Vancouver Panhandling By-law update (December, 1999)

A challenge to the City of Vancouver by-law controlling panhandling was commenced in 1998 by the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC). PIAC wanted to bring the action in the name of someone who had been ticketed, which is normally required by the courts. However, they were unable to find an individual who had been given a ticket as the police weren’t ticketing but using the threat of a ticket to stop persons from panhandling. PIAC therefore commenced an action in the names of federated anti-poverty groups (“fapg”), End Legislated Poverty (“ELP”), and National Anti-Poverty Organization (“NAPO”). The grounds of the challenge are that PIAC believes that the by-law is a violation of the freedom of speech provisions in s. 2 by preventing the use of the streets by panhandlers, the life, liberty and security of the person provisions in s. 7 by preventing persons from making a living and the equality provisions in s. 15 in that this by-law predominantly affects poor persons. PIAC has also alleged that the City of Vancouver has no authority for the making of such a by-law under the Vancouver Charter and that the by-law is an infringement into criminal law power, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government.

Parties had instructed PIAC to commence action but not bring the action to court until after the Winnipeg challenge, which was expected to go ahead in fall, 1999.

In the meantime, an individual panhandler in BC was given a ticket. To PIAC's knowledge, this was the first panhandler who has been given a ticket. PIAC met with his lawyer to determine whether their three groups could intervene in their court action. When the Crown was notified that there would be a challenge to the law, they dropped the charges.

Accordingly, PIAC has now received instructions from their client groups to set the matter down for hearing as soon as possible and not to wait for the outcome of the Winnipeg challenge. The challenge will be heard in the spring of 2000. In February 2000, similar challenges will take place in Ottawa and Winnipeg.

Vancouver's municipal bylaw was enacted in August 1998 to "regulate and control panhandling" near banks, automated teller machines, bus stops or entrances to liquor stores. The bylaw prohibits panhandling at anytime from sunset to sunrise, forbids the activity with people stopped at traffic, and makes it illegal to sit on the street to panhandle. The bylaw calls for a fine of "not more than $2,000 and not less than $100 for each offence."