Try again on panhandler case
Red is exactly the kind of panhandler who should be barred from downtown. He’s often belligerent, drunk, loud and obscene as he sprawls across the same patch of sidewalk.
He’s made life miserable for people who work near his favoured haunt, and likely left some intimidated enough to avoid the corner. Lord knows what tourists who encounter him at the corner of Fort and Broad streets — in the heart of downtown — make of his aggressive demands for money.
All that said, it’s hard to find fault with this week’s provincial court ruling that denied the city an order barring Red — or Gerard Allan Dumont — from panhandling, on penalty of imprisonment.
The question councillors should be asking is whether police and city administrators sought proper legal advice before they headed down the wrong path in attempting to deal with Dumont.
Judge Judith Kay turned down the city’s request for an injunction barring Dumont from panhandling. The city’s case was based on the fact that Dumont had received 12 tickets for obstructing the sidewalk or aggressive panhandling in five months last year. He had ignored them, and been deemed convicted. His failure to mend his ways meant more aggressive action was needed, the city argued, and an injunction would be an appropriate step. If he failed to abide by the order, he would face up to six months in jail.
Kay accepted that Dumont has been and continues to be a nuisance. And the judge said the city has the legal ability to go to court and seek an injunction against him, with jail as the penalty for further violations.
But because the penalty is significant, so are the legal requirements. The Community Charter, a provincial law, says municipalities can seek such injunctions only when individuals have been convicted of an offence in which a formal information has been sworn. The city didn’t take that step. Police simply wrote tickets, which Dumont ignored.
His lawyer argued that if they had proceeded as required by the law, Dumont might have anticipated the more serious consequences and chosen to plead not guilty. Instead, he ignored the tickets, as he couldn’t pay the fines anyway.
The stricter legal requirements before taking away someone’s freedom appear reasonable. But in any case, they are the law. People like Dumont cannot be allowed to take over the streets. The city has the tools to prevent that from happening. It needs to wield them more skilfully.