Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Obey the Law

Today I had a new experience with barefooting.  I went into two stores and in both of them I was told to never come back without shoes on because it is the law.  The tricky thing of course is that even though in both stores the people confronting me were sure it was the law they did not know what the law said exactly, what body issued the law, what the name of the law was or anything else about it.  This isn't surprising since I know that murder is against the law but I really don't know any of the things above about it either.  In both cases they were happy to have me make my purchases and leave and in both cases they were thoroughly uninterested in the health benefits of being barefoot and simply wanted me out of their stores asap.

The trick here is that I don't know how to be sure that something is or is not illegal.  It sounds ridiculous to say that since ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it but I honestly don't know how to determine this sort of thing aside from paying a lawyer to tell me.  I went online and did a ton of searches on Ontario laws at Here and could not find a single thing pertaining to my situation but how can I possibly make the determination for sure that the stores are in the wrong?  The store manager claimed that the government sent their "No shoes, no shirt, no service" sign but the sign didn't have any references to laws of any kind, just pictures of feet, rollerblades, dogs and a bare chest with slashes through them.  I assume that any regulation posted by the government would note the details of the regulation so it must be that the store makes up its own rules.

What I want to do is head down there and raise some hell with the manager at the store.  If he had simply admitted that his store had a rule that shoes were mandatory and that it made no real sense but his head office required it on the basis of liability I wouldn't have had an issue with it.  It would still be ridiculous and sad but stores can make their own rules about who goes in so I would respect it.  The part that is really infuriating is that he is so willing to give the mantle of government mandate to something that is simply an enforcement of social norms by way of liability claims.  Therein lies the other tricky part - the question of whether or not it is illegal to order people to do specific things citing law when that law does not in fact exist.  I really don't know what the punishment for making up laws is but I am very tempted to go down there and throw the words 'fraud' and 'discrimination' around and see what kind of response I get.

So here is your chance to help me dear reader:  I need to know for sure if there is any government law that mandates wearing shoes and a shirt in any kind of specific store or business in Toronto, Ontario.  I also need to know what the law is surrounding people making up laws and trying to enforce them on the public in lieu of just saying "Because I want you to".  I am going to be doing my own research in the meantime to try to sort this out but the sooner I can be sure of these things the sooner I can head back down there for a showdown and provide you with the story of the occasion.


  1. http://www.barefooters.org/

    I don't really have time to read their website but I've got a feeling they'd be able to help you.

  2. Was the font change after the first paragraph intentional? The transition is a little jarring.

  3. I have absolutely no idea why the font was messed up. Fixed now. Thanks for the link.

  4. A site to find out how walkable your neighborhood is (ie. how easy it is to live w/out a car)


    Sky, you got a 95%! Way to go!

    I only got a 23% but it didn't register the Brent Park Store or that I have a bike so I'm nudging myself up a few points.

  5. I'll be super interested to hear what you come up with about the "law" of shoe wearing Sky! I wonder if you searched under Public Health Law, as that might be a place where shoe wearing in public places is discussed? Just a thought!

  6. According to http://barefootcanada.org/the-bare-faqs/ there are no laws or regulations that prevent going barefoot in Toronto. I don't know much about where he gets his information, though.

    The fact is, it is *really* hard to find out whether or not something is illegal. The City of Toronto has inherited bylaws from the cities that it was composed of before amalgamation. There are over 180,000 bylaws, some of which still have legal effect and some of which don't. The only search I can find allows me to search on title or by-law number, but not to search the content. Since laws have idiotic titles thats not a lot of use.

    People seem to generally agree that there are no laws, and I certainly can't find any. The only way to know for sure is to simply read every law.

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  8. As for lying about the law:


    If it were illegal, I'm sure someone would have mentioned it by now among the myriad criticisms of the Toronto police.

  9. Regardless of whether or not there is an actual law against lying about laws it clearly wouldn't apply in this case. No one is going to try to penalize a random store manager for saying that shoes are mandated in grocery stores by the province given that he clearly believed it to be true. I was moreso just curious about the legalities surrounding that circumstance and wondering about what inflammatory language I might employ should he get in my face about it.

    As per my post on the following day he was very apologetic about his mistake so nothing further is going to happen there. I wish I did know about the legalities of lying about the law though, but as this has demonstrated it isn't at all reasonable to figure what is and isn't illegal for most people.

  10. Re: http://barefootcanada.org/the-bare-faqs/
    If it's on the internet, it must be true!

    Other than that, what you're really asking is: "Is it legal for this private venture to deny me entrance to a perceived public space because I am not wearing shoes."

    Canada generally allows any private citizen to decide who enters their land, with exceptions made only for government employees performing sworn dutues (which you are presumably not) and presumed public spaces (which a store is).

    Still, the only exception for presumed public spaces is the protection from discrimination, for which the litmus test is: "Is the reason directly correlated to you being in a protected class?"

    According to the Canadian Charter of Human Rights & Freedoms (http://www.parl.gc.ca), Section 2, this includes:
    "race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted."
    (I'm assuming safe passage of bill C-389 this year.)

    If you could justify your choice to go shoeless based on any of those grounds, you'd have a good reason to protest being denied entrance. If you could argue that you were not, in fact, denied because of your de-shodden state, but because of some other reason listed above, then you could protest on those grounds under Section 3 of the code.

    Other than that, you're out of luck. :)

    (This does not apply to any non-presumed-public space of course. You're well within your rights to ask someone to leave your private property because of their skin color. Public schools *are* presumed private spaces, for *very* good reasons.)

  11. I had been thinking about the charter actually and in particular the religion aspect. I guess I should root around and see if there are any religions that have barefooting as a major component/requirement. Insisting on going barefoot on religious grounds would lead to some interesting conversations I think.

  12. I think that's part of Honest Bung's Used Church...

  13. You're looking for Jainism. Specifically, an Eastern Ascetic sect.

    You'll have to give up bacon though. (Not worth it!)

  14. I have no idea why you think a religious person would actually need to obey all the rules of their religion to gain political protection for the other rules in their religion.

    Christians don't stone people they find working on Sundays and yet I am confident many of their religious rules are covered under the Charter.

  15. Well, the fact that one religion has protection for a certain acts does not imply that all people of all religions share that protection. Think Sikhs being permitted to carry a Kirpan.

    For a Jainist to eat the flesh of another animal is roughly analogous to a Christian not believing in God. The core tenant of Jainism is non-violence towards all living beings, and there is no particular deity involved.

    So yes, I think if you intend to claim any sort of protection as a Jainist, you should at the very least pretend to actually follow it. I believe that's legally true as well.

  16. I bet that this is a real thorny legal mess. How would a secular organization go about deciding which tenets of a religion a person has to follow to be really considered part of that religion and to be entitled to the corresponding Charter protection? It seems reasonable that if I otherwise completely ignore the Jainist religion but only claim to be a follower in specific stores that the legal system would not protect me. However, I would find it hard to believe that the government would go through the exercise of checking which tenets I follow and try to classify me as in or out based on that. If I regularly and consistently identify as belonging to a religion I expect I could get protection for following its tenets even if I am ignoring others. I assume this because there are very, very few people who actually follow all of the major tenets of their religions and yet they still receive protection.

  17. It is something of a thorny mess, but the courts are surprisingly good at thorny messes. It's their job, after all, to make sense of the semi-coherent mangling of the English (& French!) language which comes out of congress.

    Religions are defined by either historical precedent or population claiming the religion. Historical precedent (in Canada) covers religions like Zoroastrian, which have few adherents but long established histories. Statistics cover new religions, most interestingly Jedi (now a religion in NZ, which shares our common law system).

    And also, judging your adherence to Jainism doesn't happen in the store on the spot, it happens in the court of law when you're challenged. It's like scrabble; you're free to claim whatever you like, but if they call you on it it you pay their lawyer fees and potential damages (probably low in this case). Most importantly, you'd get slammed for either contempt or perjury if you maintained your position on the stand.

    You'd be able to make a much bigger stink the US, which has enshrined the principle of equality before the law in a much more literal sense in its case law.

    (Interesting aside: even in English appellate courts the French text of recent laws is considered often to be much more authoritative than the English version, since the English version is written more often to give then "appearance" of sophistication than to actually be easily and accurately understood.)