Saskatoon's city council is grappling with balancing the legal right to panhandle with resident comfort and safety.
A city planning committee recommended voting on changes to the city's panhandling bylaw on Monday, increasing restrictions on where people can ask for change.
If the changes are approved, the bylaw would ban panhandling within two metres of parking meters. (Photo: Getty Images)
Saskatoon's current bylaw allows panhandling on streets, sidewalks, and public spaces, but forbids it on city buses, from people in cars, or within a certain distance from entrances to banks, ATMs, bus shelters, bus stops, and liquor stores.
Panhandling "in a coercive manner" is not allowed.
A group of police and business associations called for the crackdown after noticing an increase in aggressive panhandling.
If the changes are approved, the bylaw would ban panhandling within two metres of parking meters— an area where people often stand with their wallets out.
Two-metre zone a compromise
An initial proposal last year called for a five-metre ban, but the city said this was too prohibitive. That proposal had also suggested forcing panhandlers to stand or sit still, but the city council committee said that was beyond their jurisdiction.
The two-metre zone was proposed as a compromise.
Lesley Anderson, the city’s director of planning and development, said that panhandling is a legal activity and the city can't make bylaws that restrict that, according to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
“We don’t want to create a general prohibition around panhandling,” she said.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said the city should focus on support programs for panhandlers. (Photo: Getty Images)
Street safety program supervisor Lesley Prefontaine said a ban on approaching people for money while they're paying for parking will add to the sense of safety and freedom downtown.
Coun. Hilary Gough was the only one to oppose the two-metre buffer zone at a meeting Monday, saying it would create "confusion and a grey zone" because it's hard for bylaw officers to judge distances.
Gough told CBC Radio that in addition to making sure the bylaw doesn't overstep legal boundaries, the city also needs to ensure it doesn't further penalize people already living in poverty.
"If we're talking about fines.. we're asking people who already don't have resources to pay fines that they can't afford, which might end up resulting in somebody being jailed for essentially being poor," she said.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said the city already has an aggressive panhandling bylaw. (Photo: Getty Images)
Gough added that pushing panhandling into more secluded spaces actually creates more safety concerns for those asking for money.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark told 650 CKOM he's not a big fan of the proposed changes.
The city already has an aggressive panhandling bylaw, he said. Focus, he insisted, should be turned instead to support systems such as addiction and mental health programs.
City council is expected to vote on the changes on Monday, according to Global News.