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Friday, February 17, 2006

A case for narrowly-drawn criminal law 

A British Columbian man is arrested for drinking a beer outside a hockey arena: a classically Canadian activity which is nonetheless falls foul of the criminal law, which prohibits drinking in public places. He ends up being shot in the back of the head in police custody. "Fuck" is, I imagine, a common reaction.

Leaving aside the massive unanswered question of how the shooting managed to unfold, one might also ask why (the fuck) are police arresting people for drinking beer outdoors? The answer being that they are empowered to do so, and in a small town like Houston, BC, they will exercise that power due to boredom/underemployment/nothing better to do.

And therein lies the problem with all the petty criminal offences that apologists and conservatives justify on the basis that "oh, the police will exercise discretion in enforcing that law." Possession of marijuana for personal use springs to mind. "Discretion" in enforcement is really just another word for arbitrary justice, and a recipe for arrests along the following lines: (a) in larger cities, anyone the police want an excuse to stop, search and arrest, etc. when they have the time (e.g., young brown males); (b) in smaller centres, anyone the police want to arrest when they're bored or otherwise looking for something to do.

The easiest way to prevent such injustice is to narrowly tailor the criminal law so as to prohibit only those activities which are manifestly incompatible with the rights of others in a free and democratic society. Under this test, the law could prohibit "drunk and disorderly behaviour" in a public place, but not mere consumption of alcohol. It is likely prize fighting would also be allowed. Idiot/Savant might also have a few words to say about the "Sedition" provision.

Young happy kid having a beer with his mates b4 a sports game ends up with a bullet in the back of the head an hour later.

Gee, that sounds an awful lot like MURDER to me.
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