Are you planning a yard sale this summer? Don’t. You’ll probably be breaking the law.
No kidding. A new Health Canada directive warns: “Everyone holding a garage sale is legally responsible for ensuring that products being sold, whether new or used, are safe and meet current regulatory requirements.” It goes on: “Any person who sells, distributes or gives away consumer products that do not comply with the current regulatory requirements is breaking the law.”
Be warned – the same goes for the stuff you advertise on the bulletin board at the grocery store or swap with cousin Susie. Product safety officers are especially concerned with anything involving children, such as (but by no means limited to) high chairs, car seats, toys, clothes, cribs, baby gates and strollers. It’s your job to make sure your items haven’t been recalled. If you want to sell your car seat, you should check with Transportation Canada to make sure it meets current regulatory requirements. The car seat must come with warnings, guidelines for use, installation instructions and date of manufacture.
There’s much, much more. That old hockey helmet you want to dump must have a sticker indicating that it meets safety standards set by the Canadian Standards Association. It must also show the CSA number and date of manufacture and not be more than five years old. Used electrical appliances must include instruction manuals. MP3 players and other personal sound systems should have a “functioning volume control enabling sound levels to be listened to safely without risk of hearing damage.” If you’re still unclear about your responsibilities, an instructional video is available online. Health Canada has assured me that product safety officers will be conducting random inspection checks.
The trouble with bureaucracies is that they can’t help themselves. Their default mode is to regulate, demonstrating how indispensable and understaffed they are. The result is that useless regulations grow like kudzu vines over modern life. Health Canada’s effort to regulate flea markets and garage sales is a classic example of the regulatory state run amok.
Fortunately, there’s the odd glimmer of hope. After exhaustive deliberations, Toronto City Council has decided to allow food-cart vendors to expand their repertoire (currently limited to hot dogs and sausages); now they’ll be able to offer such exotica as veggie sticks and bagels (so long as the butter comes in individual sealed packets). Previous efforts to expand Toronto’s street-food menu ended in disaster after city hall saddled vendors, who are typically hard-working immigrant entrepreneurs, with so many rules and regulations that they went bankrupt.
Overregulation always has consequences. After Ontario’s nutrition-conscious Premier decreed that school cafeterias must start serving “healthy” lunches, sales plunged. It turns out students hate low-calorie whole-grain pizza without cheese. Some school systems have lost almost $1-million in annual revenues. Unfortunately, profits from cafeteria sales are used to fund school activities. Now those will cost extra, and some unprofitable cafeterias will be shut down.
Yesterday’s regulations have a way of turning into today’s stupidity. Over the past decade, we’ve spent millions of dollars demolishing children’s playgrounds and replacing them with safer ones. But researchers say we’ve made them too safe: By removing all the risk, we aren’t preparing children for adult life. Don’t look now, but steep slides, monkey bars and rope swings are about to make a comeback.