From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Saturday, September 15, 2012

In today's Ontario it is a crime to be homeless

While in my books homelessness is criminal and while our government also thinks it a crime, we disagree on what constitutes a crime. I see the fact that homelessness even exists as criminal, our government sees the act of being homeless as the crime.

If someone is homeless and wishes to eat he/she has several options open to them. They can eat out of our garbage, they can steal, they can sell themselves, or they can panhandle. It is the last and the least harmful of these that the Safe Streets Act targets with fines of up to $500 for first offense rising to $1000 or up to six months in jail for subsequent offenses.

Debt from the fines can make it hard for someone to get off the street, said Michael Shapcott, director of housing at the Wellesley Institute. “If anything, it just means they have to panhandle even more if they want to actually pay their ticket.”

 Louis Quinn a homeless man from the streets of Toronto died owing $34,833 in fines, how was society served here or our streets made one iota safer. Louis certainly wasn't aided in fighting his demons and finding a way off the street, in fact no one is helped by criminalizing homelessness except those perhaps who wish to see the problem buried lest their consciences be bothered.

The Safe Streets Act also shows the danger of giving the police broad new powers. Designed initially to combat the most aggressive panhandlers it is now used indiscriminately by police to harass the homeless, rendering a community already at high risk of victimization even more so as the homeless viewing the police as their enemy recede further into the shadows.

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