Heavily fined panhandler joins charter case
Dwight Perry will become part of constitutional challenge to the Safe Street Acts
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.
Dwight Perry panhandling in downtown Hamilton. He has amassed more than $20,000 worth of tickets from Hamilton police.
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.