A Creative Creation of Ambiguity

In Weber v. Canada (Minister of National Revenue), 2000 CanLII 14993 (F.C.), http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/fct/doc/2000/2000canlii14993/2000canlii14993.html, Hargrave, Prothonotary, described and then disposed of the respondent’s argument:

[8] Mr. Weber’s main issue is that, in his view, Revenue Canada made an offer to him, in the form of the Tax Certificate, to settle at $110,650.81: critical here, in Mr. Weber’s view, is the dollar sign with one bar through it. Mr. Weber’s submission is that a Canadian dollar sign has two vertical bars, but a peso has only one vertical bar. The offer, being in Mr. Weber’s view, in pesos, worth about seventy-five Canadian dollars, was one he could not refuse. Thus he tendered Colombian peso notes. Leaving aside that a tax certificate is merely evidence of a debt, and is certainly not an offer, the common sense of it all dictates that section 14 of the Currency Act [R.S.C. 1985, c. C-52 ],ought to govern:

14. Any sum mentioned in dollars and cents in the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982 and in any Act of Parliament shall, unless it is otherwise expressed, be construed as being a sum in the currency of Canada.

This is the answer in my view and all the more so given that word processing equipment, having realized both the redundancy and the difficulty of clear reproduction, after several copyings and a facsimile transmission, of two verticals in a dollar sign, now produces nothing except a one vertical dollar sign. Indeed, this is the problem with my cast-iron Underwood: the two verticals are forever becoming plugged with ribbon detritus, habitually producing a rather broad one-vertical dollar sign.

[9] Having said all of this, Mr. Weber’s argument becomes intriguing. Section 14 of the Currency Act refers to “dollars and cents”. Mr. Weber notes this is spelled out and therefore it does not catch or apply to the “$110,650.81” amount as it appears on the Tax Certificate.

[10] Mr. Weber produces, in a supplemental affidavit filed at the hearing, much early material, including the dollar entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, to establish a dollar sign with two verticals, as it appears in the 1933 Oxford English Dictionary. However, here I would note that the compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, of 1982, which is a reprint of the 1933 edition, uses a one vertical dollar sign.

[11] Mr. Weber refers to several dozen other authorities, including the London Resolutions of 1866, the British North America Act as printed 9 August 1907 and the Judges Act of 1946, all of which use a two-bar dollar sign, including as to the salary of the Chief Justice of Newfoundland, at thirteen thousand, three hundred and thirty three dollars, thirty-three cents, with a two-bar dollar sign.

[12] This affidavit driven type-face analysis of our currency sign shows a certain inventiveness on the part of Mr. Weber, but it does break down. It thus called for further inventiveness in Mr. Weber’s initial affidavit. To be fair, counsel for Mr. Weber, who seems to have had no part in commissioning Mr. Weber’s initial affidavit, avoided the document. Yet it proves Mr. Weber’s undoing. In it, Mr. Weber, who styles himself as a person “having knowledge and experience in the field of Education and Research” relies, in Exhibit A, on an entry in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, published in 1986, illustrating the sign for a Colombian peso. Rather, Exhibit A is a cropped portion of an entry which indicates the Colombian peso is symbolized by a single bar dollar sign. The full entry illustrates the Canadian dollar sign also to be a one-bar dollar sign. Mr. Weber is here being disingenuous, having abandoned the care and objectivity of a researcher in favour of a peso worth, on a sellers’ market, 0.000678 of a Canadian dollar. This effort to mislead, through editing with a pair of scissors, is a factor to consider in awarding costs.

[13] The whole exercise may be summed up by saying that neither the Canadian tax system nor, indeed, the Canadian economy, ought to be held hostage to a type-setter’s selection, at any given time, of what is considered a pleasing and useful type-face for a dollar sign.

[14] The dollar sign, just as the British pound sign, has gone through evolution over time. The operative dollar sign, not being defined anywhere, is what people accept as representative of a dollar, be it an ornate and stylized sign of the 19th century, or the functional representation of the dollar sign exemplified by current word processing type faces. The latter is clearly acceptable as representing a dollar. Mr. Weber’s debt to Revenue Canada, as reflected by the Tax Certificate, remains, in Canadian funds, $110,650.81 together with interest.

Revenue Canada got costs of $1,000.

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