(from the 2001 Nostalgia Files)
by Jane Gaffin
The law is perverted! — Frederic Bastiat, The Law, June 1850
No! The law is an ass and so are the enforcers. It is a fundamental hypothesis of all modern law brought about by government powers that the ordinary citizen is dim-witted, and thus cannot be trusted with his own thoughts or to his own mental and metal devices. — Justice Served Up Yukonslavia Style: The Shameful Conspiracy Behind the Allen Carlos Trilogy, page 37,
(‘Mr. Bumble’ Beadle had been accused of stealing jewelry belonging to Oliver’s mother.)
“I hope,” said Mr. Bumble, looking about him with great ruefulness, as Mr. Grimwig, Brownlow’s pessimistic and surly friend, disappeared with the two old women: “I hope that this unfortunate little circumstance will not deprive me of my porochial office?”
“Indeed it will,” replied Mr. Brownlow (the solicitor in setting the affair straight). “You may make up your mind to that, and think yourself well off besides.”
(After making sure his wife had left the room, Bumble responded.)
“It was all Mrs. Bumble. She would do it,” urged Mr. Bumble; first looking round to ascertain that his partner had left the room.
“That is no excuse,” replied Mr. Brownlow. “You were present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and indeed are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.”
“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass — a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience- by experience.”
— Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, 1838, Chapter 51, Literature Network
“The law is an ass”, as Alberta lawyer Richard Fritze so aptly noted in one of his missive to the grapevine. So are — and seemingly always have been — the aggravating types who are given an overwhelming amount of discretionary power to stretch interpretation of the law, and who derive such perverted pleasure from making others dance to the tune of their dictates.
Back in the so-called golden age of freedom, the 1970s, when nobody was paranoid about guns, and the open sky represented the exhilaration of adventure — although not always planned adventure — I was flying small aircraft.
The best way to build hours was cross-country flights on somebody else’s dime. Once, due to a time factor, arrangements had been made for a Lower 48 pilot to fly a Citabria to Whitehorse, Canada, where I would rendezvous with him in a Cessna 150 I was ferrying from Anchorage. Then we would swap planes and go merrily on our respective return journeys.
I stored a sleeping bag, tent and a canvas bag of survival gear in the back of the Cessna. Tucked among the plastic packages of wool clothing and dried rations were a girl’s best friends. A few pairs of pink Fruit of the Loom cotton underpants were wrapped protectively around a .38 revolver. Also on board was a Cooey .22 rifle. Regardless it bore no serial number, long arms were not a problem. Handguns could be. I was aware of the strict Canadian handgun laws, dating back to circa 1934. Yet handguns commonly carried by Canadian pilots were not a big deal. Guns were tools and no self-respecting, safety-conscious pilot ventured out unarmed.
Canada was supposed to be friendly territory, especially welcoming its neighbours from the west who lived the identical lifestyle as Yukoners. The standard practice for foreign pilots coming through was to batten the handguns inside the planes, which were tied down on the visitor’s ramp or tucked inside a hangar.
I was not concerned. I’d crossed the border numerous times on my own or as a passenger and never encountered a shred of difficulties.
Not until this memorable occasion.
Things got off to an unexpected dicey start. Since the unscheduled landing was on a weekday, at least I wasn’t insulted by having to pay call-out fees to endure the cantankerous old customs codger who deserved an attitude adjustment with a swift kick in the tenderest part of his anatomy. I greeted him by his Christian name, Jack, refraining from uttering the three-letter second syllable that burbled up in my mind. He may have read my thoughts, for he pretended not to know me.
I pulled out one piece of identification after another. Nothing suited him. I finally spread all my Canadian and American papers from one end of the counter to the other and told him to pick and choose. While I thought him a Jack-ass of the first order, he thought me a smart-ass. “Make up your mind,” he growled.
Oh, so that was the little prickly under his saddle. He didn’t like my personal choices. I had lived in Whitehorse several years and had gone to Alaska where the flight instructors of my preference resided. The Canadian dollar, worth more than the American counterpart, stretched farther there than here.
As soon as I racked up enough hours for a commercial ticket, I would return. Reciprocity existed between the two countries. I’d simply write a test about Canadian flight rules and regs and be issued a Canadian licence. The conniving bastard jotted down some numbers, finding the Standard Oil credit card more to his liking than the other papers. Then came the clincher that sent the whole shebango in a tailspin. “Do you have any handguns on board?”
He marched me to the aircraft. I went survival-gear diving and emerged clutching a plastic bag. He pawed through my underwear. At least I wasn’t in it. Then he unceremoniously pulled forth the Smith & Wesson as I quickly scooped the pink Fruit of the Looms from mid-air before they fluttered to the tarmac.
He was holding the gun by its barrel like a dead rat by its tail toward an older fellow who had materialized to give me a ride downtown. My chauffeur was as well-known and respected by community residents as the Pope is by Catholics.
In a blatant display of chauvinism, Jack the Ass handed over MY gun to the local Pope, with whom I had no legal connections. Yet Jack the Ass was instructing HIM to take charge of MY gun and deposit it with the customs office downtown in the federal building.
“What?!” I yelped, incredulously.
“Shuddup,” hissed the Pope.
“But…but,” I spluttered, indignantly.
“Shuddup,” the Pope continued to hiss like a broken steam piple.
“But it’s supposed to be locked…,” I started to protest.
“Shuddup,” ordered the hissing Pope for his grand mouth-foaming finale, standing by with the gun while I was expected to move the plane. I turned to ask Jack the Ass if he’d mind standing a little closer to the nose so he could taste the propeller when it started swinging on cue. But he’d already disappeared inside the terminal.
I tied down in visitor’s parking. The Pope had to listen to my railing all the way downtown. He was not a bureaucrat but obviously had been given an official designation on the spot. Who was HE? Or, who did he think he was? The customs agent had stolen MY private property without giving me any paperwork. He had handed MY private property over to a third party without authority, permission, compensation or due process. If my chauffeur chose to walk away with MY property, never to be seen again, there was little if any recourse. The cohorts in this crime could easily convince anybody my claims against them were bogus. I didn’t believe the Pope would resort to such underhanded tactics. But why he was going along with this charade remained a mystery, other than to guess he didn’t want my stirring up a lingering stink that might taint him later.
The Pope parked. We walked at a purposeful gait down Main Street. All the while, he reprimanded me for causing trouble by bringing a standard piece of survival gear across the border. Up his.
What did he want me to do? Land on the Alaska Highway before crossing into the Yukon and stash the gun under a tree and retrieve it on my way home? Smart. Brilliant.
He was holding the gun beside his thigh, pointed downward. The scene was bizarre. We looked like two High Noon dudes ready to hunt down and dust off the bad guys wearing the black hats.
Obviously, law enforcers were not yet paranoid about guns if a customs officer could get by with giving verbal authority to an ordinary citizen to walk down Main Street with a restricted weapon not registered in his name. Had an RCMP happened upon us, he could hardly have been expected to believe this outrageous story. I hardly believed it myself, and I was living it. However, I suspect he, too, would have allowed us to continue our mission. Jack was just being a jerk. However, bozos like him, who have wide-sweeping discretionary powers and no sense, are frightening in their capabilities to cast authoritative nets and snare whoever they don’t like. And he had certainly shown his disdain for me.
I had been caught off guard because I naively trusted Canadian bureaucrats of the day to be fine upstanding and forthright civil servants. Think again, honey. Ever now and again, one, two, a dozen turn into bureau-rats and need tuning up with an attitude adjustment.
At the customs office, the Pope explained his version of the situation to Stan, the friendly customs man, whom I also knew. He tagged and bagged the gun, placing it inside the safe with the instructions that I could retrieve my property whenever I was ready to take off.
The next day the airplane exchange transpired. I was ready to “get out of Dodge”, except for a couple of hitches.
One, I didn’t like sticking my nose into a summer storm brewing in the northwest. Two, it was Friday. What if the weather cleared and I wanted to leave on Saturday or Sunday? What about my gun? The customs office was closed on weekends.
I paid a visit to Stan the Man to explain my plight. He went to the safe and pushed the .38 across the counter toward me. “What if I don’t get out over the weekend?” I asked, taking the gun.
“Then do what you should have done in the first place,” he suggested. “Lock it in your plane.”
“Where’s Jack,” I asked, demurely. Nobody would say.
— 30 —