Dozens protest Penticton’s plan to ban sitting on downtown sidewalks

The City of Penticton is considering updating its bylaws to ban sitting or lying on sidewalks, but not everybody is happy about the proposed changes. Jules Knox reports.

Dozens of people turned out for a ‘sidewalk sit-in’ on Saturday morning in Penticton.

Protesters were voicing opposition to the city’s proposed bylaw to ban sitting or lying on certain sidewalks during the summer months.

“The people that this bylaw is targeting are not out here to be feared. They’re out here because they have no other choice. They need help. They need compassion,” sit-in participant Kona Sankey said.

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“They’re targeting people that cannot afford to pay this fine. They’re targeting people that they think are a problem, and that they don’t want to see,” organizer Chelsea Terry said.

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The City of Penticton said the proposed bylaw will help it deal with an increasing number of social issues downtown.

“The ‘no sitting’ bylaw and ‘no sleeping’ bylaw that is proposed to be in place, for a really relatively small area of the downtown, looks at providing bylaw [officers] with a tool to deal with some of the more serious situations,” Penticton’s development services manager Anthony Haddad said.

Coun. Frank Regehr spoke with protesters for a few minutes but said his mind hadn’t changed.

“Not at this point. I think the concerns that have been raised over some of the loitering and virtually blocking of doorways, I think businesses have a right to expect a welcoming environment,” he said.

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Protesters don’t think the $100 fine will be effective against people who don’t have the money.

“You’re handing out fines for people that may not have the means to pay it. You’re using our tax dollars to have our bylaw officers going up and down fining when they could be doing so many other things,” sit-in participant Debbie Scarborough said.

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However, Haddad said the city will only issue a ticket after repeated infractions. The priority is to educate people about the rules, he added.

“A fine is obviously a last resort. There’s no intention to fine anyone attached to this bylaw,” he said.

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Many protesters said that instead of ticketing people facing homelessness, they want to see more help available, including supportive housing.

The amended bylaw currently proposes a ban on sitting or lying on a street located between the 100 to 300 blocks of Ellis Street, the 200 to 400 blocks of Martin Street and the 100 to 700 blocks of Main Street from the beginning of May to the end of September.

At the last vote, the amendment to the good neighbour bylaw passed five to two. It will be back before council for a final reading on June 4.

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