This article appeared in Consent #1 (January-February 1988)



- Marc Emery


My bookstore, City Lights Bookshop, which is located in downtown London, was open for three Sundays during December, 1986. As a result, police laid charges against me --- and I'm proud of it.

December 1986 was a period during which many of Ontario's retailers were anxiously awaiting (and expecting) a Supreme Court decision reaffirming their right to operate their stores on Sunday --- and many of them chose to exercise their rights in advance.

I'm proud of breaking the law, not because I broke a law, but because I opened my store on principle; the principle that peaceful, honest people in a supposedly free nation do have individual rights, and that these rights can only continue to exist and be exercised as long as even just a few individuals continue to exercise them in the face of bad laws and political persecution.

Unfortunately, the businesses who were "flouting the law" were telling the media that "it's obvious people want Sunday shopping," or that "the cash registers never stopped ringing," or that "the majority of Ontario shoppers want Sunday shopping."

Implicit in their message to the public was the belief that it's OK to break a law (a) if the majority want it, (b) if you can make money at it, or (c) if you have a desire waiting to be fulfilled.

The explanations offered were the worst of all possible justifications for breaking the law. When an individual or business breaks a law to bring about social change, there better be a good reason and I wasn't hearing any.

It was nothing new to me that most businessmen think they have little use for philosophical principles, yet here was a legitimate philosophic test of individual freedom being subverted by those who had the most to gain, had they appealed to the principle involved in the issue. It was being subverted because money (while being important) was more important to them than philosophy, even though without a proper understanding of the latter, their right to earn the former would invariably be lost to them.

Since it was obvious that there wasn't any money in it for me, I was one of the few whose motivations would not be subject to the social crime of earning a profit. The only morally justifiable reason to break a law is because it violates individual rights.

To prove how much I believed in the principle of the issue, I was correctly quoted by the press as saying that I was willing to continue to defy the law even after the upcoming Supreme Court ruling.

On December 18, a few days after I was charged, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Sunday closing laws were constitutional.

I was committed. I was going to jail on principle.

But a few days later, I must confess, I made what amounted to a face-saving decision. I would open Sunday, as promised, but instead of selling books, I'd give them away free to anyone who dropped by.

That way, I had thought, I'd be keeping my commitment to the public without risking a $10,000 a day fine, and at the same time, I'd make my point, that the law must be defied in spirit, if not in fact. Giving books away seemed to be the way to accomplish both purposes.

I publicized my intentions in advance and the police dropped by my store on Saturday. They agreed that giving books away instead of selling them was within the law and that they had no objections to this.

As it eventually turned out, what initially began e-saving gesture on my part, was the best possible thing I could have chosen to do. When Sunday morning arrived, Freedom Party erected a display in my store, and every customer passing through was handed a written explanation of what I was trying to do, along with Freedom Party's literature on the issue.

I'd rather give a few thousand dollars worth of books to my loyal customers, I argued, than take their money and hand it over to David Peterson.

After giving away $1,500 worth of books to avoid being charged, the police phoned me and quite politely let me know that "after consultation on the matter, we have decided that letting people browse constitutes a contravention of the Act."

I was being charged for giving books away free!

Yet, without a doubt, the most hostile reactions I got came from fellow businesspeople. As it turns out, the biggest enemies of individual freedom, and worse, those most hypocritical about it by aligning themselves with "free enterprise" groups, are businesspeople themselves.

The truth of the situation struck home the day after the Supreme Court decision when a spokesman for the London Chamber of Commerce, a business group openly opposed to Sunday shopping, went one step further to advocate that "The law should be enforced to the point of arrest," and that government should pursue renewed prosecution and higher fines.

So much for the Chamber of Commerce, a group of businessmen supposedly dedicated to free enterprise, but apparently only when it suits them. A similar embarrassment to free enterprise occurred when the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Chamber of Commerce came out united in opposition to pay equity legislation. They rightly argued that pay equity was a violation of free enterprise, but they were really fighting pay equity simply because it would cost their members money. That's as far as their principles extend.

Why do groups supposedly dedicated to free enterprise attract individuals so opposed to it? Because businesspeople by and large do not understand principles, or the necessity of having to understand them.

Intellectually, they know that socialism and state intervention do not work, but they have allowed themselves to benefit by it. In so doing, they've compromised their principles so many times that, if the truth be known, what the CFIB and the Chamber of Commerce are attracting are the many opportunists who have seen these groups as lobbies for increased business privilege and power --- not for free enterprise.

Unfortunately, there is yet another well known group who appears to be falling into this trap, despite a public advocacy of "More freedom through less government."

You guessed it. The National Citizens' Coalition.

In April 1987, Freedom Party participated in an exchange mailing with the National Citizens' Coalition. 550 Freedom Party supporters received an NCC solicitation on its campaign against pay equity, while 550 NCC supporters were invited to attend Freedom Party's dinner honouring Paul Magder, the Toronto furrier who had originally defied the Sunday closing laws and had taken his case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Not one response from our mailing to the NCC membership in the Toronto area resulted in a dinner ticket being sold. On the contrary, we received over 25 responses that were openly hostile to our event and the principles of individual freedom. While, in fairness, we did receive five financial contributions from the NCC mailing, to receive five times that number in negative responses was astonishing from a group dedicated to "more freedom through less government."

What is it that would attract such people to this type of organization? Could it be that the NCC is falling victim to the same affliction that has seized the CFIB and my local Chamber of Commerce? --- where "freedom" and "free enterprise" aren't philosophical concepts, but words used to gain special privileges for members when that "freedom" benefits them?

Time will eventually tell, but when the three best-known business lobby groups in this country are advocating the kinds of "freedom" and "free enterprise" that they do, it's no wonder that so many have lost complete faith in free enterprise as a viable philosophy. What these groups need, especially from their members, is a reminder of what freedom of enterprise is: a value that cannot be compromised for illusory short-term gains.

Allow me to be among the first to remind them. Free enterprise is having the right to choose one's own means of livelihood without the fear of coercion from governments or from fellow "free enterprisers."

Sunday closing laws have to be abolished for the proper reasons, that is, because they violate individual freedom and denigrate the proper purpose of government. Otherwise, if the laws are abolished simply because "they're outdated" or because "people want Sunday shopping," nothing meaningful will have been accomplished.

People may be free to shop on Sunday perhaps, but they will not be any freer as individuals with inalienable rights until they recognize that every political issue has a principle at stake.

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