New Toronto has less tolerance for street people, squeegee kids

Tom Boland (
Wed, 5 Aug 1998 03:34:05 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Ottawa Citizen  July 29, 1998


     Katrina Onstad, The Ottawa Citizen

TORONTO -- Toronto is in the grip of squeegee fever. The question of how to
deal with the scruffy car-window washers -- and the poverty and
unemployment they suggest -- has come to symbolize new tensions within the
new, amalgamated mega-city.

When city council votes today on a proposed bylaw to rid Toronto's streets
of squeegees and panhandlers it will be the culmination of a controversy
that goes far deeper than a vote at city hall.

On July 20, five squeegee kids were arrested under an expressway overpass
for allegedly threatening an off-duty police officer. The five -- who range
in age from 18 to 22 -- await court appearances on charges of extortion and
assault with a weapon (the squeegee).

A few days earlier, an officer shot a Rottweiler while trying to roust
squeegee kids from a park in the same area. The dog recovered and no one
was arrested.

Public figures from the mayor to anti-poverty activists to the Prime
Minister's Office seem eager to take a stand on the squeegee issue.

The government of Premier Mike Harris has set up a toll-free squeegee
hotline to log public complaints. Tory crime commissioner Jim Brown, MPP
for Scarborough West, is proposing amendments to the Provincial Offences
Act that would land squeegee kids in jail for failure to pay fines.

"If we do nothing, it's like saying we don't care about our streets and our
city. We have to have order," said Mr. Brown. "Why do a lot of them come to
Toronto from Montreal? We're like squeegee heaven."

In Montreal, squeegee activities have been made illegal.

Even Prime Minister Jean Chretien -- through Minister of Transport David
Collenette -- has entered the fray. Mr. Collenette said Monday that he
would consider amending the Criminal Code to outlaw squeegeeing.

"This is a problem in Montreal and Vancouver as well as Toronto. We want
people to be able to walk the streets without being harassed by anyone,
squeegee kids or otherwise," said Mr. Collenette.

In the midst of the squeegee frenzy, Mayor Mel Lastman declared "war" on
the squeegees, calling them "thugs." Thirty arrests have been made since
July 20.

But the squeegee kids have co-existed with citizens in the downtown core
for more than three years, so why is the crackdown happening now? Part of
the answer may lie in last year's amalgamation of Toronto's inner city with
its suburban neighbours. In the new Toronto, most of the population lives
outside the downtown core.

"Often the suburban view of what a city is doesn't include what's on the
street," said Gunter Gad, a professor in the Department of Urban Studies at
the University of Toronto. "Inner city citizens may be more tolerant of
poverty and those who live in public space."

As of June 1998, the unemployment rate in Toronto is highest among youth 15
to 24 years of age, at 25.7 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

And last week, Toronto's task force on homelessness released an interim
report that stated families and youth are the fastest growing segment of
the homeless population.

Mr. Gad notes that Mr. Lastman's mayoral campaign centred on the promise to
overhaul a run-down commercial section of Yonge Street near Dundas Street
that is crowded with homeless people.

"The more interest suburbanites have in the inner city, the more they want
to clean it up," Mr. Gad said.

"If people have had less contact with young people in outrageous dress who
are approaching their vehicles, they will have difficulty dealing with it,"
said Barbara Hall, ex-mayor of Toronto and chairwoman of the National
Strategy on Crime Prevention.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is launching its own protests in
response to the declared war against the squeegees, beginning with a sit-in
at Toronto police headquarters yesterday.

Whatever the motivation, the fight is on.

"I've noticed a big change; a lot of people don't want their window washed
because of all the stuff they hear about us on the radio," said Michael
Arthure, 18, who has been squeegeeing for
three years.

Karen Positano runs Youth Link Inner City, a drop-in centre for street
youth that services the large squeegee community. The centre opened two
weeks ago in the midst of the squeegee

"We get about 20-25 youths a day," said Ms. Positano. "They tell us they're
getting harassed by police. The police are taking them in on silly charges
and making them stay two, three days. If they're from Quebec, they're told
to go home by midnight."

Today, Toronto council is expected to vote on a proposed bylaw that would
limit panhandling and ban the squeegees.

The bylaw, based on a similar law in Vancouver, was defeated by a 6-to-4
vote in a committee meeting three weeks ago. Now the entire council will
get a vote.


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