Salmon Arm approves $50 fine for people sitting on sidewalks asking for money

Salmon Arm has followed in the footsteps of Kelowna and Penticton by passing a bylaw that allows officials to fine panhandlers in the southern Interior municipality.

The bylaw amendment, passed Monday, is aimed at people who solicit for money while sitting or lying down on a street or sidewalk, in the city located approximately 60 kilometres north of Vernon. 

The $50 fine approved by Salmon Arm council gives ticketing power to a current bylaw passed in May, which made it an offence for people to solicit or panhandle from anyone while not only sitting curbside, but also within 15 metres of a bank machine, in a car, or within a public plaza, among other places.

Coun. Sylvia Lindgren was the only councillor to vote against the bylaw and $50 fine.

"I think I'm in the camp of people who believe that people who are homeless or downtown asking for money are generally either suffering from some kind of mental illness or an addiction," Lindgren said.

'Last resort,' says report

"And I just don't feel that this is an appropriate way to get them to comply."

The penalty is in response to complaints from businesses and community members in the city of just over 17,000 about people who are homeless, Lindgren told Radio West's Josh Pagé. 

In a staff report, the ticketing option is described as a "last resort" for bylaw officers and police to use.

Mayor Alan Harrison told council on Monday he was in favour of the fine — knowing that it would be used "softly," or with discretion by officers.

Dillon Hodgin/CBC

However, Lindgren questioned how homeless people will be able to afford the fine. 

"I just wonder what's the point [of the fine] if it's money that we won't be able to collect?" said Lindgren. 

"They're obviously panhandling because they don't have any money and the money that they're getting is going to food or to support a habit perhaps," said Lindgren.

Salmon Arm's fine is less than Penticton's $100 penalty for sitting on on a downtown street or sidewalk, but goes further by applying it to all sidewalks and streets in the city. The Penticton bylaw applies to a select few downtown streets during certain times of the year.

Unfair to homeless: councillor

Coun. Louise Wallace-Richmond, who favours the bylaw said fining panhandlers is a way to enforce bylaws without having to call the RCMP and having criminal charges laid under the provincial Safe Streets Act.

Wallace-Richmond told council that once police are called and "there's a criminal charge, it's out of our hands and we've lost the opportunity." 

However, Lindgren said the $50 penalty unfairly targets people who need money and she would would prefer the city focused on other initiatives to help the homeless, such as the work its doing with the province to bring in affordable housing units.