Maple Ridge city council voted 6-1 Tuesday night in favour of a controversial motion to ban what the city calls “aggressive” panhandling.
“There are many people that have experienced a lot of dangerous activity out there on the streets from aggressive panhandling,” Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden said at Tuesday’s meeting, “And this is what this bylaw is here to target.”
“In my opinion, the predominance here is not a poverty problem,” Morden continued. “In fact, the majority of it is plain, out-and-out drugs.”
The city will assign two bylaw officers to assess incidences of panhandling.
“They (officers) will enforce based on behaviour,” Morden said. “This about deterrence, it’s about prevention… it’s also to connect people with the help they need, if they’re willing to take it.”
The “Safer Streets Bylaw” would make it an offence for people to “sit or lie on a street in a manner which obstructs or impedes” convenient pedestrian passage, or to ask for money after someone has said “no.”
It would also ban panhandling within 10 metres of a bank or credit union, an ATM, a bus stop, a daycare, a liquor store or a cannabis store.
It would further ban asking people in their vehicles for money, or panhandling after sundown.
Anyone who breaks the bylaw could be on the hook for a fine of $100.
Ivan Drury, an activist with the group Alliance Against Displacement, characterized the bylaw as the latest salvo in an “offensive” by the city against its homeless population.
“Mayor Morden and Councillor Gordie Robson are framing it as though it’s aggressive panhandling,” he said.
“But there is no such thing as aggressive or not aggressive, or deserving or non-deserving poor or homeless people. There is just the the government’s treatment of homeless people as if there’s something wrong with them.”
Drury said concerns from businesses and local residents about crime and safety were a matter of “perception,” arguing that it is the city’s street population who are more vulnerable, and who he said rarely receive positive attention from police.
“This law will criminalize the presence of homeless people in public, it will criminalize poor people for being poor, and for doing necessary survival things to deal with their poverty,” he said.
Maple Ridge is just the latest B.C. community to consider a panhandling bylaw. Penticton passed a bylaw in June which makes it illegal to sit on the sidewalk or risk a $100 fine.
In July, Salmon Arm passed its own legislation which could see panhandlers hit with a $50 fine.
In September, Maple Ridge moved again to clear the long-running Anita Place homeless camp, with its remaining 51 campers to be housed in temporary supportive housing on Burnett Street.