Last week, I sat at Third Beach with five friends and lazed in the sun. We joked around, discreetly sipped beers, and discussed random topics. At some point, I noticed our laughter and banter occurred between a good many cigarettes. One after the other, my friends would puff and chuckle the smoke out of their noses or speak while it escaped their lips. The smoke didn’t bother me, but a thought did: this is the last summer we will legally be allowed to do this.
On September 1, Vancouver imposed a no-smoking bylaw in all its parks and beaches. That scares me. Ironically, I am not a smoker; I do not approve of smoking. However, I do stand by the belief that Canadians should have the opportunity to choose the lifestyle that they prefer—as long as that lifestyle doesn’t harm the innocent. I believe this choice, and the protection of it, makes us Canadian.
A bylaw like this is not to be taken lightly. Many share a welcoming attitude to the new ban. I understand why, and I am not writing this in an attempt to argue the safety of public smoking. We all know that smoking kills, it is bad, shame on you. But smoking or any legal activity should not be discriminated against because it is unhealthy or simply because we do not like it.
The government collects massively high taxes from smokers yet continues to restrict the places people can enjoy a cancer stick. Smokers are not doing anything wrong. Why are they being punished?
In 2008, a smoking ban took effect on Vancouver restaurant and nightclub patios. In 2000, an earlier ban was imposed on indoor smoking, eliminating smoking sections and detoxifying indoor areas in businesses. This is a growing trend—one that may eventually see smokers reduced to smoking huddled in an open-air glass box erected high in the sky, neither indoor nor outdoor.
Now this in itself does not disturb me. The part that does bother me is the assault on civic liberties, the government declaring what we are allowed to do. What aspects of our life can be snatched away because someone deems them to be inappropriate or unsafe? Where do we draw the line?
I am not sure if I am more afraid of what Canada is becoming or of what it is. Perhaps the ideas of choice and freedom are simply illusions. It is starting to feel like we are only free to choose from the menu of what we are allowed to do. Now what if the things I like are not offered on that menu? Like hanging with my chain-smoking friends at the beach? I fear one day they will tell me that I cannot listen to hip-hop music in public, and then that I cannot play it loudly from my car, until a total ban on playing hip-hop music in Canada is imposed and I am confined to my iPod. We should be able to decide the way that we live and respect the choices of fellow Canadians despite our personal views.
In 2003, U.S. “shock jock” Tom Leykis was booted from Vancouver-based MOJO radio. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council accused the show of containing material discriminatory against women and of being inappropriate for Canadian listeners. The show was edgy but Leykis’s message was good: respect yourself or why should anyone else? The cancellation stemmed from a complaint reviewed by the CBSC, and eventually led to the death of MOJO.
At the time, I was a 20-something student eager to hear the insights and perspectives of Leykis and his callers. Before it was snatched away, the program encouraged me to form opinions on dating, the portrayal of women and their role in society, and premarital sex.
This listener may have spoken for some Vancouverites, but my views in no way speak for all Vancouverites. It is disturbing how people cannot simply turn to another station if something bothers them. It surprises me these people do not feel there should be a place for other people that do enjoy this—to enjoy it. I fear we live in a system where people want growing amounts of control on things they do not agree with.
That is a scary thought. A thought I was reminded of that day on the beach.
This may seem like an exaggeration based on one smoking bylaw in Vancouver, but it’s a slippery slope. There should be a place for Canadians to enjoy the things that they choose to enjoy. Any individual, bylaw, or group that stands in the way of this stands in the way of being Canadian.
There are alternative solutions to issuing a full-out ban: designated smoking areas in beaches and parks, and an increased amount of ashtrays for butts would be a start. We can achieve desired public-safety goals without infringing on the civic rights of our Canadian brethren. Those rights matter. Smokers in Vancouver are being treated unfairly, and as Canadians we need to stand up for them. My beach party depends on it.
Nicholas Simon writes about music for Beyond Robson.