• Robert Cox

A wish for 2019

Today is the last day of January, so it’s not too late to wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year for 2019 and to be grateful for new beginnings.

2018 was a difficult year for my family and I, but the dark clouds are slowly dissipating. Unfortunately, such is not the case for everyone in our society. For many members, every day is a day filled with grey and black clouds.

January 30 was a day that Canadians dedicated to the honourable ‘Let’s Talk’ initiative that has slightly increased the awareness, but not yet the acceptance, of mental illness (at least for a day). From a financial perspective it’s a success, having raised over $50 million in roughly six years since its inauguration and striving to achieve an overall goal of $100 million before the end of 2020. But it cannot and must not be the end.

It used to be when we saw someone talking to themselves, we crossed the street because we believed that person to be ‘abnormal.’ Nowadays this sight is a common experience because of the electronic devices I refer to as ‘dummy phones.’ How often have we seen videos with people crossing into traffic, walking into poles, walls, or doors because they are far too distracted by their devices? I see people at coffee shops with their mutual BFFs but instead of having a face-to-face conversation, they are texting phone-to-phone. Indeed, it has become so bad I have had to remind my students at McGill not to use ‘text language’ when writing their exams. These ‘dummy phones’ have become the vice of this generation, so much so, that people are forgetting how to socialize and to talk to each other and - perhaps far more importantly - how to treat one another other with common decency and respect. I get texts from people with the question, “What Up?” instead of the more polite, “Hi, how are you today, what’s new?” Now one may ask, how does this relate to ‘Your Legal Lesson’? Keep reading.

Part of my practice as a lawyer has been dedicated to health law. In my 12 years as legal counsel for a Montreal area hospital I was annually involved in no less than 250 Motions for Confinement and about 100 Motions for Treatment. These are extraordinary legal proceedings put in place to help treat those in our society who cannot treat themselves or who are so sick they pose a danger to themselves and/or others. They are emotionally charged and frightening legal proceedings that can, and sometimes do, bring families together; but more often than not, these proceedings drive a wedge between loving, caring and emotionally drained families who are crying out for help each and every day. It’s with these families that we really need to talk, not text!

In the last 10 years of my practice, I have also uncovered three criminals because of the postings and pictures they ‘uploaded’ to their social media accounts. These people have bragged or even written (which - in law - is an admission) about their exploits on their ‘public’ social media accounts. No one ever said that criminals are the sharpest tools in the wood shed.

Why is this? Today’s generation of ‘dummy phone’ users post pictures, writings, opinions and comments to their social media accounts, thinking (or, perhaps, hoping) they will become the next World Wide Web’s viral smash when, in fact, their posts and bragging put them at risk; a risk that can find them as defendants in civil actions for defamation or slander, or worse yet, within the crosshairs of the policing authorities that track them down and apply the appropriate punishment for their actions. Case in point, last summer a motorcyclist was caught driving on the highway with one hand and texting with the other! Smart? No! Stupid? Yes!

Taking pictures, with a ‘dummy phone’ or common camera can be considered an invasion of an individual’s privacy under the Civil Code of Quebec and/or the Charters of Rights and Freedoms. I once wrote an article titled, “Good fences make good neighbours” (the same is equally true of a 12-foot high row of cedar hedges). Taking photos or filming people when they are not in the public purview (i.e. on their private property or enjoying their pools) and then posting these photos in a public forum (e.g. on Facebook, a blog or a web site) can lead to expensive legal actions in which the perpetrator is forced to defend themselves and their actions to the appropriate authorities and/or to the individual(s) they have victimized.

Now I’m not referring to legitimate surveillance cameras that are put in place to protect our castles. If I choose to put an infrared camera outside my home as a deterrent to any would-be perpetrators, such cameras are entirely different from the ‘Kodak Kids’ in their attempt to sensationalize, dramatize, and/or glorify otherwise benign incidents with the objective of going viral.

Each of my teenagers has their electronic devices but I’m proud to admit I’m one of those uncool parents who limits their use. I frustratingly attempt to explain the etiquette and inherent dangers. I stress that our private lives are the true victims of these devices. Admittedly, I know I’m fighting a losing battle, but it’s a battle worth fighting. So, yes, while the ‘Let’s talk’ initiative is an unbelievable success the slogan should be changed to, “Let’s talk to each other.” This generation of ‘dummy phone’ users needs to be taught that humanity is worth it, the original social network was, and is, our family and our friends – the people with whom we talk, share meals, shake hands, hug and feel true emotions.

So, for 2019 it’s my personal wish that humanity be our ‘new beginning’ and our true guide, rather than the continuous drive to acquire the latest and greatest ‘Version 10’ of any given technology.

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