The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is opposing the “Safe Streets Act”, a private member’s bill recently introduced by Lorne Mayencourt in the legislature. The bill prohibits solicitation of all kinds in certain areas such as near transit stops and parking lots.
According to BCCLA President John Russell: “Citizens should be free to canvas others in relation to any cause. This freedom gives war veterans the right to solicit donations for poppies, religious groups to distribute literature, and the lost to ask for directions. Such a right also entitles the poor to ask for money.”
The BCCLA has three concerns with the legislation:
- The Act would criminalize merely asking for others to support any cause including their own,
- The Act is bound to be enforced by private security, not the public police, in ways that are unfair, selective and inappropriate, as occurs now with municipal panhandling bylaws, and
- It criminalizes behaviour that is the result of poverty, homelessness, and mental health issues rather than addressing the underlying causes of those issues and thus unfairly targets a vulnerable group of people.
“Of course, aggressive, intimidating and dangerous behaviour should not be tolerated. But we have other laws in the Criminal Code, Motor Vehicle Act and municipal bylaws to already deal with any such problems,” states Russell.
The Association has written the Attorney General raising their concerns. “Given all the other priorities this government has, we wonder why a mere private members bill is moving through the legislature so quickly. One explanation is that the government wants to appear to distance itself from this odious, punitive approach when in fact it supports the bill. It would be helpful if government clarified its position publicly.”