Peter Jaworski is a Canadian liberty activist and an instructor at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Last year, he received quite a bit of media attention after the Municipality of Clarington charged his parents for running a “commercial conference centre” after they hosted the Institute for Liberal Studies’ tenth annual Liberty Summer Seminar on their farm. Since then, Scott Reid, M.P. (Con.) and Randy Hillier, M.P.P. (P.C.), both of Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, have introduced matching bills to add property rights to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Dan Osborne: I didn’t get to go to the Liberty Summer Seminar last year, as I was out of the country, so do you mind telling me what all of the kerfuffle was about?
Peter Jaworski: Last year, our municipality took a strange interest in the Liberty Summer Seminar. They were confused about the nature of the event. The L.S.S., as you know, is a non-profit event, hosted by a registered charity. It’s a two-day overnight event with speakers and a musical act. The event is a celebration of Canadian social and economic freedoms—which is why it was ironic for the municipality to charge my parents, and why, incidentally, so many media outlets took a strong interest in this story.
Osborne: So, do you think it was just local government that was contemptuous of dissenting views? Your family escaped to Canada from communist Poland; was this reminiscent of the past in anyway?
Jaworski: I think it was an overzealous bylaw department and a mayor eager to get more revenue for his municipality. The mayor, as he then was, explained to me on the phone that application fees for rezoning play a vital role in generating income for the budget. The fees for the application alone amount to about $30,000, which is an enormous sum of money. And, like I said, the municipality did an egregiously insufficient amount of due diligence, as we discovered in the disclosure documents, about the nature of the event. I think they were under the mistaken impression that the event was a commercial, for-profit event.
I really don’t want to believe that it was political, that they charged us for political reasons. I’ll need a lot of evidence to conclude that the municipality would do something so offensive and un-Canadian.
As for the parallels to Communist Poland, my mother did feel like there were similarities. The bylaw officer in charge of our case would come and visit my parents all the time. When we got our disclosure, there were pictures of our property—the bylaw officer snuck onto our property without telling anyone or asking permission, and took pictures of the property, and of people at the Liberty Summer Seminar surreptitiously. You get really freaked out when you see pictures like that, and you realize that someone was watching you without your permission on your own property—that’s eerie. I can see why being watched all the time, and having someone come onto your property as though you have no property rights protections can make my mom and dad think back to what it must have been like in Communist Poland.
Osborne: How do you think we can change the social and political environment so that the Liberty Summer Seminar can run in the future without any hiccups like last year’s?
Jaworski: Well, it turns out that we were right all along, and that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects events like the Liberty Summer Seminar. The charges were illegal, and contrary to our rights under the Charter. I said this a few times to the municipality, but it wasn’t until the Canadian Constitution Foundation took up our case and made it plain in legal language that the municipality was breaking the highest law in our country, that the municipality’s lawyers finally agreed to drop the illegal charges.
As to your broader point: I’d like to see municipalities taking a more respectful approach to residents. I would like to see firmer property rights protections, and some sort of oversight process for bylaw enforcement. There’s a complaints procedure against police officers, but there isn’t one against rude or aggressive bylaw officers. That really needs to change. Bylaw enforcement is too easily abused, and you can really create a hassle for your neighbours if you want to, just by calling in frivolous complaints about whatever you’d like. I could call your bylaw department from here in Ottawa and claim that I see a giant structure behind your apartment in Kingston. If Kingston’s bylaw works like Clarington’s bylaw, they’ll send an officer, waste everybody’s time, and make you worry and sweat about why they came and who is accusing you of breaking a bylaw.
All of that requires a change in attitude. A greater amount of respect for property rights, and a willingness to treat landowners with more dignity and simple Canadian decency.
Osborne: Should we be encouraging students to read Hazlitt and Hayek in school then?
Jaworski: Reading more Hayek would help everyone. The kind of humility about planning that Hayek can instil would make a profound difference. Right now, I believe too many [people] think they know what a city or town or municipality ought to look like, and what people ought to be doing on their own property. But letting communities grow up organically, spontaneously, is really the best way. It might look “messy” to a bureaucrat, but that’s what places with vitality and life always look like to the grumpy planners, who have a “vision” and will enforce it against people who happen not to share that vision. Hayek would be good, but it’s really Jane Jacobs who the planners should be reading. Jacobs, an American-born Canadian, had a lot of Hayekian insights about urban planning. Those studying urban planning should really dig into Jacobs, and augment their reading with Hayek to understand the broader principles and ideas involved.
The Institute for Liberal Studies’ eleventh annual Liberty Summer Seminar will be held at the Jaworski homestead in Orono, Clarington, Ontario on August 6 and 7, featuring academics, members of Parliament, and think tank analysts. For more information, please visit the Institute for Liberal Studies website atliberalstudies.ca