When the Law is an Ass

(note update below)

Dr. Dawg brings this story to my attention. The parents of Peter Jaworski were recently slapped with a summons for a bylaw infringement by the municipality of Clarington at the east end of the Greater Toronto Area.

I vaguely know Mr. Jaworski as part of the political blogosphere, though we travel in different circles. An ardent libertarian, he had successfully organized the Liberty Summer Seminar at his parents’ bread and breakfast. This was the ninth time libertarian leaning bloggers and politicians attended the gathering, but the first time somebody complained about it.

Over the weekend of July 25, the LSS celebrated its tenth anniversary with a two-day event on the Orono property. On Sunday afternoon, as the event was wrapping up, a municipal law enforcement official arrived without notice in the car parking area. He quizzed a passing LSS participant about the event, asking him what had been served for lunch, as well as the cost of the registration fee, and the number of port-a-potties available. After a few minutes, the official left without attempting to speak to the Jaworski family.

On August 12th, Marta and Lech Jaworski were each served with a summons to appear in court on the grounds that they had “allowed the use of land in an agricultural zone for a use other than a permitted residential use; namely for a commercial conference centre,” which is contrary to Clarington by-laws.* A first offence carries a maximum penalty of $25,000 upon conviction.

Now, Mr. Jaworski and I may not often agree on matters political, but I can see a bit of a dangerous precedent here. The seminar is a non-profit event, so while attendance was in the dozens, not much separates it from a family reunion, or a gathering of friends and colleagues that I myself might arrange among the Blogging Alliance of Non-Partisan Canadians or the Waterloo-Wellington Bloggers Association. If I asked attendees to chip in to cover the costs of the gathering, would I end up with bylaw enforcement officers coming down on my head? The Jaworskis weren’t brought down by any noise complaints and, according to the story, maintain good relations with their neighbours, and have successfully and without rancour hosted this event for the past nine years. But now the municipality of Clarington is essentially charging the Jaworskis for not hiring space at an approved conference space elsewhere in the city.

Try turning the tables on the Progressive Bloggers annual gathering, and it would be just as wrong. The application of the law here appears either malicious, or thoughtless. Either way, it’s an outrage. Dawg calls it an infringement on the Charter-guaranteed right to freedom of assembly, and I am inclined to agree. And given the traction this story is getting, many others across the political spectrum appear to agree.

The mayor and councillors of Clarington need to take a lighter hand with their residents, if for no other reason than to refrain from handing Peter Jaworski a perfect soapbox on which to speak.

(Update: 9:29 p.m.): Thanks to some digging by Big City Liberal, and an e-mail conversation between him and Peter himself, there may be more to this story than meets the eye. It looks as though there may be a dispute with some unfriendly neighbours happening, here, with some bogus complaints having been phoned into the city in the past. Stay tuned.

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