© 2010  Karen Selick

An edited version of this article first appeared in the February 17, 2010 issue of the Calgary Herald.
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Consumers Need to Be Safe—from Government!

While many Canadians have denounced the recent proroguing of Parliament, there is another sizeable contingent who heaved a mighty sigh of relief.   Prorogation has resulted in an unexpected, eleventh-hour reprieve from a highly controversial piece of legislation:  Bill C-6, the proposed Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. 


Passed in the House of Commons last June with virtually no opposition, the bill went to the Senate where it was perceived with a more critical eye—perhaps due to the deluge of e-mail from concerned citizens who implored senators to defeat it.  In debate, two senators expressed alarm about what they viewed as its unconstitutionality, while a third, Senator Elaine McCoy, denounced the extraordinarily intrusive new regulatory regime as out-and-out “totalitarian”.  In late December, it finally passed, but with amendments.  This meant it had to return to the House of Commons for reconsideration, but fortunately it died there when the session ended.


Bill C-6 seems so absurdly out of character for a supposedly conservative government that it calls to mind the 1980s British satirical sitcom “Yes, Minister”.  One can picture the Harper cabinet—continually berated by the media as unfeeling droids—brainstorming for ways to demonstrate their tender concern for the country’s babies. Enter the career bureaucrats from Health Canada with a plan (“Outlaw killer cribs!”) designed both to plump up the government’s warm fuzzy image and to vastly expand their own empire and powers.  “We’ll take it,” cry cabinet members, dismissing Faust from their minds.


In fact, Canada already had legislation governing product safety, ever since 1969:  the Hazardous Products Act.  Although Health Canada bureaucrats admit “this product safety regime has served us well”, they characterized it as outdated and out of synch with the modern legislative regimes of Europe and the United States.


Notably absent was any evidence that European and American babies are safer than Canadian babies as a consequence of that so-called modern legislation.  What has instead become obvious to even casual observers in recent years is that the European Union and the United States have both become gargantuan bureaucracies whose citizens are ever more continually stripped of their liberties and subjected to state control of the minutest aspects of their daily lives.


I experienced two jaw-dropping examples of this on a vacation to Arizona last month.  The resort suite I rented via the internet promised a private patio with hot-tub and a fully-equipped kitchen.  Upon arrival, I found the door to my patio bolted shut.  “Entry prohibited by federal law,” read the sign.  Hotel management explained that the drains in all the resort’s hot-tubs had recently been found not to comply with new safety regulations.  Compliance costs would be astronomical.  Dozens of hot-tubs would instead be cemented over permanently.  But where were the pots, pans, plates and kitchen utensils?  These, too, had been removed “by federal law” said the embarrassed bellhop.  They would be delivered to a suite only upon explicit customer request.  What horrible safety hazard would have befallen me had the kitchenware been present before I requested it, I wondered?  Only a bureaucrat could possibly know.


But far worse than these inane inconveniences would be the injury that Canadians would suffer to their traditional legal rights and freedoms if Bill C-6 is reincarnated and adopted in the next session of Parliament. 


The bill would empower Canada to disclose citizens’ confidential information to foreign governments on the most nebulous of pretexts and without reliable safeguards for maintaining confidentiality.


Armies of newly hired inspectors would be deployed throughout the country with instructions—and the legal authority—to poke their noses into every business place containing consumer products, to seize products and vehicles, and to order the business to stop manufacturing or selling its products.  No proof of danger or harm would be required.


Even homes could be searched, with a warrant—but a warrant could be issued for the flimsiest of reasons: namely, that the home has a consumer product stored in it.  Under that criterion, not a single home in the country would be secure from these legalized invasions.


The bill contains other egregious provisions too numerous to catalogue here.


Health Canada acts as if it is the only thing standing between citizens and imminent death.  The truth is that the greatest forces keeping individuals safe from dangerous products are our common-law right to sue for tort, and business’ self-interest in maintaining their reputation for quality.


Prime Minister Harper once headed an organization, the National Citizens Coalition, whose motto was “For more freedom through less government.”  If he reintroduces Bill C-6 in the next session of parliament, any lingering doubts about his abandonment of that philosophy will be laid to rest.





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This article was also published in the Vancouver Sun and the Ottawa Citizen. 

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