Downtown Edmonton cafe defends no panhandling policy

A downtown Edmonton cafe owner is defending his no panhandling policy.

'We have a problem. We, as a society, we have to figure that out very positively'

Remedy Café Edmonton faced online complaints for posting this sign outside the downtown location. (Elliott Tanti/Twitter)

A downtown Edmonton cafe owner is defending his no panhandling policy.

Remedy Café​, at 10279 Jasper Ave., experienced backlash this week after posting a sign outside the downtown location which read "zero tolerance for panhandling."

Owner Sohail Zaidi apologized for the sign but said aggressive panhandlers have been bad for business.

"I don't think people understand our situation very well," Zaidi said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "They're not there all the time." 

Zaidi said he put the sign up after numerous complaints about aggressive panhandlers inside his cafe.

He said people off the street often come into the restaurant and beg customers for money or fall asleep in the dining room, frustrating his clientele and staff.

Occasionally the panhandlers became agitated and aggressive when asked to leave, he said, and he hoped the sign would help them better deal with the situation. 
Remedy Café owner Sohail Zaidi said downtown Edmonton has a panhandling problem. (Remedy Cafe/Facebook)

"The panhandlers are always in there asking for money," he said. "We really really have a problem.

"Sometimes they leave, sometimes they get very mad. So that's a why we put a sign."

Photographs of the sign were posted online by downtown resident Elliott Tanti who urged Edmontonians to take their business elsewhere.

"I think if you are engaging in business activity in the downtown core you need to have a positive strategy, acting with compassion and use language that's inclusive and fair to all people, not just a certain select few," Tanti said in interview with CBC.

Tanti said he appreciates the challenges panhandlers can cause, but said business owners should be treating marginalized people with more compassion.

"I was shocked at the language," he said. "Anytime you see that type of sign on a downtown business, it should give you pause."

In a recent survey by the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, business owners said panhandling was their biggest concern.

The survey, done in July, showed 54 per cent of business owners indicated panhandling was more of a concern than homelessness, drug use or police presence in the downtown core.

Zaidi said he took the original sign down, but will be posting new ones inside the store reminding people to be respectful of customers.

If panhandlers do enter his store, they will be offered a warm drink, he said.

"We give them a free coffee and then they should go out," Zaidi said.

"We have a problem. As a society, we have to figure that out very positively."

Tanti said he's pleased with the cafe's response.

"I think they've taken what I said seriously and to heart and are obviously committed to making a difference and that was my end goal."