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Pants: on fire 

Lie detector tests reveal more about the organization giving the test than the person being tested.

Pants: on fire

Fine. I admit it. I am a thief.

I stole a Garfield sticker from Eaton's at Ottawa's St. Laurent Shopping Centre in the summer of 1984.

And the deed (my dad caught me later---he didn't buy my argument that they were "giving them away") probably makes me ineligible for some jobs with the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Some HRM departments, you've no doubt heard since the Chronicle-Heraldbroke the story last month, have for decades conducted polygraph---or lie detector---tests to check the suitability of prospective employees.

The questions---which go to fire, police, animal control, bylaw enforcement and IT department candidates---can probe applicants about stealing (check), drug use (sigh...OK, OK, OK: marijuana, hash and, one time, acid), drinking habits (four to six per week), gambling (I once lost $30 at the Casino and later drowned my sorrows in three Pina Coladas; another time I won $137 at the Casino and celebrated with three Pina Coladas) and bestiality (our very horny cat jumps nightly onto the bed to masturbate while I'm reading before I fall asleep, but I in no wayfacilitate his concentrated grinding).

Since the news that these embarrassing questions are routinely posed to, for example, the guy who wants the job of going out in the animal control van to catch a half-dead pigeon pecking at the asphalt, Haligonians haven't heard boo from the declining-comment Fire Service; the mayor's been suitably horrified; dear CUPE's been aghast. And lone polygraph wolf deputy police chief Chris McNeil has defended the practice to any media outlet asking.

Me? I'm just not at all surprised.

HRM's polygraph testing has been called an invasion of privacy. And that's like calling my cat a sometime sexual pleasure-seeker. It's a grand understatement.

But the thing is, HRM's interview process privacy invasion goes along swimmingly with the slackening of privacy insociety generally.

First there's the kind that we have lost control of, like the erosion of our privacy through the digital compilation of personal---and theft-prone---information, or the proliferation of urban "security" cameras. And then there's the leaving go of privacy we engineer ourselves by loudly spilling our guts on mobile phones on the bus, or leaving the web awash with our Facebook status updates and party photos.

Look, the appropriateness of HRM polygraphs is up for debate (and that's not even considering that two HRM cops have been making money hand-over-fist with an untendered contract to do the work).

But here's my little query: Are the polygraph questions even relevant to the jobs these people will be expected to perform?

I mean, do I care that a firefighter saving me from a burning building has a stolen copy of Microsoft Word on his laptop? Does it matter if the guy processing my credit card information when I pay parking tickets online smokes a fattie with his wife every night before bed?

Deputy chief Chris McNeil told the Chronicle-HeraldMonday the polygraphs help make sure employees are of the "highest ethical standards." And I get that, at least with cops, who are in a distinct position of power over the average schmuck on the street. Or, at least, I get the ideain theory.

But can't polygraphs be tricked? And doesn't that mean that garden-variety sociopaths (or Googlers who figure out how to "beat" lie detectors) are more likely to be hired as, say, parking enforcement officers while the rest of us---who get jittery when someone who holds the power of employment over us asks us whether we've smoked pot before---end up getting punished for being normal?

The least of the problems with HRM's polygraph practice is that it's a patent molestation of privacy. Worse? It's shaming people who have committed minor, supposedly immoral or illegal acts and it's damning those who have actually worked to overcome major problems, like addictions or mental health concerns.

Supposedly HRM's polygraph tests are in place to ensure the uprightness of those municipal employees deputy chief McNeil says are in command of "significant public trust."

And that? Well that's downright valiant.

But I wonder, in this quest to ensure that HRM employees in positions of power don't abuse their authority, has it occurred to the city that lording a polygraph pass or fail over prospective employees (or even current employees who want to get jobs higher up the ladder) is, in itself, a manifest abuseof power?

I'd say so. But hell, what do I know? I stole a Garfield sticker when I was 10. a

Don't leave Lezlie unattended! Tell her to keep away from your stuff at


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