Court stops city from banning panhandler
Unpaid tickets don’t warrant time in jail, judge says
A provincial court judge has quashed a bid by the City of Victoria to ban a “serial panhandler” from asking for money from passersby downtown.
Gerald Allan Dumont, known as Red, was issued 12 violation tickets by the city between May 24 and Oct. 10, 2007. The $470 in fines have not been paid.
Panhandling isn’t illegal in Victoria but it is against the law to obstruct pedestrians or panhandle in an aggressive way.
The city went to court asking for an injunction that would prevent Dumont from panhandling. If he ignored the injunction, he would be arrested and face a maximum fine of $10,000 or a six-month prison term.
The issue before the court was whether the violation tickets were legal in light of the penalty sought by the city.
Dumont’s lawyer David Lyon suggested a different process would have been more appropriate. There are two types of legal proceedings, he argued. If a person is issued a parking ticket, he does not expect to end up in jail if he does not pay it. The other process is more like a criminal procedure. The individual in question understands he might go to jail if he does not pay his fine.
The court agreed with Lyon’s argument.
“The principle of fairness is integral to our court system,” said Judge Judith Kay in the decision released yesterday. A person faced with a ticket “will decide whether to dispute that ticket with the belief that the penalty being faced is limited to the prescribed fine,” she said.
One may decide not to dispute or not to appear for the hearing, she said. “That person is presumed to know that imprisonment is not available as a result of a deemed conviction,” she said.
“It is not unusual for municipalities to commence actions alleging bylaw contraventions by the laying of an information but for some reason unknown to this court the City of Victoria has not yet chosen to do so with respect to Dumont.”
Kay acknowledged that Dumont “presents an ongoing nuisance in downtown Victoria,” having been the subject of police calls 256 times since 1997.
The city has the tools to protect the public from aggressive panhandlers, Kay said.
“However ... it must proceed lawfully itself against those it deems not to be abiding by its rules.”
Lyon said yesterday he was pleased with the outcome.
“It’s no secret that if you get [a municipal ticket] they can’t arrest you if you can’t pay the fine. The fines are so small, who’s going to waste a day to go to court to fight it?
“But if you know that they might make an order that will result in six months in jail and levy up to a $10,000 fine, you might look at it just a little bit differently.”