British Columbia

Penticton man pleads guilty to panhandling in case that cost city more than $25,000 in legal fees

The City of Penticton and a local panhandler have reached a plea deal over eight outstanding bylaw tickets to avoid a trial in provincial court.

The City of Penticton issued 8 bylaw tickets to Paul Braun for panhandling in a restricted zone

Penticton panhandler Paul Braun has pleaded guilty to eight bylaw infractions of panhandling in a restricted zone and agreed to refrain from soliciting change in front of a pedestrian walkway on the city's Main Street.

The City of Penticton and a local panhandler have reached a plea deal over eight outstanding bylaw tickets to avoid a trial in provincial court.

The agreement ends a near year-long legal battle between Paul Braun and the city over Braun's soliciting of spare change at the entrance of a covered pedestrian walkway on Main Street — a violation of Penticton's 'good neighbour bylaw.'

That bylaw prohibits panhandling within 10 metres of pedestrian walkways, ATMs, bus stops, shop and cafe entrances or public washrooms.​

Under the deal, Braun pleaded guilty to eight bylaw infractions and agreed to pay fines amounting to $145. He had originally been fined $110 for each of the eight tickets he'd received.

Penticton spent more than $26,000 in legal fees prosecuting the case in an effort to persuade Braun to agree not to panhandle at the entrance to the walkway.

"It's never been about money,' says city lawyer

Jarrett Plonka, who represents the city, said the case wasn't about money. Rather, the city wanted to ensure that Braun didn't resume panhandling at the pedestrian walkway.

"One of the misconceptions in the media is that this has been about trying to collect fines from Mr. Braun," said Plonka. 

"It's never been about money. It's about achieving compliance and one of the ways to achieve compliance is to make sure that Mr. Braun doesn't return to the regular spot."

Over the course of three months last summer, Penticton bylaw officers issued eight tickets to Braun when he refused to move from the spot in front of the pedestrian corridor.

Braun refused to pay the tickets.

City of Penticton bylaw officers issued eight tickets to Paul Braun when he refused to stop soliciting change within 10 metres of a covered pedestrian corridor on Main Street. (Google Street View)

Penticton lawyer Paul Varga represented Braun pro-bono, commenting that the city's handling of the case represented a "war against the homeless."

"When I walked by and saw Mr. Braun surrounded by bylaw officers just for sitting there panhandling, it kind of touched a nerve," Varga said.

"Nobody should have to deal with that — especially someone who is part of the most disadvantaged parts of society."

The two sides failed to reach an agreement after several legal hearings. A three-day trial in provincial court was set to begin Wednesday morning.

Then, at the start of the trial Wednesday, lawyers told the judge they had reached a deal with Braun who agreed to plead guilty to the bylaw and pay fines amounting to $145.

Braun also agreed to complete 60 hours of community service picking up litter on the streets of Penticton and promised not to return to the city block on Main Street where he had been panhandling.

"Was I targeted? Hell yeah," Braun said after the court hearing.

"The city doesn't care. They don't want me [at that spot.] They want me picking up garbage just to parade me around to say, 'See what happens.'"

Braun said he has been homeless on and off in recent years but got into supportive housing about a year ago. 

He said he will continue to panhandle in Penticton in order to feed himself.


Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan