Edmonton political signs with profanity on vehicles not crime or traffic offence

Aug 20th, 2015 | By | Category: Canadian Provinces

Anti-Stephen Harper protesters block his party's campaign bus during a Conservative federal election event on Westbury Avenue in Montreal, Sunday 2 August 2015.

There was a time when we felt it was inappropriate to use the ancient English expletive “fuck” in published writing. (It does not appear, eg, in our office copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in two volumes,  1972 printing.)

But the Internet and various new political and broader cultural vibrations since the 1980s (?) have changed things.

The 2005 appearance of the movie Fuck : “A documentary on the expletive’s origin, why it offends some people so deeply, and what can be gained from its use” was probably a milestone. It featured such diverse “stars” as Pat Boone, Drew Carey, Janeane Garofalo, Ice-T, Ron Jeremy, Bill Maher,  Alanis Morissette, and Hunter S. Thompson.

The old (informal or social) prohibition of the f-word seems especially misplaced in the Canadian federal election campaign of 2015. More than one “Fuck Harper” sign has sprung up spontaneously on the streets, as it were — in both Edmonton (west) and Montreal (east), and (who knows?) possibly in other places as well, from coast to coast to coast.

Rob Wells with the Steven Harper sign he put in his vehicle’s rear window, Edmonton, Wednesday 19 August 2015. Wells has been fined $543 by a (Conservative) Mountie for having the sign in his car. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.)

More importantly, we want to join the voices of outrage over some crazed Mountie’s efforts to fine Rob Wells of Edmonton $543, for refusing to remove a rather large “Fuck Harper” sign in the back window of his car — on the grounds that it’s “a distraction to other drivers.”

Mr. Wells, it seems clear enough, is a longtime (and taxpaying) street-level “human rights activist,” who has spoken out for various progressive causes in the past. Our “free and democratic society” in Canada today is as much of a real democracy as it is partly because it constitutionally includes Canadians like Rob Wells.

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Mr. Wells has also conceded that, as words have been more traditionally used, his “Fuck Harper” sign’s language “isn’t appropriate.”

But “he says removing it would violate his right to free expression … ‘I want to express my complete disdain for the conduct of the Harper government and that’s the only way I know to do it … I’ll gladly pay that $543 if I have to in order to express my rights in a free and democratic society.’”

At the same time, Wells is quite rightly appealing his $543 fine. And he notes : “Last time, they threatened me with criminal prosecution for having an anti-Harper bumper sticker.” (Or as other reports have it : “a bumper sticker disparaging former [Alberta] premier Ralph Klein.”)

That was 15 years ago. And even today Rob Wells likes to quote an “Edmonton Police Service directive from Oct. 31, 2000.”  It advised officers on duty “that ‘political signs containing profanity on vehicles’ do not constitute either a crime or an offence under the traffic act.”

Stephen Harper meets veterans in New Brunswick on Aug. 17, 2015.

Even now, to a man (and woman), we counterweights editors have agreed that we still wouldn’t use “fuck” even on this Internet website, in the ordinary course of events. But we certainly do not think that Rob Wells should be fined or otherwise punished by law for putting up a “Fuck Harper” sign in the back window of his car.

And certainly from any common sense standpoint we can conceive, you have to want to defend or otherwise curry favour with Mr. Harper quite a lot to argue that such a sign constitutes a serious “distraction to other drivers.”

This whole incident is, no doubt, also about the coarsening of political discourse in Canada over the past number of years. Yet one of the most prominent promoters of this coarsened discourse has been Stephen Harper himself!

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau warms up ... at Paul Brown Boxfit in Toronto on August 6, 2015, prior to the first election debate. As it happens, boxing is another of the family businesses, started by his paternal grandfather.

And then, as if to deliberately hint that in many contexts and countries today we humans everywhere do seem to be living in increasingly strange times, consider these four other headlines from the news north of the Great Lakes yesterday :

* “‘Nixonian’ Cover-up by Harper PMO Rightly A Major Election Issue,” By Susanna Kelley, Ontario News Watch.

* “Harper supporter’s profane rant brings out all of the memes …  Grandpa Simpson or the old man from Up, you decide,” CBC News.

* “Tom Mulcair defends praise for Margaret Thatcher’s ‘winds of liberty and liberalism’ … says statement was about making sure public gets the best services possible,” By Susana Mas, CBC News. (Some will just say he’s a liberal New Democrat, and that just makes him more electable.)

* “More Americans See Themselves as ‘Haves’ Than ‘Have-Nots’,” by Frank Newport, Gallup.com.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair attends a Toronto Blue Jays game with his two sons on August 14.

(And despite what the last headline implies, note that in 1989 only 17% of US residents thought of themselves as “have-nots.” Now, in 2015, 38% see themselves that way. Similarly, in 1998 67% saw themselves as “haves.” But only 58% feel they are haves today, in 2015.)

O … and don’t forget, if you do happen to live in the remarkable country just north of the USA called Canada as we do …

Vote early and often on October 19! It just may be a seminal Canadian federal election, as almost all the pundits say. And besides, you should vote anyway. In Australia you will quite legally get fined if you don’t vote!  And if not enough of us vote this time in Canada, in 2015, the same disease might strike here too.

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