The executive director of the Halifax Downtown Business Association wants Halifax Regional Council to enact an “aggressive panhandling bylaw” for the downtown core.
Paul MacKinnon told Metro yesterday such bylaws exist in other major cities across Canada, and it’s something they’ll be asking city hall to work on as early as the end of this year.
MacKinnon stressed they’re not looking to ban panhanding on downtown city streets, but are instead out to “create a much (better) sense of safety.”
“In most cases it’s really about physical space, but it is behavior as well,” MacKinnon said. “So things like blocking someone’s path on the sidewalk or following them down the street repeatedly asking them (for money) — that type of thing.”
MacKinnon estimated 10 to 40 people panhandle each day on downtown sidewalks – mostly in and around Spring Garden Road, Barrington Street, and more frequently Quinpool Road.
And while MacKinnon said “Nine times out of 10, there isn’t an actual safety issue with panhandlers,” he added “We do know some of the panhandlers have mental health issues or drug dependency issues. So a person that could be fine one day is actually extremely aggressive the next.”
A bylaw could include restrictions on where and when panhandling can take place – such as a determined distance from ATM machines. MacKinnon said penalties for panhandlers could be an “escalating fine.”
“A lot of people say what is the point of fining panhandlers if they don’t have money anyway. That really isn’t the point,” he said. “It’s really about giving the police the tools to do something else. If someone is in continual violation, it may in fact give police the power to take them before the mental health court or even before the criminal court and say ‘we sentence you to drug treatment, or a work program, or something else.’”