[Hpn] Squeegee law faces its first Charter test

Graeme Bacque gbacque@idirect.com
Tue, 13 Jun 2000 05:03:33 -0400

June 13, 2000

Squeegee law faces its first Charter test
Act infringes on rights of poor, lawyers will argue

By Peter Small
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Ontario's anti-squeegee law is unconstitutional, discriminates against the 
poor and infringes on their freedom of expression, lawyers for those 
charged under the new act say.

Today, lawyers for about 30 defendants charged under the Safe Streets Act 
or related legislation are to begin their court case before Mr. Justice 
Peter Hryn in Old City Hall court.

The act, which went into effect Jan. 31, makes it illegal to approach a 
vehicle for the purpose of offering a service, panhandling aggressively or 
engaging in other types of aggressive soliciting.

``What could be a more fundamental right than to ask for alms when one is 
indigent?'' Peter Rosenthal, one of the two lawyers, said yesterday.

``They've criminalized that. Under almost all circumstances, if you're 
begging in this province you can be charged under that act.''

The case is believed to be the law's first constitutional challenge of the 
province's Safe Streets Act - the so-called anti-squeegee law.

Brendan Crawley, of the attorney-general's office, said the government will 
respond at ``the appropriate time'' in court, but added, ``We have always 
said that the legislation is constitutional.''

The act also outlaws panhandling in spots where the right-of-way is 
impeded, such as near bank machines and transit stops, or soliciting while 
impaired by drugs or alcohol. Maximum penalties are a $1,000 fine and six 
months in jail.

``It is one of the most grotesque acts that one has ever seen,'' Rosenthal 
said. The government has cut welfare and housing subsidies, thus reducing 
more people to begging, he said, and ``then they pass a law that 
criminalizes begging.''

The defendants argue:

The law contravenes the equality rights provision of the Charter of Rights 
and Freedoms by discriminating against poor people while allowing others to 
solicit funds for charities.

It restricts the liberty of the needy to solicit alms, which they call a 
form of expression. Therefore it infringes on their freedom of expression.

Rosenthal explained that even though squeegee people are communicating for 
commercial purposes, ``even commercial speech has some protection.''

The legislation contravenes Charter rights to life, liberty and security of 
the person, Rosenthal said. ``What could be a more fundamental right of a 
person who doesn't have enough money for food, than to ask for money for 

It criminalizes various forms of begging, and invades federal power to 
enact criminal law.

It is vague and overly broad, giving police arbitrary powers.