Heav­ily fined pan­han­dler joins char­ter case

Dwight Perry will be­come part of con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge to the Safe Street Acts

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - CARMELA FRAGOMENI

DWIGHT PERRY can’t see any­thing wrong with sit­ting on the side­walk and ask­ing passersby for a quar­ter. If he doesn’t get one, he wishes them a good day any­way. No harm. No foul, he be­lieves. But po­lice of­fi­cers down­town have for some time been is­su­ing him and other street peo­ple tick­ets for do­ing this.

Perry has amassed $23,000 in un­paid fines he’ll never be able to pay.

There used to be no se­ri­ous con­se­quence for not pay­ing the fines, other than be­ing de­nied a driver’s li­cence or buy­ing a house if he had the means. So Perry threw the tick­ets away.

But now, the On­tario Safe Streets Act tick­ets are be­ing strictly en­forced and Perry is be­ing made to ap­pear in court — and told he could go to jail if he doesn’t pay the fines.

He and benev­o­lent lawyer Peter Boushy are so in­censed, they plan to join a con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge of the Safe Streets Act a Toronto le­gal clinic is launch­ing.

Perry started get­ting sum­mons to ap­pear in court about 20 months ago and has eight so far.

Boushy says the act, passed un­der former premier Mike Harris, un­justly pu­n­ishes the home­less. “It’s just fun­da­men­tally of­fen­sive, if not morally grotesque when peo­ple in a po­si­tion of power pick on the poor.”

A lot of home­less have amassed thousands of fines and now have to ap­pear in court, he said.

“It’s just fun­da­men­tally of­fen­sive, if not morally grotesque when peo­ple in a po­si­tion of power pick on the poor.” PETER BOUSHY LAWYER, REP­RE­SENT­ING DWIGHT PERRY PRO BONO

“The ques­tion is, is this un­fair to poor peo­ple who are phys­i­cally and men­tally un­sta­ble? Can so­ci­ety do some­thing else aside from charg­ing them?”

Perry gets $313 a month in a ba­sic needs wel­fare pay­ment, Boushy says.

“One rea­son he is able to sur­vive is be­cause he pan­han­dles.”

So Boushy is help­ing Perry pro bono — for free in other words.

And he is help­ing Perry pro­vide an af­fi­davit to the con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge.

Says Perry, “Ev­ery time I stick my hand out to get a quar­ter, I get a $60 ticket in the other.”

Prob­lem is he can’t ig­nore them any­more.

The tick­ets carry a fine of up to $500 on first con­vic­tion, and after­ward, a $1,000 fine or im­pris­on­ment for up to six months.

Perry gets a sum­mons and he must ap­pear in court, ex­plains Boushy.

Boushy has so far man­aged to post­pone Perry’s case — and al­though a long shot, hopes it can be post­poned un­til af­ter the Fair Change Com­mu­nity Le­gal Clinic’s con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge is heard in Toronto.

Clinic man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Dan Ciara­bellini finds Perry’s sit­u­a­tion “es­pe­cially pow­er­ful, con­sid­er­ing what he went through with the Hamil­ton tick­et­ing scan­dal … we’d like to in­clude Dwight based on what he’s been through.”

Perry, 60, was one of sev­eral pan­han­dlers brought in to tes­tify at the trial of four po­lice of­fi­cers ac­cused of is­su­ing fake tick­ets — along with real ones — to Hamil­ton’s most vul­ner­a­ble. The of­fi­cers were later ac­quit­ted. In an in­ter­view with The Spec­ta­tor in April, po­lice com­mu­nity mo­bi­liza­tion di­vi­sion Supt. Mike Worster said of­fi­cers are ed­u­cated about ex­er­cis­ing dis­cre­tion when tick­et­ing, as there is no point in tick­et­ing the same per­son over and over.

A Toronto po­lice spokesper­son re­cently told the Toronto Star the law is ap­plied when there’s clear dan­ger to a per­son or the pub­lic.

So far, Perry is the only non-Toron­to­nian in­volved in the chal­lenge.

Ciara­bellini calls the act un­fair be­cause the Harris gov­ern­ment passed it af­ter cut­ting so­cial ben­e­fits, thereby in­creas­ing the home­less and pan­han­dling.

Peo­ple with un­treated men­tal health is­sues and ad­dic­tions were left to fend for them­selves, he says.

“These peo­ple fall down once and there’s no sup­port sys­tem to catch them, so they keep fall­ing with­out a safety net … un­til there is noth­ing be­low them but cold, hard con­crete,” he says.

“It’s not fair to pun­ish peo­ple be­cause they are poor. It’s just wrong. It’s evil,” Ciara­bellini says. “All we are say­ing is peo­ple should be able to ask for money.”

Mean­while, Perry will be back in a Hamil­ton court­room with Boushy on Sept. 13 to set a date to con­test his sum­monses.

Boushy hopes to get an­other ad­journ­ment.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Dwight Perry pan­han­dling in down­town Hamil­ton. He has amassed more than $20,000 worth of tick­ets from Hamil­ton po­lice.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Pan­han­dler Dwight Perry is be­ing sum­moned to court to deal with fines he can­not pay. Tick­ets carry a fine of up to $1,000 or im­pris­on­ment af­ter an ini­tial con­vic­tion. Perry is join­ing a con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge over the mat­ter.

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