A year is too long to wait for a review of Saskatoon’s panhandling bylaw, according to the chair of a city committee on street activity.
Brent Penner is the executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID). He also serves as chair of the city’s street activity steering committee. Along with Penner, the committee is made up of executive directors from the Broadway and Riversdale BIDs, as well as a representative from the Saskatoon Police Service, the city, and the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition.
Penner addressed a meeting of city council’s planning and development committee on Monday. He was there to express disappointment at an administration proposal not to begin a review of the panhandling and street use bylaws until 2017.
“We brought these concerns forward in March of 2015. So we are 14 months later and really, the (administration) report was saying ‘we’re going to look at it in another year,'” he said.
A letter from the steering committee to council dated March 20, 2015 indicates the list of proposed changes was approved unanimously by the three BID directors and the police representative on the panel. The representative from the Anti-Poverty Coalition was not present at the vote.
Penner said the proposed changes include banning panhandling around parking pay stations.
“I think most people would agree that that’s not an appropriate time to be asking somebody for money — when they have to be digging into their pockets, they have to be digging into a purse to get a credit card out or some coins,” he said.
He said they also want to see bans on panhandling near entrances to entertainment venues, like theatres.
“It makes sense that people are asking people for money where there’s large crowds. But if you’re going to Persephone or you’re going to the Cineplex — maybe there should be some boundaries around there, where you’re near their doorway, that it’s not appropriate to be asking people for money,” he said.
Penner stressed that the committee isn’t seeking an overall ban on panhandling.
“It’s a little less, I guess, threatening for somebody to walk by somebody who’s sitting on the street corner with their hat out than it is to be approached by somebody when they’re at a pay station. Or, they’re entering a venue with their kids or grandchildren or their husband or wife,” he said.
Randy Grauer, the city’s general manager of community services, spoke on behalf of administration on Monday. He said he was ultimately accountable for proposing that the review be done in 2017. He explained that with many files to move through council, the scheduling decision was a matter of balancing priorities. He said the social and legal issues around panhandling are complex, and he anticipates a lot of feedback whenever the review goes ahead.
“There will be a lot of interested people in the community. (The review) is not something we should rush into,” he said, while acknowledging the review could be moved up if it is the wish of city council.
Penner found a sympathetic audience among the city councillors on the committee.
“People should not have to worry that they’re going to be verbally mugged when they’re paying for parking,” Ward 2 Coun. Pat Lorje said.
Ward 10 Coun. Zach Jeffries first suggested that the committee recommend breaking out some of the easier-to-implement changes to the bylaw, in the hopes of getting to work on those a bit quicker.
Lorje proposed recommending that council direct administration to get the full bylaw review done in 2016.
Committee chair and Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill said he gets a lot of complaints from constituents about aggressive panhandling. He said he didn’t want to see the review delayed either.
“My concern is, if we wait another year, the problem is going to intensify,” he said.
The committee voted unanimously to recommend speeding up the review. That recommendation is expected to go to a full council vote on June 27.