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This is the second time Ontario's Safe Streets Act has done so. subject of a constitutional appeal before the courts.

Courts: Ontario defends its panhandling law

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The plaintiffs allege that the law targets the most vulnerable people in society, prohibiting them from committing “the desperate act of begging for change”.

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Ontario defended the Safe Streets Act on Wednesday, asserting in court that it protects the public from aggressive solicitation. The law was originally passed to prohibit people from cleaning car windshields at intersections in cities, but the Fair Change agency maintains that it is unconstitutional.

Government lawyers concede that the homeless are vulnerable and economically disadvantaged in society, but they add in the same breath that law #x27 ;is not responsible for their misfortune.

Mike Harris's panhandling law challenged again 25 years later

The law prohibits aggressive panhandling and solicitation in public places such as bus shelters, bank tellers, parking meters, public restrooms and parking stations. taxis.

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Mike Harris served as Premier of Ontario from 1995 to 2002.

Violators are subject to a fine of $500 for a first offense and repeat offenders are subject to a fine of $1,000 or up to six months in prison.

The Dalton McGuinty government amended the law in 2005 to exclude authorized charities.

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According to community legal service Fair Change, the Harris government passed the law after cutting welfare benefits by 21.6% and the change to the law only further stigmatized people. homeless.

The government lawyers first point out that courts have already ruled that the law indeed infringed individual rights guaranteed by the Charter, but that this violation was justified by the interest of public safety.

The law was challenged in 2002, then in 2007, without success. The government's lawyers also rely largely on the judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

< source srcset="https://images.radio-canada.ca/q_auto,w_700/v1/ici-info/16x9/charte-canadienne.jpg" media="(min-width: 0px) and (max-width: 1023px)">Open in full screen mode

The Fair Change service asserts that sections 2.2 and 2.3 of the Safe Streets Act violate freedom of expression (section 2b), the right to safety (7) and the right not to be subjected to cruel punishment (15).

Judgment of the Court of Appeal < strong>Regina c. Banks

[133] Although sections 2.2 and 2.3 of the Act infringe on the appellants' freedom of expression, this infringement is justified with regard to Article 1 of the Charter, which guarantees the rights and freedoms set out therein. These rights can only be restricted by a rule of law, within limits which are reasonable and whose justification can be demonstrated within the framework of a free and democratic society.

[134] Appellants have failed to establish that [Complainants'] rights under Sections 7, 15, or 2(b) of the Charter were unjustifiably violated.

Source : CANLIIOntario

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The Ontario Court of Appeal in downtown Toronto rejected a similar case in 2007.

Lawyer Zachary Green discusses the testimonies of homeless people that Fair Change filed in this new constitutional appeal in anticipation of the three days of hearing.

There is, according to him, no evidence that the plaintiffs in this action were improperly or illegally arrested for aggressive solicitation for 20 years , since some of them do not remember being fined or having appeared in court while others lost their traffic tickets.

He nevertheless says he is sympathetic to the situation of indigent people who have accumulated thousands of dollars in fines following hundreds of convictions under the law, but he recalls that these individuals have the right to recourse before the courts. courts.

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This constitutional appeal is based on the testimony of several homeless people who beg on the street to survive.

Me Green argues that courts can be flexible in imposing sentences that are proportionate and tailored to the precarious situation of offenders.

He adds that judges have the discretionary power to cancel tickets, since the homeless are in the inability to pay them.

Nothing in the law hinders offenders' access to these legal mechanisms, he declares.

The lawyer emphasizes, however, that there is no point in invalidating the law in order to tackle the thorny and complex problem of homelessness or to declare that the plaintiffs have a constitutional right to threaten people from whom they solicit money.

Me Green asserts that the law nevertheless ensures that passers-by can use an ATM, a parking meter or a public toilet without being harassed, intimidated or threatened.

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The 1999 law prohibited at the time, as a safety measure, the phenomenon of windshield cleaners, the “squeegees”.

The same goes for drivers who are asked for money at a busy city intersection. Begging at a busy intersection is disruptive and dangerous, he says.

Mr. Green points out that the public's right to security is also a right enshrined in the Charter.

He further concludes that the definition of ;aggressiveness associated with solicitation in the law is neither subjective, nor prejudicial, nor stereotypical, as the opposing party maintains.

Five groups have obtained intervener status in this case.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), Justice for Children and Youth, Aboriginal Legal Services, the Income Security Action Center and the Human Rights Commission of the 27 ;Ontario have stood behind Fair Change Community Legal Service.

L'lawyer for&# x27;ACLC, Rebecca Anoah, says the law violates the rights of the homeless and those living in poverty and takes away their only means of subsistence, which is begging.

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A beggar in a wheelchair asks pedestrians for money so he can eat.

Lawyers from Justice for Children and Youth and Aboriginal Legal Services, Mary Birdsell and Emily Hill, add that the law only accentuates the exclusion of young people and Aboriginal people, who are over-represented in the homeless population. shelter in Canada.

Lawyers from the Income Security Action Center and the Human Rights Commission, Anu Bakshi and Reema Khawja, underline that the law is also discriminatory, since an exception has been granted to charitable works, which proves, according to them, that it indeed targets the underprivileged in society.

The law tells the homeless that they are unworthy and that society cannot trust them, says Mr. Bakshi , arguing that stereotypes were enshrined in the law.

The hearings continue for a final day on Thursday.

Judge Robert Centa, of the Superior Court of Ontario, will subsequently review the case under deliberation until an undetermined date.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116