Alvin Law knows he can come across as insensitive to people with disabilities. A bit ironic, given that he was born without arms. Hence he was the first person I thought of after reading headlines last week about Saskatoon Police Service handing out a seatbelt ticket to a man who didn’t have arms either.
Steve Simonar’s arms were amputated following a boating accident 28 years ago. That didn’t stop him though – today the 55-year old father and grandfather is a successful roofing contractor. He drives himself around in a half-ton truck which he has modified with a floor mounted steering-wheel that he operates with his left foot.
In accordance with a law that came into effect in 2000, Simonar requires an SGI-issued medical exemption to get away with not wearing his seatbelt without receiving a ticket. However, Simonar didn’t have the exemption – in fact, he claimed he didn’t even know he needed one. So, a seatbelt ticket is exactly what he received last week.
Steve was pissed right off, demanding an apology from the cop who issued the ticket, who Steve described as “arrogant and ignorant”. Steve didn’t get an apology, and emerged even angrier from the meeting the Saskatoon Police set up to discuss his situation.
Let’s be clear here. By not applying for and receiving the SGI-issued medical exemption, Steve Simonar has been driving around Saskatoon and breaking the law for 12 years. The fact that other police officers have allegedly seen fit, perhaps even obviously, to let him off, is irrelevant. Steve finally came across the cop who saw past the disability, and held him to the letter of the law.
Saw past the disability – isn’t that a good thing? I guess not, particularly when it costs one $175.
Back to Alvin Law. I contacted him at his home in Alberta, where he and his wife had been following the story closely. Law, who drives with his feet and doesn’t wear a seatbelt but has his medical exemption, had absolutely no sympathy for Steve Simonar.
“On this one, I support Saskatoon law enforcement completely,” said Law, who indicated that even though he has a medical exemption centrally recorded on his digital driver’s license, he still carries the paperwork on him when he’s in his vehicle.
“If any person with a physical disability wants an equal amount of input into this world, they cannot also require this world treat them differently,” said Law, who personally absconds the word ‘handicapped’ from his vocabulary.
While acknowledging that his experience is somewhat different than Steve’s, given that Law never had arms to begin with, he still questions the attitude behind the circumstances that led up to the story making local and national headlines.
“If Steve can’t cope with local laws and regulations, then perhaps he needs to re-evaluate his position,” said Law.
We also marveled at the societal response to the story, which SPS Chief Clive Weighill himself acknowledged was highly charged “emotionally”.
Immediately and without question the majority of the general public accepted Simonar’s word as gospel, including really quite damaging statements about the attitude of the police officers and Saskatoon Police Service in general. On one local radio show the word “discrimination” was thrown around quite liberally.
Simonar, until days earlier a complete unknown; the Saskatoon Police Service, who have been serving and protecting our city honorably for decades.
Why were we so quick to believe one over the other?
“Are we being sympathetic, or patronizing?” I asked Law.
I’m going to let you mull over that question on your own.
Personally, I am beyond sympathetic to Steve’s plight as a double amputee. I am quite fond of my arms, and cannot fathom waking up one day without them. I admire him greatly for not just surviving, but thriving, in the wake of his accident.
I have zero sympathy for Steve on the matter of the ticket. If he can drive like the rest of us, he can obey the laws like the rest of it. And according to those laws, Steve should have had a medical exemption sorted out a decade ago.
The fact he claims he was unaware of the legal requirement but complains of the police officer’s ignorance is also a bit ironic, no?
No, this isn’t about whether or not he should wear a seatbelt – that’s for SGI to figure out, and they will likely assess that he should not. This is about being aware of the rules of the road and obeying them.
Alvin Law acknowledges he was once bitter about his situation, but today, he insists he goes out of his way to ensure that he does everything humanly possible to function independently within “the system”, as he refers to it. Why? In order to never, ever run into a situation where he, deliberately or otherwise, is forced to rely on his perceived handicap to garner special treatment or sympathy.
“Driving is probably one of the most fascinating parts of my world,” said Law. “Like everyone else, I consider it a privilege, not a right.”