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Bill could target panhandling
By Jenn Wallner
A proposed bill is promising to crack down on aggressive panhandlers and squeegee kids across the province.
The Safe Streets Act, a bill proposed by Attorney General Jim Flaherty on Nov. 2, is part of the provincial government's approach to make streets and cities safer for the public, said Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Attorney General's office at Queen's Park in Toronto.
If passed, the proposed legislation, born out of the provincial government's throne speech on Oct. 21, would make squeegeeing, aggressive panhandling and other types of forceful solicitation illegal province-wide, Crawley said.
He explained aggressive panhandling occurs in situations where people cannot easily walk away, such as at bank machines.
Jennifer Kirkham, program manager for the planning and policy department for the city, said such acts would be enforceable throughout the province. "If the proposed piece of provincial legislation would be enacted, we would have no choice but to enforce it. While there may be some flexibility in terms of police powers and imposed punishment, the city would have to enforce the bill's guidelines," she said.
But Gordon Russell, director of the men's mission in London, said he believed the proposed legislation was possibly short-sighted. "It is not going to address the needs of the individual if it is merely slapping a fine or using incarceration. It is a much more complex issue."
Russell added he was concerned with the ambiguity of the proposed act. "How do you define what is aggressive? So an individual who's down on a corner asks a passer-by for money. If they are careful to define what aggressive behaviour is, then perhaps the legislation could be useful for those who won't take no for an answer," he said.
Russell explained the act could make criminals of the wrong people, particularly those who may not be mentally stable. "The legislation could result in the charging of individuals who have a mental health issue, who are not aggressive, engaging in a practice in which individuals have a choice to participate," he said.
Bonnie Baynham, program co-ordinator at the Youth Action Centre in London echoed Russell's concerns and added her experience with street youth gave her a different perspective.
"My initial response to the proposed bill is, number one, this legislation is targeting and re-victimizing the people who live on the street. Number two, it is not addressing the many other social issues, such as poverty and insufficient housing, that are at the root of the problem," she said.
Still, Crawley said the proposed act would allow communities to pre-empt any potential panhandling or squeegee problems in the future. "Effectively, it [allows] the police around the province to counteract the problem of aggressive panhandling and squeegeeing with another tool for the officers to use with their discretion."