Panhandling is here to stay
By Arthur Weinreb
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Toronto councillor and mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield proposed a new bylaw to prohibit panhandling on the streets of Toronto that was soundly defeated by Mayor David Miller and his left-wing cronies.
By next January, Pitfield's official title will be "ex-councillor" and David Miller, Howard Moscoe and company will have four more years in which to oversee the further decay of Canada's largest city. And panhandling will be here to stay.
The left always have the same answer to why nothing more can be done about panhandling on city streets. Aggressive panhandling is already illegal under the Safe Streets Act that was brought in by the Tory government in 1999 and any further moves against the beggars that litter the streets would likely be found to be unconstitutional.
Aggressive panhandling under the Safe Streets Act is defined as threatening, obstructing, following or using abusive language towards others while soliciting money. Aggressive panhandling is not the problem on the streets of downtown Toronto -- panhandling is. If people could walk the streets of downtown Toronto for four or five hours and only be accosted once, it wouldn't be a problem if that one panhandler did not act in an aggressive manner. But the beggars are so numerous that even those who are non aggressive are enough, as Jane Pitfield said, to kill tourism and kill business. The NDP-led council couldn't care less about business and as far as tourism is concerned, they figure that as long as their vision of the waterfront eventually becomes a reality, the tourists will come.
Unlike the enforcement of laws concerning cutting down trees on your own property, smoking and using chemicals to kill weeds, ending aggressive panhandling is not a priority in this city. Besides, the police are far too busy raising money for the city by busting drivers during anti-idling blitzes. As long as there is no will to enforce a stricter bylaw, the law will be just another piece of paper.
The argument that a stricter bylaw will not survive a challenge under the Charter of Rights is simply an excuse not to try and remedy a situation that Miller and company have no desire to fix. Stricter panhandling laws are in place in other Canadian cities and have been found to be constitutional. The same arguments about not surviving a Charter challenge were raised when the Mulroney government amended the Criminal Code to make communicating for the purpose of prostitution a criminal offence. Imagine, we had this brand new Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the federal government purported to make certain private conversations between two adult persons in a public place not only illegal but subject to imprisonment. Yet here we are 21 years later and the law is still in force.
The issue of panhandling on the streets of Toronto is not simply a matter of homelessness. With the amount of money that Toronto spends on the homeless issue each year, the city could afford to buy all the panhandlers their own condominium. The reality is that the city mothers love having the panhandlers around. Not only do they have the opportunity to throw money to their buddies in the homeless industry but it makes the politicians feel good about themselves. They can show the world (or at least the voters) how much they care. There is really no desire to get the panhandlers off of the street.
So businesses will decline or leave for the 'burbs, many tourists will stay away because of state of our downtown streets and Toronto will live up to its motto of being "the home of the homeless". But we are now two months away from the municipal elections and it's not enough to blame just the members of council. The fault now lies with those voters who will run to the polls on November 13 and easily re-elect the incumbents who will ensure that begging on city streets remains.