Monday, 14 December 2015

Stupid Laws (Part 1)

I believe that every city, town and village in Canada and the United States had at one time or another, laws that can only be described as stupid. Some of them were enacted long before I was born and others after I was born. I am in my eighties so I suffered like millions of my contemporaries before some of these stupid laws were eventually dropped. This article will deal only with stupid laws in Canada.                      

Toronto, Ontario 
This metropolitan city on the northern border of Lake Ontario has a population of just over six million, making it the fourth most populous city in North America, after Mexico City, New York City, and Los Angeles. Like other cities, it also had some of the stupidest laws that governed its citizens.

When the federal government of Canada passed the Lord’s Day Act in 1906, the fun went out of Sundays in Toronto and elsewhere. Many of the joyful things people like to do  on Sundays to pass away time were considered sinful such as inflating and deflating balloons, riding on a streetcar, bobsledding, shopping, playing on a swing or sliding down slides.

 That was the year my father was born and my mother was born six years later. As they grew up, life must have been extremely boring for them on Sundays.

These stupid rules governed life on Sundays for citizens of Toronto the Good. It was supposed to be a day of rest that was considered vital for moral and spiritual well-being, and part of it was to be spent in churches or any other places of worship.

If water had to be drawn or potatoes peeled for Sunday dinner, it was to be done on Saturday evening. Laundry was not hung out to dry on Sundays. Streetcars stood idle. If you didn’t own a car or your friends and relatives were on the other side of town, there was nothing else you could do other than sit at home twiddling your thumbs. Eaton’s department store kept its glass panes curtained to stave off the sin of window-shopping. The fun went out of Sunday like a deflating balloon as many forms of commerce, recreation and entertainment including burlesque shows ground to a halt.

One of the most chilling effects was city council’s ban on Sunday tobogganing in 1912. The popular sport known then as sliding intruded on pew time in churches argued the men of the cloth during angry meetings on that contentious issue. At one such gathering, 100 citizens and seven church ministers lined up to address the board of control. One of the ministers squawked, “If our boys and girls disregard the Lord’s Day, they will not grow up to be good citizens of our fair city.” Rubbish.  To which D’Arcy Hinds countered: “The Lord made slides in Riverdale, and why can’t we praise God while we slide on them?” I think those “Holier than Thou” religious twits expected everyone to be on their knees all day. The city bt then became known as “Toronto the Boring.”

Workers who looked forward to their only day off so that they could play on the hills weren’t about to take the prohibition lying down so they signed petitions by the thousands. But the bylaw remained on the books until 1961, and outdoor enthusiasts got their Sunday fun by skating rinks instead. Why was skiing or tobogganing on his illegal but skating in rinks was not?

Liquor laws forbid drinking any form of alcohol (other than church wine in churches) on Sundays. Early anti-vice laws that were also known as blue laws weren’t always applied equally. The private homes and clubs of the wealthy were exempt from liquor laws.

As one woman convicted of drunkenness complained to the judge who convicted her, “The only difference between me and Lady Flaherty in Rosedale is that I don’t have a powdered flunkey to carry me up to bed when I get drunk.”

Even little kiddies letting off steam on a Sunday afternoon were stymied by bylaws run amok that kept swings and slides chained and locked. City parks remained closed on Sundays until 1938. This had an effect on me. I was five years old then and since I couldn’t play in the park, I and my friends chose to play in a dump where large empty oil tanks were stored. When I was six, we played along railroad tracks running for our lives ahead of huge steam engines puffing hot scalding steam immediately behind us.

Movies and theatrical performances were closed on Sunday afternoons. It wasn’t until 1961 when they were opened Sunday afternoons.  The Lux Theatre’s most popular burlesque stars kicked off the show on May 28, 1961. I remember that show. I watched it. I was 28 years of age then.

Prior to 1961, modern professional baseball games had been allowed on Sundays for more than a decade prior to that year. But it would be another 32 years before retail stores were permitted to open on Sundays. The champion of seven-day retailing: furrier Paul Magder refused to close his Spadina Avenue shop on Sundays in 1978. He triggered a decades-long court battle that eventually forced him into bankruptcy. June 3, 1992, marked the end of an 85 year-long ban on retail sales activity on Sundays in the province of Ontario, Canada. The federal Lord's Day Act ban was defeated in Supreme Court of Canada that year.

There was a stupid law in Toronto that forbade anyone lying on the grass in a city park unless they were near a body of water. One such bather was charged. He argued that there was a small steam running near him and the court ruled that a small stream is a body of water and acquitted him. The city finally realized that that law was a stupid one and dropped that law from its books.

 Recently a Toronto businessman found that to sell edible underwear in his Adult Entertainment’ store, he’d need a food license. That is about as stupid as saying that if a gas station sells chocolate bars it would need a food licence.  

Years ago, my ex-boss retained my services to represent him in a court. He had been given a parking ticket. He objected to the statement on the ticket that said that if he disputed the ticket, the fine would be higher. Toronto was wrong to make anyone fighting their ticket, to suffer an increased fine from the original fine. In court, I argued that such a law was in conflict with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that stated that no one is to be subjected to a higher penalty than what is stated by law. The court agreed an d I ended up being asked to give interviews on radio stations. Within a month, all the parking tickets were changed.

Toronto of today is as exciting on Sundays as it is on weekdays since all the silly Sunday laws went the way of the dodo bird.

Old British laws are being removed

  • Some of the  British laws go back to the signing of the Magna Carta such as a law that forbids beating a carpet in the street or firing a canon within 275 metres of a street. In Liverpool, it is still illegal for a woman to be topless in public unless she is a clerk in a tropical fish store. Two lawyers and a researcher have been given the task of going through all the laws in the UK to see which ones are to be removed. Now there is a life-time task. 


The next five articles (December 16, 18, 21, 23, and 25) will be short Christmas stories I have written for my readers.  

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