June 9, 2017

Begging for Money

In 2013, I was a guest speaker on CKNW radio, talking about panhandling and the laws around it.  In 2015, I was on CBC radio, speaking about the same topic: Panhandling is illegal in Langley. With summer coming up and the frequency of pedestrian traffic soon to increase, I thought I would share some of that research with you, again.

To start, there are actually a lot of laws that attempt to regulate how people can panhandle.  In 2004, the provincial government created the Safe Streets Act. It was an attempt to make a bunch of different types of panhandling illegal.  The prime motivating factor behind this law was that a lot of businesses were complaining about panhandlers harassing their customers.  Also, tourists were being “put off”, especially in Vancouver.

So, the new laws made it illegal to ask for money in an “aggressive” way. Now, what does that mean?

Well, it means that panhandlers can’t follow someone for money, they can’t use threatening or rude gestures, they can’t block someone’s path, and they can’t repeatedly ask someone for money. If someone violates these rules, then they can receive a $115.00 fine.

The new laws also made it illegal to panhandle in certain places, basically creating “no go” zones for panhandlers. So basically, panhandlers can’t ask for money within 5 metres of a bus stop, a public toilet, a pay phone, or an ATM. It basically made it illegal for panhandlers to ask a person for money if that person is standing in a place and is being held ‘captive’, not being able to walk away (because they are waiting for the ATM or whatever else). There is an $86.00 fine for this offence.

Now, the provincial government didn’t REALLY have to pass these laws – this is because a lot of municipalities already have very similar laws. Cities, such as Kelowna, Kamloops and Vancouver have laws that outlaw nearly the same type of panhandling. In fact, the municipalities’ laws are often ‘tougher’ on panhandlers. For instance, Kamloops, Kelowna and West Kelowna make it illegal to ask for money within 10 METRES (rather than 5 metres) of an ATM or bus stop.

But, really, what’s the point of giving a fine to someone who is panhandling? If you thought this, you’re exactly right.

The typical ways that are used to get money from people (who owe fines or debts) don’t really apply to people who are begging for money. After all, if they had assets to collect or wages to garnish, they probably wouldn’t be panhandling in the first place…  So, what do authorities do? Well, let’s not forget the Criminal Code, which arguably has more ‘teeth’.  The Criminal Code makes it illegal to threaten someone or disrupt someone’s right to enjoy their property (while panhandling).  And, make no mistake: the Criminal Code is used against panhandlers. For instance, in Victoria in 2012, a man was arrested and charged with mischief (a Criminal Code offence) for repeatedly entering into businesses and asking customers for money.  Clearly, there are a lot of laws that surround panhandling.

And, as a ‘final thought’, let’s not paint all panhandlers with the same brush. Sure, some people will act aggressively but, others are simply down on their luck and don’t deserve to be treated with disrespect. So, be nice.

And now you know.


Jeff Zilkowsky is a family lawyer with CBM Lawyers.  To learn more about the services we offer please contact us at 604.533.3821.