Aggressive panhandling will no longer be permitted on Maple Ridge’s city streets.
Council OK’d its safer streets bylaw Tuesday, which stipulates that people can’t block sidewalks or continue to harass people once they’ve refused a panhander’s request.
The bylaw also prohibits panhandling within 10 metres of banks, ATMs, bus stops, liquor stores, pot stores, daycares, or anyone sitting in a motor vehicle at a traffic light. Staff are going to check to see if those zones can be more widely applied.
As well, panhandlers in groups of three or more can’t approach people and there can’t be any panhandling after sunset.
The bylaw is not about punishment, but about giving people the chance to be connected to assistance through interaction with bylaw officers, said Mayor Mike Morden.
He called it a tool officers can use to deal with unsafe behaviours – using discretion.
“It’s about respect for each other and respect for each other’s space and respect for each other’s situation, too,” the mayor added. “We’re not saying no. We’re saying how.”
Coun. Gordy Robson, voting in support of the third reading on the bylaw this week, reiterated that only aggressive panhandling is being banned.
“This is going to provide our bylaws department with every tool available to ensure what we can to provide safe streets,” Morden said.
A staff report notes however, that passive panhandling cannot be prohibited because it’s protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Coun. Kiersten Duncan opposed the bylaw, saying that councillors understand the issue of homelessness and poverty, but has differing views on how to deal with it.
“For me, I think the way this is being regulated is, out of sight and out of mind,” Duncan said. The intent is to move people along because people feel uncomfortable seeing poverty. However, the public should be uncomfortable that so many people are living on the streets, she added.
Instead, local social agencies should be supported, she added.
“I’m happy to support this bylaw that will grant Maple Ridge safer streets and will only address the aggressive panhandling behaviour and has nothing to do with regulating poverty,” added Coun. Ahmed Yousef.
A staff report says that the main method of obtaining compliance would be through education, followed by a request for compliance, followed by verbal, then written warning. A last resort would be issuing a $50 ticket.
The report notes only New Westminster has a bylaw dealing with aggressive panhandling but Morden said most other cities regulate panhandling via different bylaws.
The City of Vancouver’s Street and Traffic Bylaw, bans people from blocking sidewalks, harassing people after they’ve initially said no or approaching people in groups of three or more.