Panhandling charges soar in 2007: Toronto police

Police in Toronto have laid more than 1,400 charges against aggressive panhandlers so far this year, which is already higher than the 1,256 laid in all of 2006.

Police in Toronto have laid more than 1,400 charges against aggressive panhandlers so far this year, whichis already higher than the 1,257 laid in all of 2006.

The charges were laid under the province's Safe Streets Act, which was tabled in 1999amid an uproar overthe tactics of"squeegee kids"— young men and women who sprinted into traffic in downtown Toronto to wash windshields for cash.

The law prohibits soliciting people for money in an aggressive manner and allows police toissue$70fines.It also forbids panhandlingnear ATMs, pay phones and public transit stops.

But some officers patrolling the streetssay much of their time is occupied dealing with aggressive panhandlers.

Const. John Wood estimated that90 to 95 per cent of panhandlers they encounterhave no fixed address and most don't show up in court when charged.

"There's just no way to force them to go to court," Wood told CBC News.

Wood and his partner, Const. Liam Murphy, patrol the area covering the Lakeshore north to Bloor Street and from Yonge Street west to Spadina Avenue on bicycles. It's an areaknown foraheavy concentration of panhandlers.

The two officerssaid all they can do is watch out for repeat offenders, as there is a provision in the act to send those individuals who are caught to jail.

But Beric German of the Street Health Community Nursing Foundation said the number of charges simply reflects the disproportionateamount of contactpolice have withhomeless people because they are out in the open.

"When you do target groups, you're going to get more charges laid,"German told

Stabbing death sparked panhandling debate

Last week'sslaying ofa St. Catharines man following a heated confrontation with four alleged panhandlerssparked fresh debateover whether the city should take a zero-tolerance approach to the practice.

Ross Hammond, 32, was stabbed multiple times early last Thursday on Queen Street near Niagara Street after being approachedfor money.

On Thursday, six days after Hammond succumbedto his injuries,police upgraded the charge against Nicole Kish, 21, from aggravated assaultto second-degree murder.

All four charged in connection with the death are in custody and are listed by police ashaving no fixed address. Three of the four are Americans and allegedly entered Canada illegally, police said.

But German said city councillors who have called for a panhandling ban in tourist areas are using the Hammondcase to create anuproar over panhandling when laws already exist to protect citizens.

"You don't look at what somebody doesfor aliving when it comes to charges," he said. "If I go and shout at you, I'm breaking the law, no matter who I am.

"If a doctor commits assault,you don't go and attack the medical profession."

From all parts of Canada: officers

Four or five years ago, most of the panhandlers the officerssaw comingto Torontowere squeegee kids from Quebec. These days,police areseeing transients flock tothe cityfrom across Canada, Wood said.

"I guess it's just because it's such a high population, a lot of commuters, and the arteries, roadways are designed as such that vehicles get stuck at red lights, and it's easy for them to go out and make money," he said.

Manyare wanted in other jurisdictions and areoftenfound with drug paraphernalia when searched,Murphy added.

"It gets worse in the summer," he said.