Our handy Oxford Thesaurus of English offers a variety of synonyms for “ bureaucratic.” To wit: rule-bound, rigid, inflexible, red-tape bound, by the book.
Any of those synonyms could apply to the Correctional Service of Canada official (or officials) who rejected inmate Ken Mackay’s request for a $23 Oxford paperback thesaurus.
Prisoners have a $1,500 limit on personal property that they can keep in their cells. In this case, some unnamed corrections officer refused Mackay’s request because it would have pushed him over his limit and because the reference text was not needed in his sex offender program at the Agassiz, B.C. jail where he is incarcerated.
The inmate appealed the decision, and lost — three times. The next step was an appeal to the Federal Appeal Court of Canada, where, surprise, surprise, he won.
Justice Sean Harrington ruled that a thesaurus was an “educational text” and therefore exempt from the $1,500 limit. Among other justifications for his decision, the judge evoked U. S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s remark that every writer should have a “dogeared” thesaurus. We certainly agree with the wisdom of that sentiment. But we question the wisdom — or lack thereof — of the bureaucrat who kiboshed the thesaurus request in the first place. In this litigious age, where everyone is entitled to their entitlements, it takes no great intelligence to realize that Mackay would tie the system in legal knots demanding his “rights.” This bureaucrat should have thought of the cost of all those lawyers and judges and sundry court officials that Mackay’s appeals would impose on the poor taxpayer.
Far better, and cheaper, to grant the $23 request and allow the inmate to continue on his path of self-education.