Controversial Penticton sidewalk sitting ban results in drop in loitering complaints downtown: city
The City of Penticton says a controversial new loitering ban downtown has resulted in a decrease in complaints since the bylaw amendment was adopted on June 4.
Changes to the city’s Good Neighbour Bylaw make it illegal to sit or lie on some public sidewalks downtown during the tourism season.
Those who violate the ban could be handed a $100 fine.
The measure is in an attempt to curb what the city describes as social nuisances in the downtown core, such as panhandling, loitering and inappropriate behaviour.
Bylaw services supervisor Tina Siebert said no tickets have been issued so far for the bylaw infraction, but complaints about loitering near businesses in the downtown area have dropped.
WATCH: (May 2019) Dozens protest Penticton’s plan to ban sitting on downtown sidewalks
“I’m sure it has had some impact in conjunction with other efforts as the message was clear to persons taking over public sidewalk spaces,” she said in an email.
“With the increase in pedestrian traffic and positive outdoor activity taking place there are a lot more residents and visitors using the sidewalk spaces and public spaces downtown with the events and festivals that are underway.”
Photographs surfaced on social media Tuesday of a group of transient people congregating outside the Penticton Public Library at 785 Main St. Siebert said the city predicted some level of displacement when the bylaw amendment took effect.
“Most of these individuals are homeless so no matter where they are going people are calling their movement in to our office,” Siebert said.
WATCH: (May 2019) Penticton endorses plan to ban sitting on downtown sidewalks during summer months
“We don’t want anyone to take over public spaces like the library. RCMP and Bylaw have taken a lot of time and effort to build rapport with these individuals who we know quite well, and that helps us get them to move along,” she added.
The city said it does not allow any permanent structures on public spaces.
“With continued support services and housing coming soon we should see some improvement,” she said.
The bylaw amendment is controversial because anti-poverty advocates say it is discriminatory and targets only one group of people.
However, Lynn Allin with the Downtown Penticton Association said there has been a noticeable improvement in the downtown core as a result.
“Anecdotally businesses are reporting that they are not making as many calls to City bylaw services or the RCMP and they say that their customers and staff are also giving positive feedback about the changes they’ve observed,” she said in an email.
The loitering ban is in effect between May and September.
WATCH BELOW: Extended interview with Penticton RCMP Superintendent Ted De Jager
In an interview with Global News, Penticton RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager said police have “invested significant patrols and enhanced patrols into the downtown [core]. Since April, there’s been over 300 hours of police patrols, plus bylaw is actively patrolling in that area.”
De Jager said he couldn’t speak specifically to the effects of the city’s sidewalk sitting ban bylaw, as he didn’t have any data, but added the patrols have seen progress.
However, he also said “we have seen some displacement, for sure, in certain areas. And again, that’s one of those things that we’re not sure if that’s just seasonal, because we always get that around this time of the year.”
Asked if Penticton RCMP are responding to less social nuisance calls in the downtown core, De Jager said “not really. We are responding to the same types of calls that we always did.
“We were not active in moving people out of specific areas; we would do that if they were committing any kind of criminal or offence against another act. We would go and deal with them.
“We still get calls for service in the downtown core, which is fairly typical for any downtown. I would say from that particular group of people, we don’t see them as much downtown right now – and, again, it’s that displacement, so we get calls into other areas of the town.
“Summer is always a very busy time in Penticton, well, throughout the South Okanagan. So to actually say that we have less calls for service downtown, I’m not exactly convinced that’s the case. But the types of calls are certainly different; it’s more the traditional police response.”
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