Saturday, October 10, 2009

DiManno: Watch me blow smoke out my ears

The cops and the cig police are blowing smoke out their ass.

That would be spokespeople for the Ontario Provincial Police and tobacco jackboots with the Windsor-Essex County's health unit, co-defenders of a most absurdly autocratic interpretation of the province's antismoking legislation.

The letter of the law is allegedly being followed. In this case, that letter is A, for asinine; B, for bollocks; C, for chicken s--t; D, for duh-duh-dumb; et cetera.

Some poor mock trucker from London, Ont., was issued a $305 ticket on Wednesday for smoking in his rig. A rig, as defined by tobacco tyrants in the health sphere, is a work environment, thus subject to outright banning of nicotine under Ontario's Employment Standards Act.

Cops claim they're just enforcing the law, which has been in place since May 2006, though this particular OPP officer – unidentified – seems most pedantic indeed, pulling over the driver of a trailer-truck who happened to have a cigarette between his lips whilst motoring along Highway 401 near Windsor. Was Smokey Bear trying to make his cop-quota, just bored, or one of those Nico-Nazis?

The trucker has not been named either, though we're all scrambling to track the guy down. The Ontario Trucking Association has also put out the word to its members: Please come forward. "I'm a little surprised he hasn't but it could be that he just wants to stay out of the limelight,'' says David Switzer, association vice-president. "Or maybe he was heading home after being on the road, went to sleep, and doesn't know anything about how this has exploded in the media."

That driver might have a good case for ducking the citation in court, should he choose to fight the fine. The majority of trucking companies in Canada operate in more than one province, thus are not strictly subject to Ontario's antismoking legislation; rather, they fall under the federal Canada Labour Code, which still allows designated smoking and non-smoking areas in a workplace. A driver, especially if the sole occupant of the rig, can designate it a smoking area.

This is a point Switzer makes every time the issue arises, which is a couple of times a month, though he's never heard of a ticket actually being issued, only the warning extended. On those occasions, the association provides a tutorial on the law to bylaw enforcers, many of whom have a poor grasp of the legislative distinctions.

"It's like, whoa, you can't really do that."

Too many assume their authority has no bounds. And, I'd posit, they're bossy dinks by nature.

The antismoking brigade is just about the most self-righteous outfit of crusaders in memory. This movement long ago stopped being about health, as it morphed – more accurately, showed its true colours – into sanctimonious social engineering by diktat. In another era, they would have pounded the drum against booze or knocked the genitals off nude sculptures.

The other day, I was having a dart – yes, I smoke and love it, am not remotely interested in quitting – outside an office building in downtown Toronto and noticed a sign overhead warning that no smoking was allowed within 25 feet of the front entrance. The going-rate for smoker-shunning is nine metres. But this would have put me on the opposite side of the street, in front of another building that likewise forbade smoking on its doorstep. Where am I supposed to stand – on the streetcar tracks? Dead smoker in the middle of the road.

In fact, the sidewalk smoking proscription applies only to medical facilities under provincial law. There is, as yet, no municipal standard in Toronto for any other buildings. Property managers can ask you to move along but they can't demand it. They don't own the sidewalk. There's no bylaw being broken. This, naturally, is not something they want you to know.

And another thing: I'm smoking as I write this column, in my home. I have the luxury of working out of my house, at least in the type-type stage of committing journalism. Smoking helps me focus my thoughts and make deadline.

We are not yet at the pink-lung-doctrine point where smoking in one's home is prohibited – though no doubt headed in that direction.

But a stingy interpretation of Ontario's act might very well consider my house a work area and ditto for the self-employed sector.

They will be coming with their citation pads and pitchforks soon enough. Man the barricades. But stock up on smokes first.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Toronto Star

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