When does ‘poor taste’ become ‘obscene’ on roads?

A reader asked "Could you clarify what the law is in B.C. regarding offensive words, statements, illustrations etc. on vehicles...?"

Every so often I get asked to write about something that makes me pause and think for a moment.

This article is one of those as the reader asked “Could you clarify what the law is in B.C. regarding offensive words, statements, illustrations etc. on vehicles in use on public roads? For example, I recently saw a truck advising anyone interested that the driver performs a sexual act. Maybe there are no limits these days?”

I suppose that the most important point to examine is how do we determine what is obscene?

The Supreme Court of Canada has said that indecent criminal conduct [or obscenity] will be established where the Crown proves beyond a reasonable doubt the following two requirements:

1. That, by its nature, the conduct at issue causes harm or presents a significant risk of harm to individuals or society in a way that undermines or threatens to undermine a value reflected in and thus formally endorsed through the Constitution or similar fundamental laws.

2. That the harm or risk of harm is of a degree that is incompatible with the proper functioning of society.

While we both may justifiably think that what you observed is in poor taste and the vehicle owner should not be able to do this sort of thing, it would never meet the criminal definition of obscene. There are no motor vehicle laws or bylaws that could be used in place of a criminal charge either. Since it is not far off of some prime time television content, we will just have to choose to ignore it.

For more information on this topic, visit www.drivesmartbc.ca. Questions or comments are welcome by e-mail to comments@drivesmartbc.ca. Tim Schewe is a retired RCMP constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. His column appears Thursdays.

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