Beware of making bad law


When people are shaken to their very core by tragedy, it’s natural that many will beseech their governments to do something, anything, to ensure that such painful events never happen again.

Sometimes these reactions stimulate badly-needed reform and the creation of useful new laws. But sometimes they bring about bad laws that few bother to obey.

The people of Iqaluit have been shaken to their core by such a tragedy. Last weekend, a tethered team of sled dogs mauled and killed a six-year-old child.

There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the owner of those dogs violated any bylaw or showed any disregard for public safety. The owner himself requested that his dogs be destroyed. The dogs were where they’re supposed to be. Tragically, the apparently unsupervised child was not.

Inevitably however, some people are asking that Iqaluit’s town council amend its animal control bylaw to create even more stringent measures, such as requirements for mandatory fenced in enclosures and rules forcing owners to keep their dogs even further away from the built-up areas of the town.

Some are suggesting that the territorial government create new rules that would apply to all communities.

Such is human nature. But those who would rush to change our laws should first wait until their shock and grief has passed, and only then think clearly and carefully about what they would propose.

For example, they may end up making it so difficult for people to keep dog teams that no one will bother raising them anymore. In Iqaluit many dog teams are kept by hobbyists and tourism outfitters. But in other communities and regions they’re kept by hunters who can’t afford to use snowmobiles anymore.

Properly supervised young children do not get mauled by dog teams, any more than they are hit by vehicles or burned in fires. Again, however, it’s unlikely that any new laws or amendments to current laws would persuade people to supervise their children any more than they do now. Human behaviour is rarely changed by the coercive intervention of governments.

Before spending unneccessary time considering new bylaw amendments that could turn out to be unneccessary, Iqaluit’s town councillors have other urgent matters to deal with. According to a recent municipal review by MACA, they include a long list of old bylaws that must be modernized, a worsening financial management situation, and the need to hire a new senior administrative officer.

Sometimes the hardest political decision of all is the decision to do nothing. But sometimes governments do best when they do nothing. JB

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