The Métropolitain

Enough! We have a right to be human!

Par Beryl Wajsman le 13 août 2013

Two weeks ago it was a student sitting on the grass. Last week a woman putting out her garbage two hours early. Next week someone will throw a cigarette butt or candy wrapper on the road. What connects all these incidents? Massive fines that go up to $692 per incident that many cannot afford to pay. This has to stop!

Certainly there is reason for imposing fines in certain instances. But not to the point of making it hard for people to buy food or pay rent. And certainly not to the point of putting already precarious homeless people into jail because they can't pay the tickets issued to them for sleeping in parks. That admission by a police officer, as reported last week, was astounding even to the most cynical observer.

Several days after that officer admitted that police were ticketing students for sitting on the grass because they had to be treated the same as homeless people who were being ticketed, it was reported that $15 million worth of these types of fines could never be paid by the victims. Yes they are victims. In fact so are we all.

There comes a time in the affairs between governors and governed that every action of the public administration excites the people’s contempt. We may have reached that point in Montreal. And obviously not just for fines that are back door tax grabs.

All social contracts between citizens and state inherently demand some cession of liberty and treasure. But those cessions are made for the provision of services. The contract does not demand abdication of our individual dignity. We are not schoolchildren.  Under no circumstances should citizens be culpable for the simple act of being human. And finally, they should not have to suffer  the imposition of additional financial burdens on the public in the form of punitive penalties for services they are already taxed for and supposedly carried out by the groaning bureaucracy of the civic administration - such as street cleaning, garbage pick-up and park maintenance..

Current policies leave us all victimized. We need to demand our freedom back. Perhaps it is as a coalition of victims that we need to rise up, come together and say “enough is enough”, “assez c’est assez”. Enough of years of suffocating law and legislation. Enough of students being fined for sitting with their feet on the wrong side of a concrete enclosure in Emilie-Gamelin Park. Enough of garbage inspectors in Old Montreal and NDG opening our refuse bags to find our address in order to send $1,000 fines because we put the bags out too early. Enough of merchants on Park Ave. being fined hundreds of dollars for not cutting weeds on city sidewalks.

Enough of downtown landlords being fined because their restaurant or bar tenants do not have “official” ashtrays screwed in next to their entrances. Enough of fines that criminalize the homeless. Enough of increases in parking meter rates while that don't leave us time to enjoy a movie. Enough of merchants being responsible for cleaning public sidewalks in front of their premises. Enough of boroughs printing pamphlets reminding us of these  egregious fines on innocent behaviour and advertising  with bold type that the “guilty will be punished”. Guilty of what? Being human, dropping a candy-bar wrapper, smoking a cigarette and not willing to have the responsibilities of city workers offloaded on their backs.

Montrealers are already the highest taxed urban citizens in North America. Some 20 months ago we were hit with the highest tax increases in the history of North America.

Our taxes are supposed to cover the basics. Garbage collection, snow removal, public security, public transit, and water and sewage. It should not be up to the citizens to pay additional costs to manage what they have already paid for. The job of elected officials is not to engage in social engineering. To impose fines forcing citizens to do what is the city’s work — street cleaning, garbage collection, maintenance of public spaces — is stark malfeasance at worst and double taxation at best.

It's  time to be free again. It’s time to revoke many recently enacted by-laws. Reduce the amount of fines in others. And we need to restrict, and in some cases eliminate, the powers or positions of smoking police, meter maids, the cleanliness corps, jaywalking cops and garbage inspectors. Nobody elected anyone to impose a control state on Montreal.