Hot panhandling bylaw topic fizzles out on council's griddle; decision delayed until spring, 2016
The burning issue and ethics of whether or not to institute a panhandling bylaw for Nelson’s downtown will now have to smoulder for another six months.
City council balked at the decision to advance to third reading on draft legislation for a panhandling bylaw Monday night during the regular council meeting, choosing instead to turn again to the community for answers.
Council voted to delay decision on third reading until it has gathered even more input – and possible solutions – from the community on how to deal with an increase in panhandling in the city’s downtown.
Council had previously delayed passing the proposed legislation last month in favour of further community input.
But it wasn’t enough to convince the majority of council, with one councillor calling for the scrapping of the bylaw altogether and instead defaulting to the Safe Streets Act that is already in effect.
“I don’t think it’s necessary. I think it will cause more problems than we are trying to address,” said Coun. Robin Cherbo. He pointed to administration, enforcement and fines levied as areas of concern in delivering the bylaw.
“I feel this is a heavy hand in dealing with an issue that I think is a non issue which could be handled with the Safe Streets Act and no additional bylaw,” Cherbo added.
Coun. Anna Purcell suggested tabling the issue for a while. She pointed to a number of initiatives in the city currently working to address poverty, such as the Street Culture Collaborative.
“It would be great to see what the community can come up with to address some of these concerns,” she said.
City manager Kevin Cormack said a bylaw would allow for some different options than the Safe Streets Act and police action.
“But I worry that this pushes people unnecessarily into the margins and I would like to find other ways to deal with the problem,” Purcell said.
The proposed panhandling bylaw does a disservice to a segment of Nelson’s society, and further marginalizes the poor in the city, the Nelson Committee on Homelessness told council last month.
Committee member Ann Harvey said city council’s draft legislation on panhandling will not solve the underlying problem of poverty in the city, and she spoke out last month in opposition of the bylaw.
The issue in Nelson is that people are poor, said Harvey. Many people on the street in Nelson cannot afford to buy food and pay their rent, and they turn to panhandling to make ends meet.
Mayor Deb Kozak said the bylaw had come back from staff after much reworking. It was presented for approval, but council did not feel comfortable with moving ahead.
Kozak suggested revisiting the issue in late spring, not the one-year time frame offered.
“I fear if we leave this for another season it will become problematic,” she said.
An amendment for city staff to present the bylaw for third reading at the April 2016 regular meeting passed.
The City of Nelson’s Panhandling bylaw was at second reading coming into the meeting. After council’s meeting in early October the bylaw was circulated to the following community groups for review: Nelson Committee on Homelessness; Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce; Nelson Business Association; Senior’s Coordinating Society; and Senior Citizen’s Association.
A city staff report noted council did not have the authority to “criminalize” panhandling, a realm presided over by provincial and federal authorities. However, council did have authority to regulate public spaces (under Section 8 of the Community Charter).
The report noted that there were several similarities between the proposed Panhandling Bylaw and the Safe Streets Act:
- Obstructing the passage of pedestrians;
- Touching a person;
- Continuing to approach a person who has provided a negative response;
- Approaching a person in a group of two or more;
- Panhandling in a manner which obstructs flow of traffic;
- Panhandling occupants of motor vehicles that are parked, stopped at a traffic light or loading/unloading;
- Cannot panhandle within five metres of an: ATM, pay telephone, public washroom.
- The city’s proposed panhandling legislation additionally prohibits:
- Panhandling within five metres of a: financial institution; bus stop; bus shelter; liquor store; movie theatre; sidewalk café; place of worship entrance;
- Panhandling after sunset;
- Impeding access/egress from a business;
- Panhandling from persons seated at a sidewalk café;
The Safe Streets Act provides authority for a “peace officer” (as defined in the Interpretation Act) to act if they believe an offence has been committed under the act.
“It is staff’s opinion that a bylaw enforcement officer does not meet the definition of peace officer under the Interpretation Act, therefore enactment of a bylaw is required to provide authority to bylaw enforcement officers to regulate panhandling matters,” read the report to council.
The Safe Streets Act provides that a peace officer may arrest persons committing an offence under the act, but bylaw enforcement officers do not have the power of arrest.