Rules are not for breaking

People's Climate March supporters believe world leaders have failed to live up to environmental commitments.
People’s Climate March supporters believe world leaders have failed to live up to greenhouse gas emissions regulations they agreed to at Kyoto in 1997.

I remember the shot as if it were yesterday. Just a few minutes into our friendly game of shinny, this new guy in the game came skating down the wing, pulled his hockey stick back to let a slapshot fly. In an instant, the goalie ducked and everybody in the path of this guy’s shot got out of the way; it was like the parting of the Red Sea. A second later, his blast from the wing exploded off the glass behind the goalie and ricocheted around the boards with a resounding boom.

“Hey! No slapshots!” somebody yelled. “Don’t you know the rules?”

Clearly, he didn’t know the rules. This particular brand of hockey is what we call oldtimers’ or rec (for recreational) hockey. And, since most of us (as we always say) have to go to work in the morning, there was no body-checking, no fighting or slapshots allowed. Except that nobody had bothered to tell this new guy the rules. I’m sure if somebody had told him, the slapshot wouldn’t have nearly scared the goalie or the other players in his path half to death.

I’ve always felt, like so many things, a sport should leave room for creativity and innovation, but should be played within the rules. Without rules, in hockey and everything else, there is anarchy.

In a wider sense, the presence of rules or inability to uphold them has been in our faces these past few weeks. The Janay and Ray Rice video, for example, offers an instructive illustration of my point. In February of this year, surveillance cameras captured images of pro running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée Janay unconscious in a hotel elevator in Atlantic City. NFL conduct rules suggest both his team, the Baltimore Ravens, and the league had to suspend Rice. However, after some investigation, ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. discovered that the Ravens, the NFL and the NFL Players Association had all pushed for leniency for Rice.

“Purposeful misdirection,” Natta called it, meaning that there were rules for most people and bendable rules for sports stars and celebrities.

It’s perhaps offensive that some use secretive means to skirt the rules. It’s downright criminal that others flout them. This week, we learned that Netflix, the multi-million-dollar U.S.-based video streaming service, has refused to abide by CRTC regulations to yield customer data to the regulator. Netflix claimed the rules threatened customer confidentiality.

Worse yet, when the CRTC warned Netflix it might regulate the U.S. company more tightly (by removing the exemptions it enjoys), Canada’s prime minister indicated he wouldn’t support the regulatory agency in its attempt to uphold the rules. In other words, it’s quite all right for the American media giant to rake in profits from a Canadian marketplace eager to download movies for a fee, but quite another thing for that U.S. media giant to abide by the rules that allow it access to that marketplace.

Whatever happened to: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?

All this, I think, pales by comparison to the international guidelines this country officially appears prepared to ignore – those attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to slow the damaging effects of climate change. In December 1997, Canada joined 55 countries in signing the Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations treaty that set binding obligations on industrialized nations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over a set period of time. At the time of the meetings, Canadian officials recognized the danger. But then, in 2011, Canada (under the Harper administration) chose to withdraw from the treaty on grounds it did not endorse the UN’s scientific data.

However, just this past weekend, as thousands demonstrated in People’s Climate Marches around the world to encourage international response to what some called woefully inadequate climate laws, the International Bar Association (IBA) issued a 240-page report calling on governments, including the Canadian federal government, to live up to its environmental commitments. Calling climate change “the biggest challenge of our times,” the 200 bar associations and 55,000 members represented by the IBA demanded that “the universal human right to live in a healthy environment,” be recognized in the constitutions of such democracies as Australia, U.S., U.K. and Canada. In fact, the IBA went further.

“Those who infringe on that right,” climatologist Michael E. Mann said, “particularly those fossil fuel interests who continue to deny the existence or danger of climate change,” should be brought to justice before a UN-style International Court of Justice. In other words, he said, unless international rules protecting human rights are respected, offenders should be prosecuted.

I’m not sure threats from international courts will make rule-breakers respond. Nor do I expect leniency for celebrity offenders to stop. But I do expect the rest of us to speak up when rules we enact are violated – whether an illegal slapshot or a threat to universal human rights.

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