Panhandlers and homeless people in Quesnel are subject to fines after city councillors passed a number of bylaw amendments this week aimed at making the city safer.
The rules now restrict lying, sitting or loitering in specified downtown areas from May 1 to Sept. 30, with fees charged to offset the cost of responding to repeat calls.
Fines are $100 for the first offence, $300 for the second offence, and $500 for anything more. Behaviours targeted are sitting or lying on the street, causing a disturbance, panhandling in a restricted area, depositing rubbish, and consuming or possessing liquor.
“The goal of this policy is to minimize behaviours that have been reported to the City as those which discourage community members and tourists from utilizing the revitalized downtown,” wrote Tanya Turner, the city’s director of development services, in a report tabled to council on Aug. 27. The amendments were approved Sept. 3.
When asked how one can charge somebody who has no money on them, Turner told the meeting there are other reasons to take enforcement actions and have a record of it.
“Our main objective is not to obtain money; it’s to change behaviour,” she said.
The new policy is one of many aimed at improving crime rates and other “nuisance” behaviours, following a rally at City Hall in which angry and scared demonstrators shared stories of being beat up during a home invasion, finding needles behind a kids’ dance studio, of a son’s skull crushed by a baseball bat.
Turner outlined other measures the city has taken, such as adding two RCMP officers and five bylaw enforcement officers, re-locating the bylaw enforcement office to to increase visibility, using private security at special events, and working more with health officials on mental health and food security supports.
Mayor Bob Simpson said case law and the constitution do not favour municipalities taking these steps, making note of sit-ins in Penticton against panhandling being a crime, following similar bylaw changes there.
“As a council, we have to find the fine line between an individual’s right to safety and people’s rights to being on the street,” he said.
“We tried to find something we can warrant and justify that respects an individual’s right to public space but gives us tools to ensure that public space is safe.”