Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

This is the second time Ontario's Safe Streets Act has been challenged constitutional before the courts.

Ontario begging law challenged again

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The 1999 law prohibited at the time, as a safety measure, the phenomenon of windshield cleaners, “squeegees”.

  • Jean-Philippe Nadeau (View profile)Jean-Philippe Nadeau

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In Toronto, advocates for vulnerable people are challenging the constitutionality of Ontario's panhandling law, saying it is disproportionate and violates their clients' Charter rights. The law was initialed under the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris in 1999.

The law prohibits any aggressive solicitation in public places such as bus shelters, bank counters, public toilets and taxi ranks to a quasi-captive public [who have no choice in being there to wait for the bus or taxi, withdraw money, Editor's note].

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Mike Harris was Premier of Ontario from 1995 to 2002.

Violations of the law are punishable by a fine of $500 for the first offense and a fine of $1,000 or up to six months imprisonment for subsequent offenses.

In 20 years, there is still no proof that the law has made it possible to reduce aggressive panhandling, or even crime in Ontario, argues from the outset the plaintiffs' lawyer, Nicolas Rouleau. /p>

The law, commonly known as the squeegee law, was passed 24 years ago to prohibit young individuals from cleaning car windshields at intersections cities.

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A new social phenomenon at the time in Toronto.

The law also targeted the city's beggars. A modification was subsequently made to exclude charitable works.

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The plaintiffs argue that the law targets society's most vulnerable people, prohibiting them from committing “the desperate act of begging for change.”

The law was challenged in 2002 by lawyers for 11 homeless people, then on appeal in 2007, without success. Two courts sided with the province and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case.

This time, it was the Fair Change Community Legal Service that filed its constitutional appeal in the Ontario Superior Court in 2017.

His lawyer, Nicolas Rouleau, explains that it is articles 2.2 and 2.3 of the law on aggressive solicitation that he is contesting in this appeal.

Safe Streets Act

(2) No person shall engage in aggressive solicitation.

(3) A person who engages in one or more of the following activities is deemed to be soliciting aggressive solicitation:

Source : Government of Ontario

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Me Rouleau maintains that the law violates several articles of the Charter, such as those affecting freedom of expression and the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and that it targets vulnerable people to the simple fact of begging in the street to survive.

He recalls that beggars are fined or imprisoned under law while these individuals live on the streets or in shelters and already suffer disproportionately from mental illness, trauma, addiction and stigma.

The lawyer relies on the testimonies of several homeless people who have borne the brunt of the law for 20 years. He cites the case of Donnie Dunbar, a 52-year-old Torontonian who had a difficult childhood and whose brain was damaged by excessive alcohol and crack use.

Mr. Dunbar, who lives on the streets or in city shelters, begs in public for food, alcohol and drugs, continues Mr. Rouleau.

Donnie Dunbar has been fined numerous times. All his fines amount to $44,000.

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This constitutional appeal is based on the testimony of several homeless people, like Donnie Dunbar, who did not no fixed address and who beg to survive on the streets.

He was convicted of breaking the law 243 times. He was sent to prison more than 50 times for missing court appearances. His stays in prison varied from 30 to 45 days.

It is in this sense that the law is disproportionate and does not #x27;has not been able, according to Me Rouleau, to achieve its objectives for 20 years.

Community legal service Fair Change cites a 2011 study that found Toronto police issued 67,388 tickets under the law between 2000 and 2010, totaling more than $4 million.

However, according to the service, only $8,086 was recovered.

Me Rouleau adds that the law is not necessary anyway, since the Criminal Code covers offenses associated with begging, such as public nuisance and mischief.

Even the Toronto Transportation Commission has its own regulations and agents to watch over grain on its property, adds the lawyer.

Me Rouleau affirms in any case that beggars are not aggressive individuals for the vast majority of them.

They often wear a sign around their neck for money or food, he recalls, affirming that these people are only trying to survive on the street.

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A beggar in a wheelchair asks pedestrians for money so he can eat.

It's not the beggar that scares you, but the fact that he lies overnight in the entrance to a bank, he continues recognizing, however, that intoxicated individuals can be aggressive.

He further argues that many beggars are fined even though they are not intoxicated or aggressive towards anyone in public.

There is a presumption that a beggar is automatically guilty when he goes to court, he concludes.

Lawyers for the province are due to present their arguments on Wednesday.

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