow students to move their cars off school grounds if they took an absence. It seemed better than getting in trouble should the dog find the gun, so DeReu asked her teacher if she could move her car.

He said no, so instead she asked to call Alan Robbins, the high school principal, to explain the situation.

“I couldn’t get ahold of Mr. Robbins — he was checking lockers — so I told the secretary my hunting rifle was in the car, not loaded and with no ammunition, and wanted to see if I can move my car,” DeReu said. “She said she’d get the message to him right away.”

The next thing DeReu knew, Assistant Principal Scott Gaiser was escorting her from the classroom.

She said he told her she was suspended as of that moment and was facing expulsion for a minimum of 21 days after an expulsion hearing, …..

The story goes on to talk about how this could affect her college applications, etc.

What really throws me is that this happened in Montana where hunting is pretty much a way of life. No understanding of the situation from the staff?

Of course a large part of the problem is the stupidity of the US federal law that even allows this to happen.

Superintendent Michael Nicosia would not discuss the specifics of DeReu’s case but talked about the policy, which is based on state policy crafted by the Montana School Boards Association.

That policy says the school board “will expel any student who uses, possess, controls or transfers a firearm or any object that can reasonably be considered a firearm at any setting that is under control and supervision of the District.”

The policy also says students in those circumstances will be expelled for at least one calendar year, although trustees may modify the term of the expulsion on a case-by-case basis, Nicosia said.

The district doesn’t see any way around the expulsion clause, which is based on the federal Gun-Free Schools Act, he added.

The 1994 law says each state that receives federal funding must have a law requiring schools to expel for at least one year students who have brought or possessed a firearm at school.

To prevent a worst case scenario a bunch of bone-headed legislators passed a blanket law that inflicts severe penalties on students that are of no danger to their system and like most dumb, knee-jerk laws does little to no good to prevent anyone who seriously means harm.

A book could be written detailing similar incidents (and may well have already been done), but in the meantime no one in a position of authority seems aware of these abuses, or if they are, apparently are unwilling to address the problem.

It is almost impossible to go through a week (maybe a day) without breaking a law of some sort. It would seem that your best plan to stay out of trouble would be to just stay at home and avoid being noticed.


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