I have criminals for friends.
The beautiful one? Criminal. The runner? Also a criminal. Silver fox? Yup. The redhead? Obviously. The baby-faced two-year-old? Not a criminal, yet. But he probably will be one day.
Sitting around on a Friday evening, I sneakily engage my otherwise well-behaved friends in a game of “You’re a Criminal”. Here is how I play: I toss-out activities into a conversation my friends thought were 100% legit. My naive friends admit participation. Bam! I reveal that they are criminals.
Feeling superior to my poor felonious friends? Before you begin judgment, let me contextualize my friends’ illicit behaviour. You can be convicted for over 500 different crimes in Canada. Chances are, you cannot name all 500+ crimes, let alone avoid committing one! Still not convinced? Let us play, “You’re a Criminal” together now. This challenge has two categories.
CATEGORY 1: ZOMBIE LAWS
In the spirit of Halloween, how many of you have broken a “Zombie Law”? We use Zombie Laws to describe offences that are largely unknown to the public, no longer prosecuted, but still technically crimes. Put your zombie arms straight out for each of you little lawbreakers who have:
• Water-skied without a spotter (up to 6 months jail and a 1 year driving prohibition)
• Challenged someone to a duel (up to 2 years jail)
• Pretended to practice witchcraft (up to 6 months jail)
(If you’re wondering: water skiing, duelling and practicing ‘real’ witchcraft are all not criminal offences).
If you’ve managed to dodge the zombie law bullet, this next set of laws will surely break your law-abiding bubbles. Worse: committing these offences will more likely result in criminal charges against you.
CATEGORY TWO: DRINKING OFFENCES
You probably already knew and avoided many of these offences. You know that drunk driving is a crime. You know you cannot drive a car (a) with too much booze in your system and/or (b) when the booze you drank makes you a bad driver. If these basic impaired driving laws caught you by surprise, please re-take driver’s ed…. sober. Driving a motorboat, snowmobile, or E-bike drunk are also criminal offences. Surprised? Now you know. Keep these offences in mind when you discuss how to get home after the Boxing Day Bash.
Now for offences that will really rock the boat. You can be charged with drunk driving of a “vessel” (a boat) even if the boat does not use a motor! As the laws now stand, driving any kind of boat/vessel drunk could lead to an impaired driving offence. For my final win in the “You’re a Criminal” game, let us wade through all of the crimes you have committed. All hands on deck to those who have:
• paddled a canoe drunk
• stand-up paddled drunk
• oared a raft drunk
• paddleboated drunk
• sat on a pool noodle drunk
As our cherry-on-top of these mind-blowers, note that cycling (even Todd Yourth’s super fast road bike) drunk on land is not a criminal offence. You can be fined under other, non-criminal laws.
Committing any impaired/drunk driving criminal offense is no laughing matter. The sentence for any of these bad lads includes: a criminal record, a minimum $1000 fine, a lengthy driving prohibition and a very real risk of jail. Yup. S!&$ just got serious.
To be fair, the Pembroke Court House does not have a backlog of drunk noodler trials. I have no idea how often impaired motor-less water offences are prosecuted in Canada. But they could be. You could be convicted. You could be sentenced.
The Trudeau government, in one of the least controversial political moves ever, has announced they are going to get rid of Zombie Laws. The State will go from not prosecuting pretend witchcraft to continuing to not prosecute pretend witchcraft. Good news for grade six sleepover participants everywhere!
Here’s the rub. The government had the opportunity to finally put the paddling-while-drunk issue to rest. While they were removing the Zombie Laws, the government proposed changes to drunk driving laws. With these changes, you could only be convicted of drunk driving a boat if it had a motor. Drunk canoeing could still be dealt with by way of fines (like cycling) but it would not bring with it the potential to ruin your career, stop you from travelling or send you to jail.
Unfortunately, to look tough on crime, the government ditched the proposed changes. Drunk paddling is BACK IN as an offence. This is crazy. We must not criminalize people for being idiots, so long as they are not hurting anyone else. We should not spend costly tax dollars prosecuting drunk paddlers, noodlers and SUP’ers.
How are some of the best people we know (yourself included) unknowingly unindicted criminals? The answer lies in bad laws that stay on the books. Bad laws are made as reactions to isolated events. When a lady was bamboozled by a fortune teller, a law was made forbidding fake witchcraft. Poorly-worded laws stay on the books because changing them is inconvenient. No politician wishes to be seen as soft on drunk driving of any kind – even drunk paddling. When we enact law based on emotion and political leaning rather than necessity and reason, we are left with laws that are regularly broken.
While “You’re a Criminal” is a fun cocktail game, we need to keep in mind that the consequences of breaking even silly laws are life-altering. We need to be critical of the limits we put on our freedoms and ensure that the laws we make are fair, reasonable, and absolutely necessary to protect the public from real criminal activity. If we want to ensure people take the law seriously, the laws we have must also be serious.
Until then, I will tell my little group of bandits to stop challenging one another to drunken pool noodle duels. Unless, of course, one reads my palm so I can bet on the winner.
**This column is written for entertainment purposes exclusively. It does not provide nor can it be relied upon as legal advice of any kind and is not intended to create a solicitor-client relationship. **