The City of Maple Ridge has joined a growing number of B.C. municipalities taking tougher action against aggressive panhandlers.
Council gave final approval to the "Safer Streets Bylaw" on Tuesday, creating the following rules:
- Nobody can ask for money while blocking the passage of pedestrians.
- Nobody can ask for money "or otherwise harass" someone after a request for money has been denied.
- Nobody is allowed to ask for money within 10 metres of a bank, ATM, bus stop, daycare centre, liquor store or cannabis outlet.
- Asking for money is banned after sunset.
Breaking the bylaw would carry a fine of up to $100. An initial series of votes on the bylaw passed by a 6-1 margin in October.
'Doing it to help kill themselves'
The last election in Maple Ridge was fought largely on the question of the best way to respond to a growing homeless population, with those advocating a more traditional law-and-order approach winning all but one seat around the council table.
"This was not about punishment, this was about ensuring that we use this as an opportunity to get people the help that they need," Mayor Mike Morden said during the October council meeting.
He said that outreach officers and non-profit social groups would be working with homeless people in a proactive approach, but that bylaw and police officers may be involved as well.
The only councillor to vote against the bylaw last month was Kiersten Duncan, who said it further stigmatizes an already marginalized population. She was also the only councillor to vote against it on Tuesday.
"Regulating it and making it more challenging for people to panhandle isn't going to change the situation," she said.
"If that's the only option they have, that's what they'll continue to do."
But that perspective gained little support among her fellow councillors.
"I happen to know a number of the people that panhandling on our streets, and I know them well," said Coun. Gordy Robson.
"Most of the money they raise goes to purchase crystal and fentanyl. There's no way that anybody can legitimately claim these people are doing it to survive. They're doing it to help kill themselves."
Crackdown in several places
Panhandling is legal in Canada, but B.C.'s Safe Streets Act makes it illegal for for people to solicit in an "aggressive manner" and municipalities are also allowed to create their own bylaws around enforcement.
Maple Ridge — a largely suburban municipality of approximately 85,000 people — is the first Metro Vancouver municipality to move forward with increased enforcement since last year's election.
But several other communities in B.C. have passed bylaws in recent months:
Maple Ridge Coun. Judy Dueck said she was hopeful the bylaw would help the city's business community.
"What we're doing is addressing the aggressive behaviour," she said.
"This is about ensuring that people feel safe going in and around businesses."