Friday, March 30, 2007

When Categories Break Down

Bowker and Star have written about this topic at length. I've noticed a few recent examples where our legislated categories start to break down and fray.

The first involves the health criteria for air pilots. All pilots have to pass certain health criteria... unless they fly unmanned vehicles. The FAA has recently (Feb 2007) a document specifically on this topic:
A separate issue is emerging in Ontario. In 2005, legislation imposed significant restraints on pit bulls. It contained some ambiguities in definition since the legislation specifically applies to:

  • A pit bull terrier
  • A Staffordshire bull terrier
  • An American Staffordshire terrier
  • An American pit bull terrier
  • A dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics substantially similar to any of those dogs.
But how does one assess "appearance and physical characteristics substantially similar"? It's going to be tough. This vagueness is starting to come under legal attack. A recent trial noted that:

" said it wasn’t acceptable for bylaw enforcement officers going after violators to go to court armed only with a veterinarian’s signed document stating the animal involved is a pit bull. In the future, such expert testimony will have to be presented in person."

Lawyers even attacked the legislation for its vagueness: "Prominent Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby, who led Cochrane’s legal team, argued in his presentation to the court last spring that the definition of pitbull in the provincial law is too vague."