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Begging unpardonable 

A campaign to get panhandlers away from local businesses in Dartmouth trades in misinformation. Mike Landry reports.

A little white lie never hurt anyone. Unless you happen to be a panhandler in downtown Dartmouth, where one currently circulating lie turns you into a criminal.

A new campaign by the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission is targeting panhandlers in order to get the more aggressive ones off its streets. The DDBC is giving stickers to local businesses that say panhandling is illegal. The stickers point to city ordinance 180-41-1 and give a police phone number.

But the DDBC never checked to see if this was true. Asking someone for change is legal: It's protected under the charter of rights and freedoms. Also, the city ordinance is a former City of Halifax bylaw against any nuisance on or near a street and doesn't apply in Dartmouth.

The fact the stickers aren't factual hasn't discouraged DDBC executive director Tim Olive from distributing them.

"That doesn't change anything," says Olive. "The purpose was to encourage the public who have a difficult time with panhandlers to call the police and register a complaint."

Olive believes if enough people call to complain there may be an increased police presence.

"The only authority on the issue is the City of Halifax ordinance. It doesn't make panhandling illegal, but we took the liberty of extending its authority under the HRM."

What the DDBC is doing is legal. Constable Jeff Carr, of Halifax Regional Police, says police were not informed about the stickers until contacted by The Coast.

"We've talked with the DDBC and there may be further action taken," says Const. Carr. "But is it a crime to put those stickers out there? No."

Judging by the number of businesess sporting the stickers, the campaign has resounding support. There hasn't been one complaint to the DDBC. Businesses are even asking for more to put on other doors.

"I'm pleased," says Bradley Nieforth, manager of Nieforth Furnishers Ltd. in the downtown. "For the past two to three weeks I haven't seen around. The signs seem to be working."

Karen Goudie isn't so supportive. She runs Margaret House, a local soup kitchen, and says it isn't right to lie to panhandlers and scare them.

"To me that's just so unfair. They're being taken advantage of because of their naivete."

The Spring Garden Area Business Association has been addressing the issue by employing or finding employment for panhandlers. "We haven't solved all the problems we're pleased with our progress," says executive director Bernie Smith.

Tied to the DDBC's sticker campaign is the political backing of the Safe Streets Act, in place in BC and Ontario. In 2005, city council recommended the province implement the act, which criminalizes soliciting where a person is "concerned for his or her safety or security." The act has yet to be passed by the province, but by registering complaints with the police, Olive hopes the public will create an environment where it will pass.

The Halifax Coalition Against Poverty doesn't see ticketing as the solution. It advocates a higher minimum wage, greater social assistance and affordable housing.

"Dealing with poverty in such a superficial manner is ineffective," says Jill Ratcliffe, a member of HCAP. "The issues of poverty must be confronted in society rather than the behaviour people in poverty engage in."

Olive agrees with HCAP, but says the DDBC can't wait for the larger issues to be resolved.

"It's important not to see this as poor- bashing. There are just the few aggressive panhandlers we'd like to target."

Aside from posting deliberately misleading stickers, the DDBC is working with the Capital District Task Force and HRM community services on a potential partnership to provide employment, education and training opportunities among panhandlers. The DDBC also plans to continue lobbying for more support for mental health issues, adequate housing and food—but business issues won't be entirely put aside.

"If you want the support of the business community you have to support concerns," says Olive. "Panhandling is one of our concerns."

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Vol 26, No 25
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