Moments of duress — like a municipal workers’ strike — are the real test of a society’s civility. Ensuring that civility is maintained, however, depends in large part on the enforcement of rules — in this case the rule against illegal dumping.

The fact is that 11 days into this labour dispute, most Toronto residents are coping. Neighbours are helping neighbours deal with the child-care dilemma. Friends and family are stepping up.

On the garbage front, many residents are either taking their waste to a designated disposal site or stoically storing trash in old-fashioned metal and plastic cans. These citizens deserve top marks for making due in the face of adversity.

Unfortunately, the list of cretins who deserve a failing grade is a long one. Let’s start with the slobs responsible for dumping litter into street planters, onto sidewalks and in public squares. Maybe they do this all the time and we don’t realize it because city workers pick up after them. Or maybe they are being particularly cavalier because garbage disposal bins are all filled to bursting. In any case, they shouldn’t be getting away with it.

The dead of night seems to bring out a particularly nasty breed of offenders. They sneak around adding their garbage to trash bags that law-abiding business operators set out for collection by private contractors. They dump garbage in residential laneways. And rather than lining up to drop off bags at designated depots, they lurk near parks, waiting to dump their waste in these already beleaguered public places.

Mayor David Miller insists offenders will be punished, but clearly the threat isn’t much of a deterrent. This is no small matter. The lack of enforcement leaves law-abiding citizens frustrated, angry and often ready to take on the lawbreakers in ugly confrontations. The result is anything but civil.

– April Lindgren teaches at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism;

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