Lee Friday – June 30, 2018
For more than three years, 58-year old cancer survivor Ethel Tari had “been a regular at an outpatient clinic at St. Joseph’s Hospital, providing rides to and from the clinic to patients who aren’t allowed to drive after being sedated for procedures such as endoscopies and colonoscopies.” But the long arm of the law finally caught up with Ethel, and she was fined $2,260 for owning and operating a vehicle for hire without a licence.
City Hall’s actions sparked an outrage as Tari received widespread public support, nationally and internationally. However, much of the criticism levied against the City for its overzealous law enforcement subsided when Tari, in a letter of apology, admitted that she also provided transportation services to non-patients in the city and that she “had previously been warned by the City.”
Tari’s Confession Does Not Make Her Guilty
Tari confessed to providing reporter Jonathon Sher with incomplete and misleading information which “left the distinct impression that I was an innocent victim of an organized “sting” perpetrated by the bylaw enforcement department without justification.”
Tari’s letter was a response to London bylaw enforcement chief Orest Katolyk’s demand for an apology and retraction. “Katolyk is satisfied with the apology and retraction and plans no further legal action against the woman, barring any further comments from her that might cause problems …”
Because Katolyk expressed his satisfaction with Tari’s apology, we can safely assume that he accepts the contents of her letter. Therein lies the rub. In consideration of her letter, and the impetus to government licensing laws, one can make a strong argument that Tari’s (seemingly forced) apology does not alter the fact that she was indeed an innocent victim of an organized “sting” perpetrated by the bylaw enforcement department without moral justification. Legal justification, yes. Moral justification, no!
The Licensing Scam
The government says the safety and wellbeing of consumers impels it to enact licensing laws, but this is, and has always been, a weak justification. When the government creates a licensure law, it is always at the behest of entrenched interests within the specific occupation to be licensed. Having successfully lobbied the government, the licensure requirements are established by the special interest groups themselves, and legally enforced upon new entrants to the occupation. Thus, as I have written before,
Studies have shown that licensure reduces the quantity of people employed in the licensed occupations, which, because competition has been coercively suppressed, often results in a reduced quality of services offered to the public, which is the exact opposite of what the government promises us.
Unfortunately, the truth is that legal licensing creates unemployment and underemployment which disproportionately affects the poor, while producing higher incomes for those employed in the protected occupations, higher prices for consumers, with fewer options available to consumers, thus moving us further away from the government’s stated goal.
The experience of Ethel Tari is consistent with this theme. First, she appears to be a woman of modest means who is prevented from earning additional income because of the cost of obtaining a government license.
Second, the unappealing alternative for patients (consumers) is a higher price for a licensed taxi or Uber driver because Tari cannot afford the cost of obtaining a government license.
Third, the expensive government license reduces the quality of service offered to the public (patients). As reported in the London Free Press:
The possible loss of her [Tari’s] service has angered doctors and staff, said Chris Vinden, who performs endoscopies and colonoscopies.
“From my point of view, she is providing a service to the hospital . . . It makes the hospital run more efficiently,” he said.
Between 40 and 50 people come each day the clinic is open, and while most arrange for another adult to drive them, some do not, either because their spouse can’t afford to take a day off, they’re elderly and don’t have friends who drive or they don’t have an adult friend to ask.
“(She) solved a lot of problems for us,” Vinden said.
If she can’t resume her service, some patients may delay needed procedures, he said.
Licensing is Not About Consumer Protection
Tari’s letter revealed that the municipal government told her she would be in violation of the licensing bylaw only if she accepted money for driving a person from point A to point B. In other words, an unlicensed driver can legally provide a free car ride to anyone else, but when money is accepted in exchange for the service, the government says the driver is a criminal.
If we believe the government’s justification for licensure laws, then we must also believe that unlicensed drivers pose a considerable threat to the safety and wellbeing of unsuspecting consumers, regardless of whether a fee is charged for the service. But this is not the view of the government. The truth is that very few people can afford to give free car rides to others, which means they do not pose a threat to the livelihood of taxi drivers. Thus, taxi drivers do not complain and the government says “free” rides are legal. The government does not fine or otherwise prosecute the “free” drivers because the purpose of the licensing bylaw is to restrict competition, not to protect the public.
The government deserves to be heavily criticized for its treatment of Ethel Tari, and Tari deserves our sympathy.
While Tari did not reveal all the facts when her story was first reported, we must ask ourselves why she was not candid. It appears she was attempting to evade the efforts of the City to enforce an immoral law in order to continue to earn a modest income and provide a valuable service to hospital patients.
The position taken by London’s bylaw enforcement chief Orest Katolyk, as well as City manager Martin Hayward, is that they did everything by the book, i.e. they do not issue fines until warnings have been given. Period. End of story. No comment from these bureaucrats or the politicians about the counterproductive effects of the licensing bylaw itself.
More to the point, if licensing laws help to facilitate a well-functioning society, we should expect the government itself to religiously abide by its own laws, but it often does not. For example, a story published last year found City Hall to be in non-compliance with its own Residential Rental Units Licensing By-law. Prior to publication, six bureaucrats, including Orest Katolyk and Martin Hayward, were given an opportunity to comment on the story. None replied.
Do not confuse legality with morality. We cannot reasonably claim to live in a highly civilized society when some people (e.g. the government) are above the law. Nor can we claim to be highly civilized when some people (e.g. the government) grant themselves legal authority to forcibly prevent other people from voluntarily interacting with each other, as with Ethel Tari and her customers.