Council elects to cool debate on panhandling bylaw with public input
City council is taking a time out as it prepares to draft legislation to deal with those looking for a hand out on Nelson streets.
A unanimous vote was carried by city council on Monday night during their regular meeting to defer the wording of the draft bylaw — currently in its second reading — back to city staff for clarification, and to solicit input from various city groups and the broader community on the content of the legislation.
While admitting the prospect of a panhandling bylaw has ignited some controversy on the city’s streets, council has had extensive discussion on the bylaw since it was introduced in council chambers last month and has faltered in its attempt to mint the bylaw, said Mayor Deb Kozak at the outset of the issue.
“But what I want to clarify with people is this is not a motion to ban panhandling … that is not the intent at all,” Kozak said during the meeting.
“This is to deal with issues of aggressive panhandling, meaning, when behaviour gets to the point of safety issues for either people on the street, or for other panhandlers, or between business owners and panhandlers.
“There never was an intention to ban panhandling in this bylaw. This is about safe streets.”
Prior to discussing third reading, city staff recommended reducing the distance panhandling could occur at various locations from 10 metres to five metres.
As well, panhandling within an enclosed or covered pedestrian walkway was proposed for removal since no such areas occurred within the city.
In addition, staff recommended adding a restriction to the amount of time a person could panhandle in a single location, and suggested removing language requiring people to stand while panhandling.
A Charter of Rights and Freedoms consideration halted the addition of language regulating the words and images used on a panhandler’s signage.
However, council did not discuss the merit of the proposed changes, instead, the issue of casting the net of public discourse wider prior to third reading arose.
The Nelson Committee on Homelessness felt they did not get an opportunity to comment on the draft of the bylaw, said Counc. Michael Dailly, and he recommending not giving it third reading until the committee had that opportunity.
He said, with panhandling “season” coming to a close, time was not of the essence to pass the legislation, affording council the luxury of stepping back and refining the bylaw.
“We should make sure we do it right and there is proper community input,” he said. “I want a broader community input as well.”
Other councillors felt similar sentiments and supported delaying passing third reading. A motion to refer back to staff was passed, with a timeline of one month to bring it back to council after garnering community group input.
“Are there any other groups other than the Committee on Homelessness we should send this to?” asked Counc. Bob Adams.
“I don’t think we need to identify everyone tonight, or brainstorm tonight, but it will be referred back to staff (for a list),” said Kozak. “And I think the public should have a look at it.”
City manager Kevin Cormack said the matter could be brought to the next committee of the whole meeting which would give the community an opportunity to comment.
Panhandling has been within Nelson’s downtown for quite some time, read a city staff report to council, “and it is realized that for some, panhandling is a way of life, income, and circumstance of their lives.”
But city bylaw officers have had to deal with an increasing number of panhandlers over the last few years, as well as managing the emergence of “aggressive” panhandling, citing a safety issue for all involved.
“Bylaw officers, when asking person(s) panhandling to move along, believe 50 per cent of the panhandlers they interact with are great and easy but then there is the other 50 per cent who are confrontational, use extreme profanity, and seem to need the extra encouragement or incentive (NPD assistance) to comply,” read the staff report.
Aggressive panhandling was defined as:
- Approaching pedestrians more frequently;
- Becoming aggressive toward pedestrians, causing pedestrians to become un-comfortable walking downtown, even crossing the street to avoid certain areas;
- More signs being held by panhandlers which are extremely offensive;
- Blocking of the sidewalk passage, putting both the pedestrians and panhandlers into an unsafe and hazardous situations.
The regulatory bylaw does not stop people from panhandling, instead, it enables people panhandling to know the guidelines within the city of Nelson and adhere to them, while protecting the safety of everyone involved.
The bylaw states that no person who panhandles may “obstruct or interfere with a bylaw enforcement officer in the exercise of his duties,” nor panhandle in a manner to cause an obstruction (see below for obstruction definitions).
Fines may be handed out and court time would be incurred if the incidents escalated.