Salmon Arm council has decided to pursue a bylaw that would help address, but not necessarily prohibit, panhandling in the downtown.
On Monday, Feb. 26, the city’s mayor and council unanimously approved a request to staff to draft a panhandling bylaw. The decision followed receipt of a detailed report on panhandling bylaws by development services director Kevin Pearson, a presentation by Salmon Arm RCMP Staff Sgt. Scott West and debate between councillors on the necessity of the bylaw, as well as desired outcomes.
Pearson explained the report stemmed from a Jan. 15 request by council to see how other municipalities are dealing with panhandling. His report includes historical approaches to panhandling and reference to current legislation at the federal and provincial levels, as well as panhandling bylaws of neighbouring communities – Kamloops, Kelowna, Enderby, Vernon and Penticton.
Federally, the Canadian Criminal Code enables police to deal with solicitation activities where people feel threatened or harassed, while provincially, there’s the Safe Streets Act which, Pearson explained, “prohibits solicitation (panhandling activities) along any public street that’s carried out in an aggressive manner or intimidating or harassing manner.”
“It also bans solicitation outright within five metres of any ATM bank machine.”
Pearson remains objective in his report, highlighting the merits of a panhandling bylaw, as well as the associated challenges, including enforcement and fines, noting it is, “questionable if tickets would be paid and panhandling would decrease.”
But Pearson also acknowledged comments offered by West, who said a bylaw would assist police with complaints.
Asked by council for his input, West concurred a bylaw would provide one more tool for officers when addressing panhandlers. But he also cautioned council to consider how it supports the city’s social services available to help those who are genuinely down on their luck and resort to panhandling as a “way to get over the hump.”
“I would suggest a bylaw officer or a police officer could write a bylaw ticket, but they can also inform the public, or the person that’s partaking in this activity, that what they’re doing right now is illegal, but if they go over here, it’s not,” said West.
“And if you have that person who is legitimately trying to support themselves through a rough time, I find they’re more than happy to try and follow the rules to do what they need to do in order to get by. It’s the people that will be aggressive, and they are professional panhandlers, and they know how to pander to people and get the most money out of them, those are the ones that a bylaw such as this one could potentially have some effect on.”
By and large, council favoured the proactive pursuit of a panhandling bylaw. Only Coun. Kevin Flynn expressed reluctance to make a motion, suggesting the report should first be sent to Downtown Salmon Arm, the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society and the city’s Social Impact Advisory Committee for input.
Regarding concerns a panhandling bylaw could have an impact on other activities such as busking or public expression, Coun. Alan Harrison, who put forward the motion, said he has no intention of the bylaw doing that. He reiterated it would be a tool that could be used by police if and when there’s need.
“In fact, in many cases there are those who we would classify as panhandlers who are not causing any problem at all,” said Harrison. “That’s not why we pass a law. We pass laws for the few people who are causing a problem. And we’ve had a few people who have caused problems in downtown. And I think that unless we’re proactive… then we’re going to be reactive, and it’s very difficult to be reactive. I think we want to be ahead of the curve on this.”