Prime Time Crime  


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Nov. 20, 2006)

Making rules is the easy part

  By John Martin

The premier's announcement to expand smoking restrictions and ban junk food from schools set off the usual round of debate. Restricting people's choices is often controversial and typically pushes people's emotions into overdrive.

Passing laws and bylaws, enacting some type of enforcement and establishing a penalty for non-compliance is mainly what governments do (besides excessively tax us). Ideally, the new rules don't actually need to be enforced because people agree with them and adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Sometimes the majority of citizens comply overnight. In other instances, it takes longer.

I have this vivid recollection from more than four decades ago. A bunch of my mother's motorcycle friends were sitting in our front room drinking beer. The motorcycle helmet law had just come into effect and the visitors were less than enthused about it. I was playing on the carpet and I remember my uncle Charlie (who I found out years later wasn't really my uncle-and that explained a few things) commenting as he pointed in my direction, "Next thing you know, they'll make little Johnny wear a helmet every time he hops on his bike."   Everyone laughed.

That incident came to me while waiting at a red light a few weeks back. A young woman was riding her bicycle and her cheek was tucked against her shoulder, steadying the cellphone she was speaking into. One hand was on the handlebar and the other was searching for something in her bag. Probably a lighter because she had a fresh cigarette between her lips. She expertly weaved her way through traffic and continued talking on the phone, albeit in the wrong lane. She wasn't wearing a helmet.

A few days later I was walking my dog in a nearby field and two males, probably in their twenties but looking much older, were smoking crack behind an adjacent church. They made no effort to conceal their activities. A few minutes later our paths crossed again as the two of them rode by on a couple of high-end mountain bikes. Both had regulation helmets.

More recently, I looked out my front window and there was a fellow on horseback trotting along. One hand grasped the reigns and the other held, not a tin cup of java brewed over the campfire, but a Grande Starbucks coffee cup.

Out of respect for a different time, there's generally no law prohibiting horses on municipal roads. Mercifully, the wrangler wasn't required to wear a helmet either. He was in complete compliance.

But if he wants to stay that way he should plan on switching to decaf, non-fat, Soya mocha real soon.



John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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