7 News Archive

Now, if only the law was applied equally...

By Howard Huggett Seven News, November 4, 1978

The recent dramatic developments that ended the postal strike demonstrate how a government can enforce a law quickly and ruthlessly – when it wants to. What happens, or doesn’t happen, when it doesn’t want to hardly needs to be demonstrated again. The issue of the Globe & Mail which provided the pictures and story of the RCMP raid on CUPW headquarters contained an editorial about the Ontario government’s failure to take any action under the Hotel Fire Safety Act to compel hotels to comply with safety standards. The editorial refers to a fire which killed six people in the Wentworth Arms in Hamilton in 1976 and mentions the recommendations of the coroner’s jury that investigated the deaths; Hotel owners should be liable to jail terms for ignoring provisions of the Hotel Fire Safety Act, the fire marshal should have explicit authority to close hotels that do not comply with safety standards; and so on. Yet in the two years that the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office has had responsibility for fire safety inspections of unlicenced hotels not one charge has been laid. Nor has the Liquor Licence Board, which is responsible for licenced premises, laid any charges either. The authorities have, says the Globe & Mail editorial, relied on “gentle suasion, 90-day deadlines, extension of deadlines.”

There is something very familiar about the deadline business, because of course there are other instances of governmental failure to enforce the law. There are statutes in this province which were designed to protect the purity of our air and water, but the pollution goes on. The offending companies are given time to clean up their procedures, the time expires and is extended, and still they do not meet the deadlines. Now and then a company will actually be fined, but the amount involved seldom matches the gravity of the offense. Postal workers have been threatened with firings and jail terms for failure to obey the law – has anyone ever heard of a similar punishment being mentioned for the officers of polluting companies?

It was rather ironic that the CUPW offices were raided by members of the RCMP, an organization that could give lessons in lawbreaking. On the very day of the raid the daily press featured the testimony of former RCMP commissioner Higgett before the McDonald royal commission as to the force’s policy of carrying out illegal operations whenever it was considered necessary, including mail openings and break-ins without a warrant. There is, of course, nothing new here, similar evidence in considerable quantity has been given many months ago. Needless to say, there has been no move to lay criminal charges or take disciplinary action against those responsible.

On the contrary, commissioner Higgett informed the McDonald commission that RCMP officers who refused to carry out illegal acts when ordered to do so could be punished by being transferred elsewhere. There is a double standard for you – postal workers are threatened when they refuse to obey the law, policemen are threatened when they refuse to break it. And that’s not all that’s unfair about this matter. The postal workers were in an illegal position because the federal government passed a law to declare their legal strike an illegal one. This is the same government that proposes to introduce another law to make legal the operations which the RCMP has been carrying out illegally. Whatever became of the idea that the law was impartial?

This article was published in Seven News, Volume 9, Number 13, November 4, 1978