Thursday, June 3, 2010

Legislative Creep

On occasion I feel nostalgic for the days of the lawspeaker. This was a government office that existed in medieval Scandinavian states, and the man who held it was expected to memorize and speak aloud the law of the land when necessary. Admittedly, this would have been considerably easier a thousand years ago, when - it can be argued - laws were far more focused on issues relevant to the average person, thanks to the nature of governments and the absence of lobbyists. Now, of course, there's no way an average person could memorize the full extent of the law.

The reason why is simple - the function of a legislative body is to create law, and so that is what it does, whether or not it needs to. While medieval governments weren't responsive to the people to begin with, today corporations and multinationals and even other governments have far greater sway in the halls of government than the people it purportedly represents and legislates on behalf of. What this frequently results in is a legislature creating hundreds or thousands or millions of new criminals merely by the stroke of a pen.

Right now, the Conservative minority government of Stephen Harper - the best President that Canada has ever had, considering the degree to which he seems to get his marching orders from the United States - is struggling to push a somewhat modified, but still fundamentally made-in-USA copyright bill into law. While it's not quite as onerous in all respects as the version that was thankfully killed in 2008, and does not go nearly as deep into the crazy end of the pool as the United Kingdom's Digital Economy Act, it's still hardly ideal. It will still make it an offense punishable with five years and jail and up to $1-million in fines to circumvent any technological protection measures on information, the so-called "digital locks."

This isn't a law Canadians wanted. The copyright consultations held after the acrimonious failure of Bill C-61 made that clear, and none of it matters. This is a law that is going through because the United States - or, more appropriately, the multinational entertainment giants of the United States - prefer it to the current state of Canada's system. Personally, it sets us down a path we'd be better off not following.

Maybe the biggest issue is that the legislative bodies seem to be devoted so wholeheartedly to creating new law, to delineating the line between order and chaos to an ever-greater extent, and to making it so that every day the boundaries of the law are a bit more rigid than the day before. No surprise, really - we have dedicated chambers in our legislatures for the purpose of creating new law. But if the medieval lawspeaker forgot about one small portion of the law, and did not read it when the time came, was it really a law at all? Perhaps what we need is a new chamber, one dedicated to striking down laws that don't serve the people.

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