“IF WE REPEAL THE SSA HOW WILL BUSINESSES AND COMMUNITIES BE ABLE TO ADDRESS UNWANTED PANHANDLING?”
It’s a fair question here is the answer
1. Other legislation exists to deal with behaviour that is problematic
Sections of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) can be used to police dangerous behaviours.
The SSA creates the offence of “Soliciting on a roadway”, which carries with it a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and $1000. Panhandlers who walk in live lanes of traffic can be a safety concern. This dangerous behaviour can be addressed by section 140(4) of the HTA which makes it an offence for a pedestrian to move into the path of a vehicle. The maximum penalty for this offence is $500, no jail time. Individual cities in Ontario also have by-laws that prohibit pedestrians from using roadways unsafely. By using these laws the dangerous behaviour can be addressed without penalizing people who are not behaving dangerously.
Sections of the Criminal Code can be used to address aggressive behaviour
The SSA also creates the offence of “Soliciting in an aggressive manner”. Again, aggressive behaviour can be dangerous to the public and intimidating for other pedestrians. But because of the way that the SSA is written, even if no one was actually intimidated or feeling harassed, the panhandler can still be convicted. Section 175(1) of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to impede or molest other persons in a public place. This law requires that the person charged actually offend a person. Using this law would, again, address dangerous behaviour and leave peaceful panhandlers alone.
In short, the SSA creates overly broad offences that capture behaviour that is not dangerous or disruptive to others. If the SSA were repealed police could use the more narrowly focussed pieces of legislation that already exist to address problematic behaviour.
2. There are already proven strategies that reduce homelessness
Through it’s overly broad language and its disproportionately steep penalties, the SSA actually increases homelessness. SSA convictions count against a person’s driving record making it impossible for people with outstanding SSA fines to obtain a job that requires driving, or a job that is away from public transit.
Additionally, if a person is housed and receiving housing assistance from the government, like disability support or Ontario Works, and they are jailed for a period longer than 30 days, that person will lose their housing funding and can be evicted.
There are proven methods of combating homelessness. Programs that focus on preventing homelessness and programs that address underlying causes have been shown to reduce homelessness. Supportive housing for people with mental health issues and addiction issues is a proven way of effectively combating homelessness. By focusing on these programs communities can address panhandling effectively without using the SSA.
For more information on proven strategies to fight homelessness read the 2014 report on homelessness in Canada here: http://www.homelesshub.ca/SOHC2014
The SSA is unnecessary and overly broad as a law enforcement tool. Repealing the SSA will not prevent communities from using more appropriate and focused laws to combat dangerous or intimidating behaviour.
SSA convictions limit employment opportunities and can cause the loss of housing. Both of which increase homelessness. Repealing the act will remove the negative side effects of SSA convictions and will help to abbreviate or prevent homelessness.
Reprinted with permission from Fair Change Community Services.