The City of Salmon Arm has introduced a bylaw that will toughen the rules for panhandling.
However, some members of city council say the bylaw is useful mainly because it will allow them to receive public input on the issue. A public hearing will be held on Aug. 13, after which council will vote on whether to approve the bylaw.
A provincial Safer Streets Act already exists which prohibits ‘street solicitation’ inside a five-metre zone in proximity to various kinds of businesses and locales, such as banks and automated teller machines.
City staff say Salmon Arm’s proposed bylaw is similar to Kamloops and Kelowna, which prohibit street solicitation within 10 metres of such sites. But Salmon Arm’s bylaw takes a step further. Five more metres, in fact.
Salmon Arm’s would prohibit panhandling within 15 metres of: an entrance to a bank, credit union or trust company; an automated teller machine; a bus stop or bus shelter; a restaurant with outdoor seating; and the entrance to a theatre or art gallery.
Other rules include: no person shall solicit at any time during the period from sunset to sunrise; no person shall sit or lie on a street for the purpose of solicitation; no person shall solicit from a public bench, seating or within a public plaza; and no person shall continue to solicit on a street from a person after that person has made a negative response.
The bylaw would also restrict access to people in motor vehicles when parked, stopped at a traffic control signal or standing temporarily for the purpose of loading or unloading.
As for penalties, offenders could be subject to fines. The proposed bylaw states that anyone who commits an offence is liable to a fine and penalty of not more than $2,000 and not less than $50 for each offence.
In discussions of the bylaw, Louise Wallace Richmond said public input is needed.
“This is a conversation the community needs to have.”
Coun. Kevin Flynn said he would vote to support first and second reading, but “pending a lightning bolt or something revolutionary, I likely won’t support it at third and final reading.”
He said enforcement will be a problem, as the city has neither the staff nor the capability to enforce such a bylaw.
“That being said, I think we have to go to the public.”
He said he’s heard in other communities that enforcement of such bylaws creates nothing but legal issues.
“I think it will create more problems than it solves.”
City staff also expressed concerns regarding enforcement in a report which concluded: “This bylaw is coming forward as a result of political direction.”
Coun. Ken Jamieson said the Safe Streets Act could very well be adequate, but he likes the idea of receiving public input. He said it’s important to find a balance.
“I don’t want to outlaw something we call panhandling that makes us feel uncomfortable. I must say I’ve never been accosted by anyone asking me for anything, from the ones who are most visible.”
Staff Sgt. Staff West happened to be in the gallery, so Wallace Richmond asked him to reiterate his view.
He said it could be one more tool in the RCMP’s toolbox.
It’s one thing to have law-abiding citizens who are up against tough times, he said, and another when there are people ignorant of the law who don’t want to become educated.
“If there is a bylaw, it’s one more set of rules. If you don’t have that, it’s going to the provincial act and the Criminal Code.”