Times Colonist

Police welcome panhandlin­g ruling

Judge’s findings identify need for ‘formal process’

- SANDRA McCULLOCH

A provincial court ruling that prohibits the city from writing violation tickets to aggressive panhandler­s clarifies matters for Victoria police, spokesman Sgt. Grant Hamilton said yesterday.

“It’s a good decision for us,” he said, responding to a provincial court decision by Judge Judith Kay.

Kay ruled Tuesday that Gerald Allan Dumont doesn’t have to pay $470 in fines from 12 violation tickets issued by the city between May 24 and Oct. 10, 2007.

Instead, the city will need to proceed with sworn informatio­n, commonly used in criminal cases, in order to enforce penalties as serious as six months’ imprisonme­nt or a maximum fine of $10,000.

The decision is not a setback for police grappling with multiple complaints of Dumont’s aggressive panhandlin­g, said Hamilton.

“[The judge] has recognized that behavior as a nuisance, and what he’s done is nuisance based on the amount of contact he’s had with the police. We’re encouraged that that’s been recognized,” said Hamilton.

The judge has laid out how police need to proceed in future in order to have a greater impact on nuisance panhandler­s, he said.

“She’s asking for a more formal process so we are going to be proceeding with that, for sure,” said Hamilton.

The legal wrangling is frustratin­g for businesses in the area of Fort and Broad streets, where Dumont likes to hang out.

“It’s exceedingl­y frustratin­g, but I don’t blame the police for that,” said Sorcha McEwan, general manager of Pagliacci’s restaurant at 1011 Broad St.

He said police are forced to deal with Dumont on a criminal level because he’s fallen through the cracks of social services.

“I think our judicial system isn’t set up to cope with panhandler­s, let alone the homeless,” McEwan said yesterday, adding that he personally has had no difficulti­es with Dumont.

“Enforcemen­t officers use whatever methods they can, but they aren’t going to get anywhere. They’ve been trying to get this guy off that corner for years and have gotten really effectivel­y nowhere.”

Police will continue to hand out violation tickets where they’re applicable, Hamilton said.

The decision “could be a precedent with how we deal with some of these behaviors,” he added.

Police would like to see the city amend its bylaws to allow bench warrants to be issued, giving the police authority to arrest those who’ve been issued multiple tickets and failed to appear in court.

“But so far there’s a reluctance in the criminal system here to go that route,” Hamilton said.

“There needs to be a consequenc­e, a motivation for people to change behaviors. Right now when you get issued a ticket, you are allowed to come and defend yourself in court.

“On those ones where someone fails to show up, what is the consequenc­e?”

The police try to balance public concerns over safety with an individual’s right to panhandle in a legal way, Hamilton said.

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