First published at Global News on March 1, 2018.
The target? A cancer survivor. The offence? Driving other cancer patients to treatment. The punishment? A $2,260 fine.
There’s nothing redemptive about the outcome of a sting operation by bylaw enforcement officers in London, Ont., last month.
And yes, you read that right — a sting operation.
Upon learning a 58-year old woman — herself a breast cancer survivor — had been driving cancer outpatients to appointments at St. Joseph’s Health Care London, the municipal government had to intervene.
According to the London Free Press, which broke the story, the unnamed woman started her service three years ago, citing a need to give back, and seeing people in her cancer program who didn’t have reliable transportation — especially for procedures involving sedation, like colonoscopies and endoscopies.
Patients pay only $12 for the service, which covers the roundtrip journey, as well as bottled water and the reassuring company of someone who’s been there. The woman, who has not been identified by name, even helps elderly people get situated into their homes, rather than kicking them out onto the curb like other paid services might.
But this is government we’re talking about, so let no good deed go unpunished.
Her tickets are for owning and operating an unlicensed vehicle for hire — the same laws used to target many UberX drivers. To the City of London, her charitable efforts are no different than starting a shuttle service out of the back of a Volkswagen Vanagon to ferry drunk students from bars to campus.
But this woman isn’t part of the nasty battle between Uber and the taxi industry — she’s a civic saint doing a service that government clearly can’t.
London’s head of bylaw enforcement wouldn’t agree to an interview. I wouldn’t either, if I were him. How do you sell that you’re keeping the streets clean and the people safe when the only one victimized by the entire ordeal is the woman ticketed by the government?
In a London Free Press story published Wednesday, London’s deputy mayor, Paul Hubert, said he understands bylaw officers followed a process, which usually involves officers issuing warnings before following through on charges. “I appreciate and applaud this woman’s desire to help, but there are other ways (that don’t run afoul of bylaws).”
Yet what makes this whole ordeal worse is the lengths to which the bylaw officers went to issue the tickets. One called the woman, pretending to have a colonoscopy appointment. This ruse is particularly ironic when one considers how these officers appear to be hellbent on telling good people to bend over.
After the trip, his colleague came over to the car and gave the tickets. During the journey, she offered words of comfort and support to the undercover bylaw cop, presumably as a cover for her evil ways.
These officers likely saw this whole episode as a victory.
I can only imagine the two sitting around a table in a drab City Hall office plotting away until the wee hours of the morning. Or, at least until 4:00 p.m., because, well, government.
I wonder how long it took to come up with the “Eureka!” moment of pretending to be a concerned patient in need of a cancer test. A minute spent on this was too long.
Thankfully, generous Londoners stepped up and raised the ticketed amount — and more — for the woman in just a few hours.
Not that right and wrong should be crowdsourced, but when I discussed this on my radio show, in the calls and emails that followed, I didn’t encounter a single voice sympathetic to the government. So it’s all the more deluded to me why London’s bylaw bureaucrats thought they were doing God’s work when they embarked upon this feat of entrapment.
How could the planning and execution of this go on without someone along the way realizing this wasn’t a menace on the city streets, but rather a woman delivering a vital service? So vital, in fact, that doctors at the hospital have spoken up to condemn the fine, knowing how many of its patients have benefited from the service. “From my point of view, she is providing a service to the hospital … It makes the hospital run more efficiently,” said Chris Vinden, who performs endoscopies and colonoscopies at St. Joseph’s.
It’s difficult to travel any substantive distance in London by Uber or taxi for $12 in a single direction, let alone round trip. Anyone with regular outpatient appointments could find themselves priced out of care, and existing volunteer services are already at capacity.
She wasn’t a problem, but a solution.
But worry not, because government is there to help us.
Like when a Montreal man was given a ticket for $149 for singing in his car.
Or when a man in Gatineau was fined $52 for leaving his car unlocked (because police were concerned his money would be taken, ironically).
Or when the owner of a cleaning company — also in London — was given three tickets, worth hundreds of dollars each, for smoking in his personal car, which was registered to his company but not a work vehicle.
This list is nowhere near exhaustive, and demonstrates government’s ability to create more chaos than it remedies, with reckless abandon.
Today’s bureaucrats would be well-suited to brush up on why Ronald Reagan once said, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” were the “nine most terrifying words in the English language.”
In the meantime, buzz off.