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Screwing the Law-Abiding

Last fall, the latest in a string of anti-smoking bylaws passed by the City of Toronto forced Toronto restaurants to choose between serving smokers and, basically, serving families with children. In a slick piece of political correctness, the bylaw rules make it illegal to have smokers in the same place as children, and force restaurant owners to choose between serving smokers and kids. If a restaurant decides to allow smoking, nobody under 19 is allowed inside, and it’s a bar.

My own hangout, Dooney’s Café at 511 Bloor, opted for non-smoking, mostly because the owner, Graziano Marchese, has a seven-year-old daughter and didn’t want to be running a place where he couldn’t take his own daughter. Or allow my daughter, for that matter, with whom I have lunch there every Wednesday. To accommodate his smoking customers, he spent several thousand dollars installing a see-through plastic tent on the patio, along with a portable propane heater to keep them warm. That worked okay until the Fire Marshall happened along and told him he couldn’t use the heater without the doors being open, which kind of defeated the purpose. One by one, he watched his smoking customers desert Dooneys for the "bar" across the street.

Now it is becoming clear that like the anti-smoking bylaws that preceded this one, the one isn’t working. Lots of restaurants are operating in violation. Some are merely ignoring the bylaw. A couple of afternoons ago ago at Dooney’s, for instance, I watched a woman take two small children into the new bar—and former restaurant—across the street. If they get caught, I suppose the owners will hustle the kids—probably temporarily—back out the door and pretend they didn’t notice them there or thought they were midgets. But a much larger number of restaurants are allowing adults to smoke on the premises after 9 P.M. when the children, theoretically, won’t be around to suffer the harmful effects of sidestream chromium, plutonium bits and whatever else the anti-smoking Nazis imagine smokers spew over the kids. These restaurants are most likely calculating that there aren’t a lot of bylaw officers around after 9 P.M., and everyone knows that anti-smoking activists like to be in bed by 8:30.

Not the least of my concerns, Graziano is upset about the situation. He’s gone along with the bylaw—reluctantly—because he’s a decent, law-abiding citizen, and because, well, rules are rules. But despite being law-abiding, he’s more than smart enough to recognize that if his competitors aren’t following the rules, it puts him at a competitive disadvantage.

In fact, the bylaw damned well should have been sensible enough to allow restaurants to permit smoking after nine or ten o’clock at night. Responsible parents don’t have their children running around restaurants at that hour, and parents who do are probably blowing smoke in their faces anyway. But of course, protecting children was never the intent of the bylaw. It was always a back-door method of criminalizing the smoking of cigarettes and stopping anyone from smoking them.

The bureaucrats who framed the bylaw–not doubt under pressure from health activists–have succeeded only at what they all too often succeed at: screwing the law-abiding citizens and creating a climate in which people lose respect for government and end up fighting amongst one another. This is doubly troubling, because the violations are predicated on a recognition by the law-breakers that the budget-starved City of Toronto doesn’t have the enforcement staff to police the bylaw, or if it does, it’ll do so selectively, and therefore unfairly. Someone will walk in the door of Dooney’s with a lit smoke in their face and Graz will get pinched before he can ask the criminal to butt out.

I don’t have a easy solution to this mess, except to shout, very loudly, that unenforced laws are worse than no laws at all, and to suggest, in more civil tones, that some common sense adjustments be swiftly made to this particular one.

600 w. February 1, 2002

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Brian Fawcett

Brian Fawcett

Brian Fawcett is a Toronto-based writer.

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