The Humpty Dumpty Ruling

There was an amusing Federal Court of Canada decision last week covered today by The Star. In Mackay v. Canada (Attorney General), Justice Harrington ruled that a thesaurus is an educational textbook or supply not subject to the $1,500 limit on personal property for inmates.

Here are the best parts:

[1] “Don’t make a federal case out of it!” means “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill” or don’t make a “big deal” of a small matter.

[20] According to Lewis Caroll, “[w]hen I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’ In this Court, Humpty Dumpty falls. In my opinion, the decision was unreasonable. A thesaurus does not lose its educational textbook or supply status and become a mere book because it is not required reading in a course offered by or approved by the institution, or because a copy is available in the library.

Simon Fodden has written more on Mr. Dumpty’s encounter with Alice in what he calls, “a case of ontology meets hermeneutics.”

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