Panhandling bylaw would likely face charter challenges: professor

A panhandler works the intersection of Ouellette Avenue and Tecumseh Road. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)
A panhandler works the intersection of Ouellette Avenue and Tecumseh Road. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)

Mayoral candidate Drew Dilkens says if re-elected, he would ask council to enact a bylaw prohibiting panhandling at bus shelters, banks, intersections and other areas.

Dilkens said he is trying to crack down on aggressive panhandlers that he says Windsorites are concerned about.

"I recognize that this is not without controversy. But as I said, I know residents are fed up," said Dilkens at a news conference last week.

But Ontario's Safe Streets Act already makes it illegal to panhandle at pay phones or public toilets, taxi stands, bus shelters and on public transit vehicles. It's also illegal to solicit someone getting in or out of a vehicle in a parking lot, or to solicit people in vehicles on a roadway or stopped in traffic.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

Charitable institutions like the Goodfellows are exempt.

The act also lays out prohibitions against different types of aggressive behaviour during panhandling.

University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon, who has done extensive research on the constitutionality of the Safe Streets Act, said because panhandling has already been deemed "a form of expression" by courts according to the city's legal department, trying to limit where someone can panhandle — other than roadways and medians which have already been upheld in court in British Columbia — would like face a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"If the real concern of the focus of this is on panhandling in certain areas like near bank machines or near banks," said Moon. "So depending on the scope of this proposed bylaw, depending on what it does exactly, there are going to be real questions about its constitutionality, to my mind."

Street Help administrator Christine Wilson-Furlonger opposes any bylaw and said governments have to address the issue of poverty instead.

"Apparently a lot of the people doing the panhandling are people that are already housed, but they're on disability pensions. That's a very meagre, meagre amount of money," said Wilson-Furlonger. "People are panhandling because they are starving."

Windsor Family Services executive director Joyce Zuk said their outreach workers are already going out with police to talk to panhandlers to see what help they can get to get them off the streets. She agrees it's the poverty that needs to be addressed.

"Clearly it's an issue of income. They need more. I think that as we look at what the cost of living is in this country is and the condition for those low-income earning individuals, we're only going to see this happening more," said Zuk.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

Dilkens tried to bring a bylaw forward back in 2014 when he was a councillor. The city legal department submitted a report to council on the issues surrounding the constitutionality of the bylaw, pointing out that it may face charter challenges.

Council received the report and took no action.