TORONTO: Initial debate on anti-begging bylaw (1)

Graeme Bacque (
Wed, 17 Jun 1998 07:08:27 -0400

June 17, 1998=20

 Dealing with beggars a dilemma=20

AMIDST THE HYSTERIA over the proliferation of street people in the city, it
seems Torontonians can't really stomach an American-style push to send
people to jail for being poor.

City residents don't like being harassed. They feel threatened, and rightly
so, when beggars lurk outside an automated teller, to hit on them for a
loonie. And they certainly don't want to be approached on the street late
at night by anyone, no matter how poor.=20

But beyond that, there is no desire to drive beggars underground.=20

A city council committee got that message clearly yesterday. Still, they
asked for a report on the legality of the proposed bylaw.=20

Even the lone citizen who asked the politicians for some protection made it
clear he is only concerned about protecting citizens' safety, not the
city's image.=20

Beggars should be able to stand at bus stops, street corners, or sit on the
sidewalk if they want, said Martin Hill, who lives at Wellesley and Bay.=20

``But I don't want someone watching over me when I'm at a bank machine or
at 1 o'clock in the morning.''=20

Housing and welfare policies of senior levels of governments have plunged
Toronto into an emergency situation, said Aprille Rhomer of the Ontario
Coalition Against Poverty.=20

If council passes a bylaw that bans begging near bus stops, liquor stores,
subway and bank entrances, at traffic lights, after sunset or while sitting
or lying on a sidewalk or in a park, poverty activists will retaliate.=20

``We'll follow tourists everywhere. We'll block sidewalks. We will be
aggressive about our demands and keep it up till you lose every tourist
dollar. We'll shut down every tourist attraction in this area.''=20

One of the more open supporters of the proposed bylaw, Councillor Denzil
Minnan-Wong, challenged Rhomer. ``Have you seen the bylaw proposal?'' he

``They are an absolute disgrace,'' responded Rhomer. ``You don't come out
and say you want to criminalize people, but . . .''=20

``We should allow panhandlers to harass people after they've said `No'?''
Minnan-Wong asked.=20

``If you haven't eaten in a number of hours and you haven't got the money
to get a meal to fill the hunger, it does make you angry,'' said Rhomer.
``The frustration comes from being so hungry so that the smell of food
makes you cry, yes.''=20

``You want panhandlers completely unrestricted?''=20

``That's already not true,'' Rhomer said. ``When I panhandled last year, I
was kicked off the sidewalk. There are already limits.''=20

``Shouldn't I have the right to walk downtown without being harassed or

``People do have the right to feel safe,'' Rhomer said, adding that this
includes the beggars. ``I've had people throw things at me from passing
cars. I've been assaulted, kicked in the ribs as I sat down (on the
sidewalk). I've had constant aggression directed at me - people who come
up, wave $100 and walk away laughing.''=20

``I just want to walk and be left alone,'' Minnan-Wong said.=20

``Under normal circumstances, you would have that right. These are not
normal circumstances. I support people having a decent, affordable income
so they can meet basic needs. What is happening in Canada is a violation of
human rights. People shouldn't have to go out and humiliate themselves by
holding out their hands and begging for money.''=20

At this point, it being 12:30 p.m., the committee rejected a request to
finish debate and, instead, took the normal 90-minute lunch break.=20

The advocates were back in plenty of time.=20

Committee members, however, apparently had difficulty digesting their lunch
that quickly and ambled back around 2:15 p.m.=20


Royson James' column on municipal affairs runs on this page Wednesday and

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Electronic Publishing Ltd.=20

Graeme Bacque
(#2226799 on ICQ)
++Question and challenge *all* human 'authority'++