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VIBERT: Halifax now a world-class nanny state

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

Halifax, it seems, has finally fulfilled its quixotic quest to be a “world class” something.

Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) attained world-class nanny state status, thanks to a municipal council that struggles to meet the good-governance standard your average village commission clears with ease.

Unable, after years of effort, to corral stray cats, the sprawling urban-suburban-rural municipality decided to herd smokers instead. And why not? They’re not nearly as cute as cats and are much more widely reviled.

To spice law-making incompetence with enforcement incoherence, on Monday, the day the bylaw to restrict smoking and vaping to designated smoking areas (DSAs) took effect, the city’s top bureaucrat — one Jacques Dubé — was saying the law’s application will be slack and smokers have nothing much to fear unless they get on the city’s nerves.

Apparently, serial offenders of the law will get on HRM’s nerves. As, no doubt, will scribes who maintain that any law which — by the lawmakers’ own admission — will be applied unevenly, and is virtually unenforceable across vast tracts of the unfortunate jurisdiction, is a really bad law.

It would be impossible to take the HRM council seriously if it didn’t have the authority to make a law that carries a fine of $2,000 or 30 days in jail. As it happens, those are the maximum penalties for contravening the smoking bylaw, good old Jacques’ wink-and-nod notwithstanding.

The smoking bylaw was hustled along to get ahead of legal cannabis. HRM wanted to limit where pot could be smoked, but that was hard, so it opted for a sweeping out-of-doors prohibition on the human discharge of smoke and vapors.

The law supposes that all smoking and vaping — cannabis or tobacco — on municipal property will be done only at DSAs (designated smoking areas).

Dickens’ Mr. Bumble had it right. “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass — a idiot.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 31 DSAs on municipal property throughout the Halifax region, or so HRM’s website claimed, despite displaying a map that made clear to all who looked that DSAs were not throughout the region at all.

The city, like the province, apparently defines “throughout” as a few places of their choosing, rather than the more widely-accepted Oxford definition — in every part of. The province says it sells cannabis at locations throughout Nova Scotia, when in fact it runs its pot monopoly out of 12 storefronts and a website.

HRM also had some difficulty settling on the purpose of its bylaw. Initially, it seemed to land on a variation of the adolescent plea, “everybody else is doing it.”

“Changes are happening at all levels of government to address (cannabis) legalization. For the municipality, this means significant amendments to By-Law N-300 (Respecting Nuisances and Smoking).”

Moving past pot, HRM also saw “an opportunity to address complaints we’ve heard over the years about tobacco smoke on public property.”

And finally, the municipality claimed it couldn’t figure out how to tell cannabis from tobacco. “… it would be difficult to prove exactly what substance the person was smoking/vaping ... which is why we adopted a blanket ban approach.”

This law has no singular purpose, but rather one to fit many tastes, except of course the taste of those who favour the least possible legal infringement on personal freedom.

The best way to crack down on speeders, by HRM’s reasoning, is to ban cars.

Between the city’s “blanket ban approach” and the province’s undeclared but obvious war on any and all competition to its retail cannabis monopoly, legal pot comes to Nova Scotia with a bunch of asterisks.

In Halifax, legalization provided a useful — but not good — excuse to bring the hammer down on nicotine addicts, who are disproportionately poorer citizens, so not the folks whose voices resonate through city hall.

If air quality was an issue, HRM might consider doing something about the endless parade of 18-wheelers that ferry containers through its very heart, belching diesel fumes with money-making impunity. But the municipal council knows better than to rock the gravy boat.

For Nova Scotia and other provinces, legal pot arrived in the form of a cash cow that most monopolized in order to stack retail markup on top of their 75 per cent share of the tax take.

That’s not to say this is all about money. Some of it’s about stomping on folks who don’t have it.

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