This was the year the future began to unfold, an Invisible Man become visible

Barbara Amiel January 1 1979

This was the year the future began to unfold, an Invisible Man become visible

Barbara Amiel January 1 1979

This was the year the future began to unfold, an Invisible Man become visible

Barbara Amiel

The press release invited me to an evening at Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnical Institute to celebrate the publication of a booklet titled Taking What ’s Ours. The booklet, sponsored by an inter-church group “to promote social justice in Canada,” is a guidebook to help women on welfare get (a) wages from the government for doing their own housework, (b) more welfare, and (c) additional wages for going to college. The highlight of the evening was guest speaker Margaret Prescod-Roberts of the City University of New York.

Said single mother Ms. Prescod-Roberts: “I was doing two jobs and not getting paid for them. I was a full-time unpaid housewife and an unpaid student. All I got was welfare. You’re cheating me, I said.” Ms. Prescod-Roberts, now a CUNY instructor and recipient of much improved benefits, praised the Ryerson Women’s Action Group, reminding the assembled women that the secret of a'! successful campaign is “to use the state against the j state.”

With these words Ms. Prescod-Roberts summed up the most significant development in Canada in 1978. This has been the year in which the society of the future, like H.G. Wells’s Invisible Man dying in the snow, began to reveal a shape. This is a society in which each special interest group tries to use the state to enforce its ambitions on the rest of us. Further, it is the decade in which all interest groups have come to believe that each and every one of their ambitions is a just human right, and bring to their demands the saintly serenity that goes with this realization. Every aspect of our culture and “quality of life” is now menaced by the shadow of the Invisible Man becoming visible.

Consider: This was the year in which the City of Toronto seriously considered a bylaw restricting the number of dogs to two per person.

• This was the year in which prosecutions were begun under Toronto’s antismoking bylaw.

• This was the year in which at least

two provinces banned outstanding French film-maker Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby. It was also the year in which the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the right of provincial censorship boards (boards, incidentally, that work in the public’s name but are totally unaccountable to it) to do so.

• This was the year in which a 14-yearold girl was cheated out of $25 when cashing her Canada Savings Bond because she did not have a social insurance number—a social insurance number that was introduced by legislation

only after Lester Pearson assured Parliament (over Diefenbaker’s grave misgivings) that such numbers would be used solely for the specific purposes of health and unemployment insurance. Today, in 1978, you can’t play minor league hockey without one.

• This was the year in which changes in the law were introduced to the Criminal Code to enable the police to charge men as well as women with soliciting, and to turn private cars into public places for the purpose of better enforcing this great leap in the state’s moral guardianship. Mr. and Mrs. Canadian Citizen: remember the year 1978 in which your car has become a public place courtesy of Justice Minister Basford!

• This was the year in which our social engineers gave serious consideration to paying housewives out of public funds for cleaning up after themselves, while in the name of equity cancelled certain tax privileges for the country’s lawyers, doctors, athletes, entertainers and some others who had the

misfortune to be self-employed.

So that no one should misunderstand my motives, I will point out that (a) I own no dogs; (b) cigarette smoke makes me retch; (c) I loathe pornography; (d) I have a SIN number so / couldn’t be short-changed on a Canada Savings Bond should I want to cash one in; (e) I’d find it a damn nuisance if I were solicited in the street, and I must even confess to a secret delight that my husband could be so charged should he err; (f) I could sure use the money the public might pay me for opening my refrigerator, cooking my breakfast and washing my dishes, particularly since I have never been incorporated and have not been the beneficiary of the now abolished tax breaks.

I find these measures tragic and oppose them violently not because they restrict or inconvenience me. On the contrary, they would only improve the quality of my life. But I recognize what special interest groups will not, until it is much too late: once you let the genie of the state out of its bottle to serve you, it will also be free to serve your enemies and, most of all, itself.

A Toronto homosexual bar recently felt the first ever-so-gentle kick of the escaping genie when they were not allowed to replace a heterosexual waiter with a gay waiter of their choice. In a truly free society it clearly should be free to establish its own employment criteria. But, among others, the gay community has been the most vocal in enlisting the aid of the state to deny others the same freedom. As for Ms. Prescod-Roberts, the realization has not yet dawned on her, although the booklet she was promoting complained bitterly about it, that the state she uses to pay for her housework and college degree—the state she wishes “to use against the state”—is sending inspectors into Canadian homes to find out whether welfare recipients’ boy-friends touch them above or below the waist. The genie is feeling its oats.