Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More Edmonton Panhandling, or, WKOFIT?

WKOFIT?=what kind of fuckery is this?

CBC Edmonton again (my disgusted emphasis):

The City of Edmonton is moving forward on its crackdown on aggressive panhandlers, a group of about 20 or 30 people who police estimate were responsible for 90 per cent of the complaints they received last year. "I know of one individual that lives in a high-rise downtown," Edmonton police Insp. Brian Nowlan said Monday. "He makes about $400 a day panhandling, so this is way of making an income."

Nowlan appeared Monday before the city's community services committee to speak in favour of bylaw amendments that would make it easier for police to ticket aggressive panhandlers. "This bylaw is aimed at that core group — hardcore professional panhandlers, people that make a living off this," Nowlan said.

On Monday, the city's community services committee recommended sending those amendments to council for consideration. The amendments come as police look for ways to crack down on aggressive panhandling, a problem they said has gotten worse in the past year.

In 2008, police received 181 complaints about aggressive panhandling, a 118 per cent increase from 2007. However, under the current bylaws, police have to prove a panhandler is obstructing pedestrian traffic in order to issue a ticket.

Criminal laws don't work well either, Nowlan said."They're very difficult to prosecute in the absence of actually witnessing it. The bylaw is the answer," he said.

The amendments would make it illegal for anyone to panhandle in an aggressive manner, including making continual requests or insulting, threatening, coercing, obstructing passage or making physical contact with another person. Police are proposing a fine of $250, but have suggested the city look at options for people who can't afford to pay it.

"There's ways to make a living in this city and there's ways not to make a living and hopefully this bylaw will deal with those people who are not obeying the law," Mayor Stephen Mandel said. The committee has also suggested a public education program accompany the bylaw. Members also asked city administration to complete a report on alternative methods of dealing with people who panhandle by April.

Nowlan thinks a fine will be effective, particularly for the $400-a-day downtown panhandler. "You betcha he's going to be impacted when he gets a $250 summons," Nowlan said. "He'll either relocate or try to get a job."

There are so many logical inconsistencies, artifacts of staggering ignorance, and downright wrongness in this whole episode, I barely know where to begin. Let me try anyway. First, we have one Inspector Nowlan, who is clearly basing a generalised anti-panhandler bylaw on one heresay (to us) anecdotal case, that if true, resides in the statistical realm of the extreme outlier. By his own admission, there may only be about 20 to 30 "aggressive panhandlers" in the city out hundreds or more. Insp. Nowlan does this as a deliberate play to public ignorance and prejudices. This is frankly despicable.

Next, the Criminal Code doesn't work because well, you actually need witnesses? So...should I infer that this bylaw is merely an endrun around criminal code provisions and the whole innocent until proven guilty thing, simply so you can remove panhandlers deemed to fit some ambiguous definition of "aggressive"? Yes, I very much think I should infer that. Especially when the good ol' mayor comes out as lord high an' mighty decider judge of what constitutes a law and a legitimate way to make a living. I mean didn't Mr. Nowlan just say the laws in the Criminal Code weren't good enough, and now His Worship is contradictively extolling the virtue of laws? Oh wait, I get it! Given this appears to be a joint cop-mayor bylaw project, it is really about setting up their own very loose and subjective private little laws designed not to weigh evidence against an individual and on a case basis (pfft who needs evidence when you've got prejudice), but target an entire [under]class. There has to be a Charter challenge in there.

A private little law that, when you actually examine how they're framing it, is really more about encouraging the homeless to either leave town [and become some other city's problem] or just get [channelling king Ralph] jobs, because it is quite clear this cop and this mayor really just don't like poor people.

On a larger theme, it seems the boom mentality hasn't quite left this mayor and this policeman. If it had, they would see that this province is heading towards some major changes and their panhandling issues are only going to worsen. There not be jobs to get soon. Or perhaps they have and they reckon the best way to deal with the problem is to give the cops power to remove people. Given their public reasoning, it wouldn't surprise me.

The recession is getting worse, layoffs have started in the Tar Sands because oil demand and price are falling, big provincial budget surpluses are gone, and the free-market sand castle and attitude Alberta constructed for itself is about to be swamped by a tide much bigger than its ego. What this eventually means is that the numbers of poor, homeless, and incidences of spousal/family and substance abuse will all go up in a province ideologically and culturally tied to rugged individualism and an aversion to social safety-nets. It's gonna be a mess.

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