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Panhandling Ban: Whose Rights Should Be Protected?


The hot topic in the city right now is the proposed ban on panhandling, an issue that was addressed last year by mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield after councilor Michael Thompson was assaulted in front of Nathan Phillips Square, allegedly by an aggressive panhandler. The issue was dropped once Pitfield was defeated by Mayor Miller, but has been raised again after the tragic death of Mr. Ross Hammond, a visitor who was fatally stabbed by US criminals (one of them has a record, anyways) after refusing to give them money in front of Trinity Bellwoods last Thursday.

Care to hear my opinion on the matter? Read on...

Photo of smiling homeless guy by blogTO Flickrite moonwire.

First off, the Hammond murder and the panhandling situation in Toronto are only vaguely related. Hammond was murdered during a mugging, which is an entirely different crime than "aggressive panhandling". The accused persons, though, were panhandling initially, so I can see where the line gets fuzzy. It's against the law to mug someone, murder someone, and to aggressively ask someone for money (according to the Safe Streets Act of 1999). The problem is that the laws against the first two crimes are heavily enforced, while instances of the third crime most likely go unreported or unnoticed.

The murder of Mr. Hammond is definitely a separate topic, but the fact that these criminals were in our city, able to make a living by posing as panhandlers and begging for money is unacceptable. This casualty will hopefully open the eyes of those who have the power to do something about it- be it in the form of a ban on panhandling, some kind of census of the homeless, or... I don't know. Something needs to be done.

Back to the panhandling issue, though. The proposed ban is supposed to follow successful bans already in place in Vancouver and New York, and will prohibit the begging of money in touristy areas of the city, namely in front of theatres and restaurants, and near ATMs. Personally, I think this ban should be put in place. I remember once lunching with a friend at I Love Sushi on Queen West, and a dirty man actually came INTO the restaurant to ask us for money. This is the kind of situation where the proposed ban will help (I'm not even sure this- entering an establishment to beg for money- is legal as it is, is it?)

I know that many homeless people choose to live on the street, for whatever reason- be it avoiding "the man", not agreeing with certain city taxes, or they're too lazy/insolent to find a job, etc. So why does that mean I should give them my hard-earned money? Why should I be made to feel guilty each time I walk along a downtown street?

And is it an accurate generalization that most squeegee kids are not permanent "residents" of Toronto? Do they come from the 'burbs and live on the streets for the warm summer months, and then hop on home when the snow hits? I've heard of this happening.

Also, what do you think the homeless buy with the money we give them? Drugs and alcohol. That's why they're on the street in the first place. I know this doesn't include all of the homeless people, but it does include a large chunk of them. Living at King and Dufferin, I see my fair share of junkies with their hands out.

So, instead of wasting time and money by protecting the rights of these panhandlers (passive panhandling is already protected in the Freedom of Expression Act), why not dedicate those resources to developing/revising social programs to help get these people off the streets and into the work force? There are numerous programs already in place to help these people, which use our tax dollars (among other sources) for funding. I think this another reason not to give panhandlers money. I guess these programs need to be made more widely available, though, in order for them to be effective.

I think Councilor Case Ootes summed up this issue nicely for me. "People have the right to walk down the street without being harassed." I fully agree. How about protecting the rights of tax-paying citizens?

There's a study being performed currently, tracking passive panhandlers and asking them why they beg for money. Results will be ready in the fall, and will be presented to the city council. I don't think anything will be done until after this time, which is fair. Right now, the whole of Toronto is on hold until after the provincial elections anyways.

What do you think? Am I totally off my rocker for supporting this panhandling ban?


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