Nelson city council is proposing a bylaw that would prohibit panhandling in any way that “causes an obstruction.”
The definition of an obstruction is quite detailed and it includes:
• sitting or lying on a street in an obstructive manner;
• continuing to panhandle from someone after they have refused;
• panhandling as a group;
• panhandling on a street within ten meters of an entrance to a bank, an ATM, a bus stop or shelter, the entrance to any liquor store, the entrance to a movie theatre or sidewalk café, a pay telephone, an entrance to a covered pedestrian walkway, a public washroom, or an entrance to a church;
• panhandling from an occupant of a vehicle;
• panhandling from a person seated at a sidewalk café;
• panhandling from a person entering or exiting a place of business;
• panhandling on a private property without the property owner’s consent.
Council passed first and second reading of the bylaw Monday night on the understanding its details would be tweaked to make it more specific to Nelson streets before third reading in a month.
A copy of the proposed bylaw is attached below.
A written report presented by city staff to council Monday night stated that the bylaw comes at the request of police and bylaw enforcement officers: “bylaw officers, when asking [panhandlers] to move along, believe 50 per cent of the panhandlers they interact with are great and easy but then there is the other 50 per cent who are confrontational, use extreme profanity, and seem to need the extra encouragement or incentive [police assistance] to comply.”
The proposed penalty for obstruction as summarized above would be $25, and for obstructing a bylaw enforcement officer would be $500.
Councillor Anna Purcell asked if a $500 fine is enforceable.
“Can the panhandlers pay $500 fines for obstruction, or if they cannot, what does that set in motion for them? Would they end up going to jail?”
City manager Kevin Cormack responded by saying that under a bylaw the city cannot put people in jail.
“Only a court can do that. We have the right ultimately to take people to court. Realistically though, if they have little economic means, a judge might not enforce it. Hopefully it is a deterrent. Hopefully you know the bylaw is there and there is a fine and you would think twice about [panhandling].”
Councillor Valerie Warmington said the variety of prohibited places could mean no panhandling on Baker St. at all. Cormack disagreed, saying most of Baker is retail, and that as for banks and bank machines, there is already provincial law in place (the Safe Streets Act) prohibiting panhandling there.
Warmington said ten metres away from a movie theatre entrance or liquor store is excessive and those should come off the list or the distance should be reduced to five metres.
“Our business community is generous,” said Mayor Deb Kozak, “and by no means did they want us to say ‘no panhandling’ but I have received concerns from some businesses that people are intimidated to come into their store, and they have noticed an increase in panhandling.
“They just want some common sense around how and where. [I was told of] a couple of senior women going into the bank and they feel nervous and uncomfortable. It is about creating atmosphere of safety plus tolerance and civility.”
Councillor Michael Dailly said some other cities’ bylaws prohibit panhandling in a single spot for more than a certain amount of time such as two hours, and he wondered if that should be included. He also said other cities prohibit panhandlers from using offensive signs.
Purcell disagreed with Dailly’s suggestion of a time limit, saying, “I think the streets belong to everybody. I have not experienced aggressive panhandling, but I have seen people being very rude to panhandlers.”
Dailly also suggested prohibited distances could be limited to five meters rather than ten, as in the provincial Safe Streets Act. Warmington said there is other wording in that act that could be adopted.
The passing of first and second readings, with the understanding the version for third reading in a month will have some of council’s suggested changes incorporated into it for further discussion, was unanimously approved by council with councillors Bob Adams and Janice Morrison absent.