Wynne government should dump cruel panhandling ban

Posted on June 26, 2017 in Child & Family Policy Context

TheStar.com – Opinion/ Editorials – Queen’s Park should repeal the law, which criminalizes the poor for being poor, compounding inequality, clogging up the already overburdened court system and draining public coffers in the process.
June 25, 2017.   By

The legal clinic that launched a constitutional challenge last week to the Safe Streets Act, a heartless piece of legislation adopted in 1999 by the Mike Harris government, should be spared the trouble.

Queen’s Park should repeal the law, which criminalizes the poor for being poor, compounding inequality, clogging up the already overburdened court system and draining public coffers in the process. This law is truly an ass.

Passed amid a moral panic about the rise of so-called squeegee kids, the act bans “aggressive” panhandling undertaken in “a manner that is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety and security.” It should come as no surprise that this vaguely worded prohibition has been enforced more and more frequently even as instances of panhandling have steadily declined. After all, we know that there is often a yawning chasm between what causes ostensibly reasonable people to fear and what poses an actual threat.

Study after study has shown that prejudices against poor people are ubiquitous and often subtle. In reality, many otherwise rational people are irrationally biased against members of certain socio-economic groups. Clearly the law should not cater to these biases.

Besides, if the fear is of assault, there’s already a law for that.

The act is not only ill-conceived; it’s also cruel in its consequences. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 70,000 tickets were issued in Toronto, each for at least $500, placing a significant financial burden on those who can least afford it. Those who are convicted of a second offence can face jail time, a fate that not only drastically increases the likelihood that they will commit an actual crime, but also threatens whatever professional, educational or housing prospects they did have. The punishment for being poor? More poverty

To implement this misguided policy, the Toronto Police Service spent about $1 million between 2000 and 2010. Over that same period, the city collected about $8,000 in fines. Of course, people charged with this particular offence can’t afford to pay. Meanwhile, as far as we know, the cost to the court system and to social services entailed by the ban has never been calculated.

If the government is concerned about the threat to public safety posed by homelessness and poverty, the Safe Streets Act is precisely the wrong approach. The money wasted enforcing this unfair and ineffective law would be much better spent on, say, affordable housing or mental health services or other chronically underfunded social programs that seek to address the root causes of homelessness.

Supposedly, the law applies equally to all, yet this one clearly does not. The largely middle-class people who aggressively solicit on the streets on behalf of charities are not charged with panhandling. Why not? The difference seems to be that we are much more afraid of people living in poverty or those most likely to be poor, visible minorities, Indigenous people, people struggling with mental illness.

This is the crux of the constitutional challenge launched last week by the Fair Change Community Services legal clinic. The group will argue that the Safe Streets Act contravenes the Charter guarantee that everyone has equal benefit under the law.

But the Wynne government should not leave it to the courts to decide. Those living in poverty deserve help, not punishment. Of all people, the self-proclaimed social-justice premier should understand that.


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This entry was posted on Monday, June 26th, 2017 at 8:00 pm and is filed under Child & Family Policy Context. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One Response to “Wynne government should dump cruel panhandling ban”

  1. Hidayat Khan says:

    Kathleen Wynn has no vision but just following her “CORPORATE MASTERS”! THAT IS ALL


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