Hard to know who is wearing white these days 

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It's getting harder and harder to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Back in the day, the bad guys wore black hats; good guys wore white. Admittedly, the white hats got really dirty and sometimes it was hard to tell who was who, but that's why dry cleaners and laundries were often the first signs — shortly after saloons and brothels — of civilization in a new town.

There were other ways to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. Bad guys robbed people. They stole things, assaulted innocent and not-so innocent folks, killed people, cheated, swindled and generally did everything they could to convert your property into their property. They made life even more brutal for the good guys and regular, ordinary people.

The good guys, by and large, were public servants. Not always, mind you. Sometimes the vigilantes did good deeds, but one of the touchstones of "civilization" involved the process of replacing frontier justice with codified law... and order... such as it was. Governments, local, provincial, federal, took on the role of good guys and divided the good guy jobs between police functions, prosecutorial functions and punishment or incarceration.

It worked reasonably well, at least in countries with what we like to think of as a cultural grounding in the rule of law. In other countries, well, it was pretty hard to know who wore what colour hat.

In most countries, you had to look ever further back into an earlier day to tell the good guys from the bad guys. But it was easier. The good guys were powerless. The bad guys ran the joint. It was called feudalism.

One of the early cracks in the feudal system came in 1215 when a group of feudal barons forced England's King John to sign the Magna Carta. Make no mistake, the barons didn't wear white hats. But their rebellion did give rise to grey hats. Viewed in current terms, the Magna Carta protected the rights of the 1% from abuse by the 0.000001%, i.e., the king.

The Magna Carta restrained King John from arbitrarily exercising his will over the barons. It established the concept — if not the reality — of the rule of law. It led to the development of the idea of constitutional law and constitutional rights, which is to say fundamental rights enjoyed by all, OK, all free white male, citizens.

Over the centuries, the notion of constitutional rights was extended, codified, jurisprudentialized, twisted, perverted, expanded, contracted and generally accepted as the hallmark of civilized people. Reduced to their essence, they protect the powerless against the powerful. The powerless are you and me. The powerful is the state, the various levels of government.

Constitutional — and statutory — protections are necessary for the simple reason that no one person, no group of people, no distinguishable class has enough power to protect themselves against the arbitrary exercise of the power of the government. Government has the police, the security agencies, the courts, the jails, the army if needed. You and I have, well, nothing but the rights we've been granted by those levels of government.

Any fight against any level of government is a one-sided battle. The only leverage that even lets it be called a fight is that bundle of rights. Take those away and we're toast.

And friends, I'm here to tell you those rights are disappearing like a fart in a strong wind.

We used to enjoy, or at least thought we enjoyed, a right to privacy. Pierre Trudeau summed it up nicely when he said "... there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." He was referring to laws criminalizing quite common sexual acts between consenting adults who happened to share quite common chromosomal structure. We now let those people marry each other. The hosts of next week's Olympics still consider them criminals.

Now we find the right to privacy is no longer a right. In an "exercise," the Communication Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) decided it was OK to track the movements of Canadian citizens. The threat they posed to Canadian security was taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi at Canadian airports while they wasted the hours they had on their hands because they had to arrive early for security purposes.

CSEC said they didn't do anything wrong. "Hey it's only metadata," whatever the hell that is, a smokescreen if I'm not mistaken.

Some people are outraged. Others, not so much. Inevitably, it didn't take the goosestepping sheeple among us long to post such enlightened comments as, "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about." Those sheeple slept though history class the day they would have learned about all the "good" Jews in Europe who weren't worried about the Nazis rounding up their friends. Hey, they weren't doing anything wrong; what did they have to worry about?

And over the course of the past few weeks, we've learned a lot about our very own B.C. governments black ops Civil Forfeiture Office. OK, we haven't learned where they operate out of, who they are — other then their head — or how or why they decide to seize property from people who have neither been charged nor convicted of a crime but who ever said government should be open and transparent. Oh yeah, it was people like Christy Clark who said that.

In case you haven't been paying attention, civil forfeiture is a creation of statute that allows government, in this case the provincial government, to seize property deemed to be the proceeds of unlawful activity. The concept is both simple and just. If you, say, run a Ponzi scheme and bilk people out of billions of dollars and you use some of that loot to buy a nice house, some cars, a boat and a private island, the government will seize all that property since you bought it with the proceeds of your unlawful activity. Either that or they'll bail your bank out. But I digress.

But our government, with the full support and backing of our current (In)Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton, has turned the concept on its head to the point where the Civil Forfeiture Office is the one running the confidence game, complete with budget targets it not only meets but exceeds several times over.

Oh, and that quaint "proceeds of unlawful activity" notion. Why go to all the bother of making the government prove unlawful activity, i.e., crime. The Office just seizes the property and leaves it up to Joe Schumck to prove he didn't commit a crime. It's so much easier that way. Since proving you didn't commit a crime is really expensive, guess what? You lose, that's what.

But what the hell, we don't have anything to worry about if we're not doing anything wrong, eh?



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