The Rule of Law

Lately I’ve taken to having my blood pressure monitor at my side when watching the evening news, just so I’ll be able to know when to mute the sound or change the channel before I blow a gasket.

As a lawyer, pretty much my entire universe is tied up with the rule of law. It’s the holy grail that drives our profession, so my blood starts to boil a bit when the news incessantly reports breakdowns in the rule of law. Top of mind is Vancouver’s open air pot bazaar, held on the very steps of what used to be, in the days of my youth,  the chief courthouse in the province.

Nightly, police spokesman assure the public that they’re aware of the situation and are studying it closely and formulating plans to deal with it. What rubbish! For the life of me I cannot understand how it takes some grand plan, or an operation with a fancy code name, in order to roust out a handful of non-violent miscreants who are flagrantly flaunting a number of laws, from provisions of the criminal code down to municipal bylaws.

This is not a rant against “reefer madness”. The street vendors could be flogging anything and I would still be clamoring for them to be shut down. The irony is, if they were selling almost anything except pot, they probably would be, but the fact that they are selling an illegal substance in contravention of the criminal code gives some urgency to the task.

It wasn’t that many years ago that New York City was considered to be a very dangerous place. Shortly put, the rule of law had broken down,allowing street crime to flourish. When then Mayor Giuliani began the enormous task of taking back the streets of New York he started small. Police were instructed that there was “no call to small” and that every law was to be enforced. Neighborhood by neighborhood, police began to re-impose the rule of law by first targeting the smallest misdemeanors that previously had been ignored, (much as our scruffy pot vendors have been ignored until now). whether it was double parking or graffiti tagging or vandalism, the laws were enforced and offenders apprehended and prosecuted. Pretty soon, ordinary citizens started to take notice, and took heart that they could rely upon the police to enforce the law, and they began to pitch in as well. No longer did they feel helpless against a tide of apparent indifference to lawless behaviour.

Ultimately, the battle for the streets of New York was won, by the plodding, patient process of law enforcement. Here in Vancouver, we need, and deserve the same steady and predictable enforcement, lest we lose the battle for our own streets. The rule of law requires consistency, whether you are a street vendor  or a a major retailer- everyone  needs to play by the same rules.