© 2000  Karen Selick
Squeegee Or Not Squeegee?
An edited version of this article first appeared in the May, 2000 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.


Squeegee Or Not Squeegee?

There have never been any squeegee kids out here in rural Ontario where I live.  I canít say Iíve missed them.  My carís windshield wipers have always done a perfectly good jobóso good, in fact, that when I stop to fill up at my local gas station, I frequently decline the attendantís offer to wash my windows for free.

I suspect that windshield wipers work equally well in cities, which explains why Toronto motorists found it annoying to have people descend upon them at red lights seeking payment for providing something they already had.
The notion that squeegee kids are entrepreneurs doing valuable work for honest pay strikes me as a pathetic fiction.  I think the squeegee is merely a prop, similar to the sad-eyed pets that other semi-imaginative beggars equip themselves with.  What theyíre really relying on is motoristsí charity, guilt or fear, not any genuine demand for window-washing services.

Unfortunately Ontarioís new Safe Streets Act, which outlaws squeegee solicitations on public streets, has served only to kick off further legal and ethical confusion on this subject.  Spokesmen pro and con have talked all around the issue for years now, without ever getting to the real heart of the problem.

For instance, one Toronto lawyer has threatened to challenge the squeegee ban in court, pro bono.  His contest "will turn on whether individuals are allowed to perform this type of job and whether the Constitution protects an individualís choice of employment."

Itís hard to fathom why he thinks Canadian courts would adopt a "pro-business" stance in this case.  Time and again, they have declared, inexplicably, that the freedom to transact business as one chooses is not part of Charter-protected liberty.

However, framing this situation as an issue of occupational freedom misses the point.  The conflict here is not over whether people can wash windshields for living.  The conflict is over where.

My right to practice law doesnít include the right to set up shop in your living room.  A personís right to wash cars, or parts of cars, doesnít mean he can commandeer my driveway or someoneís private parking lot.  That would be trespassing.  But these are easy cases.

The hard case arises, as always, when the site is public property rather than private.  Who owns the streets?  Nobodyóand everybody.  So who gets to decide what use will be made of them?  Without private property rights, the answer is inevitably a political one.  The government of the day decides.

Is this unfair to squeegee kids?  Of course it is.  While they probably donít pay income tax, they do pay sales tax on whatever they buy.  So they can rightfully claim to be taxpayers, just like the folks who hold down regular jobs.  Why canít they use their share of the roads as they please?  But then, why canít their co-owners do likewise?

There is no right solution to this problem because the situation itself is built upon a foundation of wrongdoing.  All taxpayers are coerced by the state into parting with their tax money under threat of force.  The pooled plunder is used to maintain the roads, among other things.  But once the money has already been extracted from its rightful owners, thereís no fair or even rational way to allocate the use of the commingled resources.  The only fair thing to do would be not to steal it in the first place.

I donít expect to see any Canadian court within my lifetime declaring taxation to be a violation of liberty under the Charter (although Iíd be delighted if one decided to prove this prediction wrong.).  However, until we recognize that public ownership of property is neither a fair, nor an effective, nor a necessary way to run things, weíll face this issue over and over again, and every court decision will violate someoneís rights.  The only choice will be whose.

The Safe Streets Act doesnít violate occupational freedom.  It doesnít prevent squeegee kids from plying their trade if they can find some property owner willing to let them operate on their premises.  They could try to strike a deal wherever cars line upóat drive-through restaurants or banks, hotel entrances, or parking lots.  Frankly, I doubt whether any private property owner would consider a resident squeegeeist to be an asset to their premises.  However, itís not the law thatís responsible for thwarting squeegee kidsí career choice.  Itís reality.

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June 22, 2000