Opinion Editorial

Watch out for Big Brother

At one point, near the end of a debate Thursday night about regulating adult entertainment establishments, Mayor Steve Clarke said he wanted to “see the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well. I don’t want to be Big Brother.”

He then promptly voted, along with a majority of council, to charge a $750 annual licensing fee to future adult entertainment stores, to enact strict rules about where they can be situated, to limit their number in Orillia to two and, most ridiculously, to include a provision that allows the city to enter the business to correct any issues in contravention of the rules. Those Draconian measures scream Big Brother.

Let’s review. According to city hall’s new bylaw, only two “adult entertainment” stores can be located in Orillia. To operate here, they must pay $750 annually as a licence fee. In addition, such an enterprise is prohibited from being within 90 metres of a place of worship, daycare centre or school.

On top of that, customers must be 18 and older to enter.

This debate — and subsequent bylaw — was triggered when Billy Kay, who had owned Your Adult Playground on Western Avenue for many years, purchased a Mississaga Street store and announced plans to relocate his business, rebranded YAP, to the prominent downtown location. A handful of downtown merchants were outraged.

For example, Ralph Cipolla, a city councillor who, with his wife, Dianne, operates CC Fashions, said the new enterprise “does not belong on the main street. It’s the last thing I want in the downtown. I’m dead-set against it. There are areas where that can go.”

Thanks to Stone Age thinking like that, the matter ended up on council’s lap and our municipal deep thinkers have been dancing around the issue ever since. Coun. Pat Hehn decided to visit YAP to see what the fuss was about. “I have to give the owner full marks for being discrete,” she said. “There are curtains on the doors, the toys are at the back and the lingerie is in the front. The windows are darkened.” But then, she said: “We have a store owner who is following the rules. What happens if we get a store owner who refuses to follow the rules?”

What happens? The same thing that happens when any store doesn’t follow the rules. That’s why the city employs bylaw officers. If a store is contravening municipal rules, the city can sic a bylaw officer on the offender and ensure justice is meted out. In the city’s core, the Downtown Orillia Management Board also has mechanisms in place to ensure all merchants are operating within their strictures.

It’s sad to think how much time and money has been wasted on this infantile debate. As long as these stores are operating legally, let them be. To charge a $750 annual fee to these businesses is discriminatory and patently unfair. And the 90-metre caveat is laughable. It’s Big Brother at its worst.

Only councillors Ted Emond and Mason Ainsworth voted against the new bylaw. Ainsworth correctly termed it “anti-business,” while Emond said “it is not appropriate for us to (legislate) this place out of business.” As for whining merchants upset about the spectre of adult stores, Emond hit the nail on the head: “They come crying to council when a merchant” comes into downtown to open a business that goes against their “values.”

Bingo! Big Brother, sadly, is alive and well in Orillia.

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