The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is opposing the BC government’s introduction of a Safe Streets Act. The BCCLA dismisses claims that the act is a means to protect the public from “aggressive panhandlers” saying that there are ample provisions to deal with intimidating and dangerous behaviour under the Criminal Code.
According to BCCLA President, John Russell: “The aim of the legislation is to sweep the streets of people some are uncomfortable seeing or meeting in public places. But the poor and the homeless have the same rights to occupy public space as anyone. And their asking for help exercises the same right to free association and movement as others who ask passersby for the time or directions.”
The BCCLA opposes the legislation because:
- The Act would criminalize merely asking for others to support any cause including one’s own cause in certain locations;
- The Act is bound to be primarily enforced by private security in ways that are unfair, selective and inappropriate;
- Enforcement by way of fines/imprisonment is at worst cruel and at best misleading given that the real aim of the law will be to create authority to sweep perceived undesirables off of city streets;
- The Act criminalizes behaviour that is the result of poverty, homelessness and mental health issues, rather than addressing the causes of those issues and thus, unfairly targets vulnerable groups.
Russell: “Nobody is worried that errant Brownies selling cookies near bus stops are going to be ticketed under this legislation, although that would count as a violation. It’s clear that this legislation will target specific people, not actions, and so will be applied in a discriminatory manner. We look forward to challenging its constitutionality in court.