After spending a semester in Media Law, listening to Klaus talk about which civil liberties are more important than others, I feel entitled to make a comment on this latest test of Canadian liberties.
Vancouver announced last week that it was placing a ban on smoking at public beaches and parks, to mixed response. Some have applauded the city, saying that it such a ban is a legitimate expression of the cultural ethos. Others argue that the legislation will invariably end up before the courts as a constitutional infringement.
A Globe & Mail story by Michael Valpy even suggested that one Vancouver lawyer, who went unnamed, had suggested that the legislation violates the equality-rights section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by “discriminating against people with disabilities, because smokers are addicted.”
Excuse me? Last time I checked, people with disabilities, whether physical or mental, did not make a conscious choice to acquire said disability. A person does not wake up one morning and decide, ‘Alright, I’m going to be schizophrenic today,’ whereas the situation is quite the opposite with a smoker. Yes, they have a craving, but they make the conscious decision to fulfill that craving.
Serial killers have cravings too, cravings that do incredible damage to their victims and families. If they indulge their desires to kill, we charge them and they endure the criminal justice system. When people smoke in public, they are indulging a craving that can harm the people around them and potentially lead to fatal results if the person develops cancer.
Given that we know the fatal results that smoking can (and often does) have, why should the cravings of one person take priority over the lives and well-being of others? The overarching theme in civil liberties is that the restriction of one liberty must yield greater benefits than harm. In the case of restricting public smoking, there should be no argument- yes, the rights of smokers to smoke where they wish is being restricted, but in the name of the public good. By not being exposed to second-hand smoke, more people can live longer, healthier lives. If that means that smokers have to deal with the discomfort of their cravings for a while, so be it. We know the negative impacts of smoking, and no one starts smoking without recognizing the addictive nature of cigarettes.
Knowing this, people who make the decision to smoke should be prepared to deal with the consequences. Yes, they can do what they want, but it is entirely reasonable to insist that their self-destructive habit not be done in a place where it can also impact the health of others.