City drafts bylaws to deal with 'aggressive' panhandlers
A shout out from the down-and-out looking for a hand out is on the way out as city council is preparing to finalize its stamp on a panhandling bylaw in an attempt to stem the tide of a disturbing trend.
The first three readings of a bylaw expected to curb a rise in “aggressive” panhandling in the downtown was passed by the city’s elected officials Monday night in their September regular meeting.
Panhandling has been within Nelson’s downtown for quite some time, read a city staff report to council, “and it is realized that for some, panhandling is a way of life, income, and circumstance of their lives.”
But city bylaw officers have had to deal with an increasing number of panhandlers over the last few years, as well as managing the emergence of “aggressive” panhandling, citing a safety issue for all involved.
“Bylaw officers, when asking person(s) panhandling to move along, believe 50 per cent of the panhandlers they interact with are great and easy but then there is the other 50 per cent who are confrontational, use extreme profanity, and seem to need the extra encouragement or incentive (NPD assistance) to comply,” read the staff report.
Aggressive panhandling was defined as:
- Approaching pedestrians more frequently;
- Becoming aggressive toward pedestrians, causing pedestrians to become un-comfortable walking downtown, even crossing the street to avoid certain areas;
- More signs being held by panhandlers which are extremely offensive;
- Blocking of the sidewalk passage, putting both the pedestrians and panhandlers into an unsafe and hazardous situations.
Coun. Robin Cherbo did not feel the bylaw, if enacted, would change the eclectic nature of Baker Street.
“I don’t think anybody is going to go out and grab every panhandler out there,” he said. “I think probably things will remain the same; only if there is an incident, or the police are involved, will they have the tools to carry on.”
Although there have been no reported incidents involving panhandlers, said Cherbo, some people have complained to City Hall about panhandlers being aggressive or using foul language.
However, police and bylaw officers have had nothing legal behind them to ask panhandlers to move on if they were creating a problem.
“It’s going to be one of those things that police will respond by complaints,” Cherbo said.
The bylaw will not be anti-panhandling legislation. The regulatory bylaw does not stop people from panhandling, instead, it enables people panhandling to know the guidelines within the city of Nelson and adhere to them, while protecting the safety of everyone involved.
The bylaw states that no person who panhandles may “obstruct or interfere with a bylaw enforcement officer in the exercise of his duties,” nor panhandle in a manner to cause an obstruction (see below for obstruction definitions).
Fines may be handed out and court time would be incurred if the incidents escalated.
“Only in the extreme cases if someone was obstinate to the … bylaw officers and they had to call the police, that would precipitate (a fine),” Cherbo said.
Although it was noted by staff that a panhandling bylaw might be challenged in court, a challenge was very rare. Challenges were typically based on:
- Breach of fairness;
- Vagueness or uncertainty;
- Acting outside of jurisdiction under the Canadian constitution;
- Infringing upon freedoms under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If the bylaw has been adopted at council’s next regular meeting, the new regulatory bylaw will be posted to the city’s website.
Panhandlers are deemed to be creating an obstruction, and therefore in contravention of the bylaw, if they:
a) sit or lie on a street in a manner which obstructs or impedes the convenient passage of any pedestrian traffic on a street, in the course of panhandling;
b) touch a person while panhandling;
c) continue to anhandle from or otherwise harass a pedestrian after that Person has made a negative initial response to panhandling or has otherwise indicated a refusal;
d) physically approach and panhandle from a pedestrian as a member of a group of two or more persons;
e) Panhandle on a street within 10 metres of:
- An entrance to a bank or trust company;
- An automated teller machine;
- A bus stop;
- A bus shelter;
- The entrance to any liquor store or licensed retail liquor store;
- The entrance to a movie theatre or sidewalk café;
- A pay telephone;
- An entrance to or within an enclosed or covered pedestrian walkway;
- A public washroom;
- An entrance to a church or place of worship;
- Panhandle from an occupant of a vehicle in a manner which obstructs or impedes the convenient passage of any vehicular traffic or on a street;
- Panhandle from an occupant of a motor vehicle which is parked, stopped at a traffic control signal or standing temporarily for the purpose of loading or unloading;
- Panhandle after sunset on any given day;
- Panhandle in such a way as to impede the ability of a person entering or exiting a place of business;
- Panhandle from a person standing on a street or other public place for the purpose of entering any building or purchasing any goods or services;
- Panhandle from a person seated at a sidewalk café;
- Panhandle on a private property without the property owner’s consent.
Source: City of Nelson bylaw 3321 2015
Story originated in The Nelson Daily.