It is Halloween. The street is dark but the activity level is immense. Clutches of kids in costumes of all sorts are walking through the neighbourhood in search of sweet treats, scary houses, and fun.
But in some communities there is no fun. Two schools in Calgary, tweaked Halloween from a scary adventure to a caring one: children were not permitted to wear scary costumes (zombies immediately come to mind) but were only allowed to wear "caring" costumes involving fuzzy animals, fairies, police man and the like. It was caring with a capital "C," as the children attended caring assemblies and even built healthy food models to promote a healthy caring lifestyle. No sticky sugar-coated eyeballs here please!
In other communities, instead of Halloween being transformed into the "care bears gone wild," Halloween is stripped down to its bare bones (excuse the pun). In the Town of Bonneyville, Alberta for instance, a Halloween curfew is in place: trick or treating can only take place between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm and only by those under 15 years of age.
In Charlottetown, PEI, the Nuisance Bylaw penalizes those teenagers who are out Halloween eve, after 8:00 pm, without an adult in contravention of the "Halloween Curfew."
In still other communities, an age restriction limits the fun. Teenagers are are expressly prohibited from taking part and if they do decide to take the trick instead of the treat, they are subject to fine.
Setting aside what these restrictions, changes, and penalties say about our society, there may be some Charter rights at risk here. I can think of a few, can you?
Today, I was reading the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada Mann case in anticipation of my lecture on Legal Rights in the Charter. Although the issue in that case was the ambit of a protective search, which resulted in a police officer finding marijuana in Mann's pocket, the Court made some profound comments on the difficulties of balancing individual rights with societal interests. As Justice Iacobucci stated:
The vibrancy of a democracy is apparent by how wisely it navigates through those critical junctures where state action intersects with, and threatens to impinge upon, individual liberties.
This comment can apply equally here: how wisely are we navigating through the seemingly endless restrictions on individual liberty and are we losing some of our democratic "vibrancy" as a result. Now that's a scary thought.