The “Shit Happens” factor

By Dan Delmar on February 5, 2009

If you will forgive the vulgarity, I would like to expand on a theme that this newspaper’s editor touches on frequently: The seemingly instinctive desire for politicians to enact laws that attempt to prevent the unpreventable, covering all possible bases to make sure that we all behave like good little boys and girls, while leaving us with the impression that they are earning their salaries.

We face a plethora of absurd bylaws that plague our city, province and country. Maintaining and enforcing them not only drains the energy out of good, ordinary citizens, but also drains resources in the justice system. An immeasurable amount of time and money is wasted every day to ensure that we conform and give our government as little trouble as possible. This isn’t an argument for anarchy or even for libertarianism. It’s an argument for common sense; an appeal to our leaders to come up with simpler, less creative ways of pissing away public funds.  

Let us begin with the case of Westmounter Bruce Kert, while refraining from using inane puns that involve the word “nut.” Kert, as you may be aware, is the man who is facing hundreds of dollars in fines (and possible jail time for not paying said fines) after he was caught feeding peanuts to a Westmount Park squirrel. The city’s argument for the anti-feeding bylaw is that tossing two nuts at a rodent is an act that is a slippery slope toward a full-blown infestation. Fine. But the other, more absurd argument being used to defend the law is that a child with a nut allergy may pick one up off the ground, put it in his mouth and get sick – or worse yet, be swarmed by a pack of angry, starving squirrels. Perhaps both, simultaneously!  

This is where the “shit happens” litmus test ought to come into effect. Whenever politicians and bureaucrats meet to come up with “solutions” to our “problems,” they should ask themselves whether or not the solutions will accomplish the stated goals and if the problems have broad enough consequences for the citizenry to justify new legislation. Too often, laws are enacted in response to a particular event (a car crash or child abduction, for instance) without proper reflection. Too often it is the victims’ lobby that helps write legislation that could be overbearing or ineffective; reactionary or means for politicians to earn political capital.  

I don’t know what the political climate was like in Westmount at the time the feeding ban went into effect. What I do know is that the collision between man and beast in an urban environment is inevitable. Once in a blue moon, an overly curious child may require a rabies shot. Sometimes a particularly insalubrious child will get sick after eating something off the ground.  

Why do we enact far-reaching legislation that aims to avert bad luck? Shit happens.

Pandering to the anti-drunk driving lobby, politicians in Ontario have made bartenders and their employers responsible for the behaviour of their drunken patrons. Last year, three young adults were killed in Bracebridge after getting plastered at a local golf course bar and driving off the road. 16 staff members and executives with the course’s parent company – most of whom were not on duty on the night in question – were charged with serving the victims too much alcohol. Penalties range from six-figure fines to one-year jail terms. 

There is no question that the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these folks is tragic. It is appalling, however, to learn that some Ontario politicians are so delusional as to think that these types of tragedies can be prevented simply by writing a new law. Do these people have God complexes? Do they actually think that locking up bartenders will stop people from driving drunk? More importantly, whenever someone dies, why do our leaders need a scapegoat? In Bracebridge, the only person at fault wound up dead. At the risk of coming across as insensitive, it’s time to move on. Shit happens.

It is at this point that the “what if it was your child” lobby begins writing angry letters to the editor. I don’t have children. But if I did, and one was killed in a drunk driving incident, I would not want to be the one to help write the brand new law that aims to respond to that tragedy. Victims of crime are not objective parties. They do not have the distance and hindsight required to help create effective laws that benefit society as a whole. Victims should be left alone to grieve and not thrust into the spotlight as a part of some tacky vote-buying crusade.

Speaking of needless, reactionary laws, Côte des Neiges-NDG will likely prohibit anyone in the borough from owning more than four cats in the near future. I was told the new bylaw is in direct response to the recent case of the mentally ill NDG man, a burned-out student, who hoarded dozens and dozens of them in his home – some alive, some not. Where the magic number “four” came from is a mystery. Is someone who owns three cats responsible and one with five, irresponsible? Will the effort involved in creating this new law prevent cases of hoarding and animal abuse? Will crazy cat people consult borough bylaws before deciding to act like...crazy cat people? 

Politicians are control freaks. Many of them, especially at the municipal level, feel that they were elected to protect us, from the evildoers and from ourselves. That’s why, I suppose, you can’t tie your dog’s leash around a tree in NDG. What they don’t seem to understand is that we’ve given them the privilege of managing our city (or province, country) and not our lives. Get back to basics: Fill the potholes, clear the snow and get off our backs!

In a perfect world, laws would be like diamonds: Rare, precious and reserved only for special occasions. We do not need the minutia of daily life subjected to regulation; it chokes us. Politicians, often, cannot protect you. And when they try, the rest of us suffer. 

“Shit happens,” on the surface, is a vulgar, nonchalant expression that tells the world you don’t care about anything outside of yourself. It’s much more than that; a lifestyle choice, perhaps. It’s accepting that our fragile existence is filled with uncertainty and a government that attempts, through increasingly overbearing and paternalistic regulation, to prevent the unpreventable is simply conning the people. 


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