The surprise that greeted the ticketing of jaywalkers at Ste. Catherine and Peel Sts. on Saturday is amazing. "Are you serious?" asked one pedestrian naïvely. The cops sure were, enforcing a law that has been on the books for decades. Or is it a bylaw? Or is it part of the measures that were sneaked into the revised Code de la route (renamed the Code de la sécurité routière in order to introduce the politically correct and unquestionable term of "security") a few years ago?

Who knows? As pointed out by the Montréal Economic Institute, 15,000 pages of provincial laws and 21,000 pages of provincial regulations are in force. Every year, the federal and the Quebec governments together adopt 11,000 pages of new laws and regulations. It would take one month full time every year to read the annual legislative production, assuming one is able to understand one page of legal gibberish per minute.

Most citizens remain "rationally ignorant," as economists say, of all this because the relevant information is too confusing and expensive to gather (if only in terms of time) and because the average person can’t do anything with this information. Sometimes, many individuals just ignore the law (like restaurant smoking bans or gun licensing), but sooner or later, the inspectors and the cops come, and everybody has to cave in, the more sheepishly so when they are told the law had been adopted many years earlier.

If they remember freer times, or if the state propaganda has been efficient enough, people forget laws are not pious wishes. If the jaywalker does not stop when the cop accosts him, he will be forced to. If he resists, he will be beaten down. If he is really threatening, he will be shot. The same will happen to one who does not pay the fine and resists the bailiff. Legal coercion is an advantage when applied to murder, rape and theft but becomes a mark of tyranny when it deals with peaceful behaviour or minor incivilities.

It is probably efficient and civil that pedestrians respect red lights and street crossings. Paradoxically, the more state intervention advances, the more civility recedes. Or is it that paradoxical? At any rate, jaywalking is a relatively minor annoyance (and a risk that falls mainly on the jaywalkers themselves), and it should not consume law enforcement resources when murders, rapes and home invasions remain unresolved. I suspect the main, perhaps unconscious, reason why the police now bug jaywalkers is to show the citizens who is the boss here. This knowledge will help enforce a host of other prohibitions, current and future.

I also suspect the jaywalkers were ordered by the cops to identify themselves and that the docile citizens, even when they cursed, sheepishly complied by showing their de facto ID papers: The ubiquitous driver’s licence and medicare card with photographs. The main advantage of the practical absence of ID papers until a couple of decades ago was, indeed, to make prior restraints and tyrannical controls difficult to implement. Wonder why the state likes ID papers so much?

Nowadays, you can be arrested and prosecuted for driving a motor boat without a licence, for uttering speech prohibited by the Criminal Code, for having grandpa’s shotgun in the bedroom wardrobe, for expressing your opinion during an electoral campaign, for making unreported cash transactions, for smoking in private places called "public" by the Ministry of Love, sorry, by the Department of Health, for defending yourself against attackers, for buying stock with information that others don’t have, and so on and so forth, and for not paying the taxes that finance all this oppression.

If all the laws on the books were enforced, the average citizen would soon realize he is living in a soft tyranny. And this is nothing compared with the future laws and regulations that will be adopted by our straw men in Parliament.