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Panhandling laws: What to know

A sign forbids panhandling. Stock photo by Getty Images
Stock photo by Getty Images

Are you a panhandler? Have you ever dealt with a panhandler? This article will give you an overview of the laws that regulate panhandling in some of the provinces and cities.

Although there is a federal Safe Streets and Communities Act — passed in 2012 — it doesn’t address panhandlers, but rather terrorism and criminal penalties.

Provincial and municipal

First of all, few provinces have laws on panhandling — only two have introduced legislation to regulate the activity. Many cities, however, have created municipal bylaws to deal with panhandlers.

Ontario passed the Safe Street Act in 1999 and has made aggressive solicitation illegal. In the province, aggressive panhandlers can be ticketed. In fact, the panhandler can be held criminally responsible for being overly aggressive and, if convicted, can face a fine of less than $500 on first conviction. On each following conviction a fine of no more than $1,000 and imprisonment, or both, can be enforced.

The SSA faced a charter challenge in 2001, which it survived, and was challenged again in 2007 at the Ontario Court of Appeal, which again upheld the act. The Supreme Court of Canada even refused to hear the appeal. Looks like the SSA is here to stay.

British Columbia passed its own Safe Street Act in 2004. It’s similar to Ontario’s in that aggressive solicitation is prohibited. It also bans captive audience solicitation. As in Ontario, aggressive panhandlers are ticketed and, held criminally responsible.

Other provinces don't have legislation that deals with panhandling; the activity is regulated through municipal bylaws.

Read more:

Ontario Safe Streets Act (1999) and panhandling

Federated Anti-Poverty Groups of BC v. Vancouver (City), 2002