Stacks of tickets are 'psychological weight' on marginalized itinerants, advocates say

Montreal police are too quick to ticket homeless people for minor offences such as jaywalking or panhandling, according to frontline workers and the itinerants themselves. They say the tickets add up, even when people can't pay them.

Frontline workers see no sign of Montreal police heeding 2017 recommendation to take more sensitive approach

David Chapman, the acting director of the Open Door drop-in shelter, holds up a ticket issued to one of the homeless people who attends the shelter. He says people at the shelter tell him they're ticketed frequently. (CBC )

He's got no proof, but Stéphane Perreault thinks it would be no exaggeration to say he's received $30,000 in tickets from Montreal police officers for various minor offences.

A frequent visitor to the Open Door drop-in centre at St. Stephen's Anglican Church just west of downtown, he had no tickets in his pockets the day he spoke to CBC News. However, he said, police have handed him tickets for everything from sleeping on the Metro to panhandling.

"You only have to go walking down Ste. Catherine, and they're on you," said Perreault. "The car is pulling up next to you: 'What's your name?'"

Stéphane Perreault says he's frequently targeted by Montreal police when he's walking down the street and ticketed. He says he owes thousands of dollars in unpaid tickets. (CBC)

David Chapman, the acting director of the Open Door, said many of the drop-in centre's clients have unpaid tickets amounting to thousands of dollars.

"We certainly do see people who get numerous tickets in the same day," he said.

There's no question in Perreault's mind that he's ticketed for being an itinerant.

"You, you're nicely dressed," he said. "Me, just because I'm dressed like a homeless person, they come and harass me," gesturing to his patched jeans and shoeless feet. 

Call for greater police sensitivity

Chapman and other advocates for the homeless say police continue to issue too many tickets to people such as Perreault, for minor offences from jaywalking, to smoking too close to bus shelters, to carrying open liquor.

This is despite the City of Montreal's own recommendations to fight socioeconomic and racial profiling, released last June, which called for greater police sensitivity.

"It does makes me wonder if often the emphasis is more on public appearance — and the appearance of looking out for the homeless, and whether the average police officer is actually making the effort to do that," said Chapman.

"We're always teaching our children that you can go ask the police for help, that you can go ask people for help. I always say that people in these positions of authority are to protect and serve," said Kristin McNulty, who works with homeless and vulnerable youth at Dans la Rue.

"I don't see their techniques as helping."

Kristin McNulty, an intervention worker with Dans la rue, mimics a pile of tickets. He says he frequently works with homeless youth who bring in a pile of tickets after a weekend. (CBC)

'Stack of tickets'

McNulty said that he frequently sees the young people with whom he works showing up on Monday mornings with a lot of tickets.

"I never sat there and counted when they're showing me their stack of tickets, but we're talking about a stack of them," he said, holding his fingers several inches apart to imply a big pile.

"It's a psychological weight as well, because already a lot of these youth have grown up marginalized." 

Owing hundreds or thousands of dollars to the city's coffers only results in further alienation.

"If you get $400 or $500 worth of tickets, there's no way they have the means to pay them," he said.
Herbert Maguire holds up the five tickets he was given on Wednesday night. Police initially stopped him for biking on the sidewalk. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Ticketed for riding on the sidewalk

Last week, CBC News spoke with Herbert Maguire, an itinerant man who was handed five tickets totalling $240 after police saw him riding his bike on the sidewalk.  He got one ticket each for missing front white and back red lights on his bike, and missing white and red reflectors, and a ticket for biking on the sidewalk.

"Since I've gotten these bogus tickets, I'm a little nervous now," said Maguire. "When I see a cop coming, I jump off my bike." 

After Maguire's story was published, defence lawyer and cycling advocate Alain Deschamps emailed CBC News to suggest police may have been in violation of the Highway Safety Code.

Lawyer Alain Deschamps contacted CBC after he read a story about a homeless man who was issued five tickets by police. Deschamps said that police may have overstepped the Highway Safety Code. (CBC)

Deschamps said that Maguire should have been issued a single ticket for the missing lights and one for missing reflectors.

"Theoretically, someone could end up with five or six different tickets just for reflectors," he said. "And if you read the actual language of the act, it says very clearly that it's one infraction for the totality of it."

In an email to CBC News, police spokesperson Sandrine Lapointe said the SPVM wouldn't comment on Maguire's case directly, adding he could challenge the tickets in court if he felt the tickets were unjustified.

However, an anonymous donor has already paid for Maguire's tickets, so he won't be contesting those tickets in court.

He did tell CBC that if he had had to pay for the tickets himself, they would have taken up nearly a quarter of his next welfare cheque — money that he needs for food and that he hopes will help him find a place to live for a month.

City working on plan

In a study released in 2012, researchers at the University of Ottawa and Université de Montréal found that over a 15-year period, homeless people in Montreal owed the city over $15 million in outstanding fines.

The study found 21 people who had each received at least 150 tickets. One unfortunate man, who had been issued the most tickets of anyone in the study, got 390 tickets over a six-year period. 
Herbert Maguire displays the five tickets he was given by Montreal police, after he was stopped for riding his bike on the sidewalk. He was ticketed for not having front and back lights, front and back reflectors, and riding on the sidewalk. (CBC)

​It's such a frequently raised complaint that Mayor Valérie Plante committed to work toward ending the practice in the homeless action plan that she touted in her electoral platform last October.

Plante promised to get police to release biannual reports on socioeconomic profiling, as well as to provide training to police and STM employees on how to interact with homeless people — and to avoid criminalizing them.

CBC News twice requested an interview with Serge Lareault, the city's homeless advocate, but he has not been available.  A city spokesperson said the city is working on the recommendations released last June.

CBC also asked Montreal police for more recent data on the number of tickets issued to itinerant people, however, police said they do not keep those figures.


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