Vancouver's Panhandling By-Law Challenged in Court

-- from In The Public Interest, BC PIAC's newsletter, June, 1999

On April 30, 1998, the Council of the City of Vancouver unanimously passed By-law No. 7885: A Bylaw to Regulate and Control Panhandling. The by-law restricts panhandling by time, place and method -- specifically, it must occur within a minimum distance of 10 metres from certain institutions (banks, ATMs, liquor stores), is prohibited between sunset and sunrise and from motor vehicle occupants, and must not be conducted from a seated or prone position.

BC PIAC will represent the National Anti-Poverty Organization, End Legislated Poverty and federated anti poverty groups of bc in a challenge ot the by-law on jurisdictional and Charter grounds.

The five grounds on which the by-law will be challenged are that:

i) the Vancouver Charter lacks authority to regulate the time, place and method of panhandling;
ii) the Vancouver Charter lacks authority to discriminate between classes of individuals;
iii) the by-law violates s. 2 Charter rights to freedom of expression by prohibiting free speech of persons in public places;
iv) the by-law violates s. 7 Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person by denying certain classes of individuals the ability to provide for the necessaries of life, and subjecting a person in default of a fine to incarceration;
v) the by-law violates s. 1 Charter equality rights by its disproportionate effect on persons who may be characterized by homelessness, mental illness or disability, addiction, or poverty.

Aside from the legal grounds, the by-law is an attack on one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. The problems currently faced by the poor and homeless are certainly complex and in need of an integrated approach in order to solve them. The by-law is counter productive in that it will add to the problems faced by the poor. Panhandlers will be subjected to humiliation when the po,ice harass them, fine them, threaten to fine them and require them to move from their locations.The aim of the by-law is to surrender ot the wishes of business and place their interests over the interest of poor people. Obviously, a poor person begging for money is a terrible sight. We agree but advocate that City Council should be looking at how to solve the problem, rather than mask it and move the problem down the street.

Although a court date has not yet been set, it is expected that this matter will be heard after the challenge of the Winnipeg panhandling by-law NAPO is participating in.