Public safety and the flow of traffic must override violations to freedom of expression when it comes to washing car windows in traffic, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled.

The so-called squeegee practice —involving mostly young "squeegee kids," as they'reknown,halting drivers to clean windshields for money— was banned by the province in 2000. The ban followedpassage of the Safe Streets Act.

The law was appealed by 11 homeless men who had been charged in 2001 with washing windows or asking for change in traffic. They allegedthe law violated their right to human dignity, contravening the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Justice Russell Juriansz, member of a three-judge appeal panel,said that while the appellants’ "conditions of economic disadvantage may be deserving of sympathy, they have not established they are entitled to a response that is constitutional in nature."

Thepanel unanimously agreed that while the law violates the men's freedom of expression, reducing street dangers overrides that consideration.

In addition, preventing people from stepping into trafficto solicit does not infringe on their dignity, the judges said. The men's lawyers also were unsuccessful in proving the charter prohibits discrimination against "the poor who beg."

Peter Rosenthal, lawyer for the 11 men, said he was disappointed with the decision and would consider seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Perhaps I didn’t explain it properly to the Court of Appeal, but the people we’re talking about are people so poor they have to beg and should be considered among the groups of people against whom one can’t discriminate."

Ontario introduced the Safe Streets Actto outlaw aggressive panhandling and prevent pedestrians from soliciting.

With files from the Canadian Press