Maple Ridge council gave the final OK Tuesday to a safer streets bylaw that prohibits panhandling within 10 metres of banks, ATMs, bus stops, liquor stores, pot stores, daycares, or anyone sitting in a motor vehicle at a traffic light.
Council voted 6-1 to fourth reading, with Coun. Kiersten Duncan opposed.
Mayor Mike Morden said the bylaw is about providing safe passage “… on our streets and into our businesses. This is about keeping the public safe.”
Two community safety officers will use discretion in enforcing the bylaw and help connect street people with services, he added.
“This is about deterrence. It’s about prevention. It’s also … to connect people with the help they need if they’re ready, willing and able to take it,” Morden said at council.
The bylaw targets aggressive panhandling, stating that people can’t “sit or lie on a street in a manner which obstructs or impedes” pedestrian traffic.
The minimum fine is $50.
As well, people can’t ask for money if they’re part of a group of three or more and they can’t continue to harass someone who’s said no to a request for spare change.
Morden said that most panhandling is related to collecting money for drugs.
“We’ve committed to making sure we provide all the vehicles possible to get people the help they need, but also we’ve made extreme commitments to ensure we will have safe streets,” Morden said.
The bylaw is part of council’s community safety plan.
Coun. Judy Dueck said that council wants to help people, but must also listen to all citizens, including residents and businesses.
“I believe we have an obligation to ensure all our citizens are safe,” Dueck said.
The city, though, should focus on reducing the stigma of mental illness and addiction, said Duncan, adding that she’s heard that street people are afraid.
“We have a lot of love and compassion in our community, but unfortunately, I have to admit, we also have a lot of hate,” Duncan added.
She said the bylaw wasn’t about helping people, but fining them.
Duncan also said she understood what the rest of council was attempting, but that the city instead should help social service agencies that deal with homelessness.
“We respect the rights of individuals to solicit for money, however, we are putting some limitations on that support in order to respect the right of our citizens to safety and security,” said Coun. Chelsa Meadus.
Council can’t improve the downtown if people don’t want to walk in the area, she added.
A staff report notes that passive panhandling cannot be prohibited because it’s protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.