Cops, Kelowna bylaw officers to crackdown on intersection panhandlers

Police say in addition to the practice being dangerous and a distraction to motorists, it is also illegal.

The Kelowna RCMP’s municipal traffic section and Kelowna City bylaw enforcement officers are teaming to to crack down on what they is call “aggressive roadside panhandling.”

The police plan to conduct a co-ordinated enforcement campaign to address issue, particularly panhandlers who stand on road medians at intersections and ask driver waiting in traffic at stop lights for money.

Const. Jesse O’Donaghey of the the Kelowna RCMP said the practice is not only dangerous, it is also illegal and is a distraction to motorists. Intersection panhandling flared up along the Highway 97 corridor through in the last 18 months.

Starting this week, O’Donaghey said  the public will see RCMP and city bylaw officers stepping up enforcement, targeting panhandlers who stand at intersections.

O’Donaghey said during their interactions with panhandlers—although typically short—motorists often create unnecessary delays to normal traffic flows, which can be frustrating to other motorists.

“Oftentimes motorists feel intimidated by these individuals and feel pressured into donating for fear of damage to their vehicles,  he said. Local officials ask the public not to feel compelled to donate to panhandlers, and say donations would be better given to support social service agencies throughout the community.

The issue of intersection panhandling was raised last year during a Kelowna city council meeting by Coun. Luke Stack. But he said the response he received at the time was tepid.

“I was told the police had being issues to deal with,” he said.

But he said he was pleased to hear about the new camapign

So he was surprised by this week’s announcement of a crackdown by police and city bylaw officers.

Stack said while he has noticed the practice growing around the city, especially at busy intersections like Cooper Road and the Highway 97 and Dilworth Drive and Highway 97, he has not found the panhandlers to be aggressive.

“It’s just dangerous,” said Stack.

While the city does has a bylaw making it illegal to panhandle close to banks and bank machines and its bylaw officers can also stop people from blocking sidewalks and road ways, there are not specific city laws about intersection panhandling. There are, however, provincial laws.

O’Donaghey said the multiple enforcement options are available through the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act and the Safe Streets Act.  The Motor Vehicle Act prohibits soliciting vehicles roadside, as well as soliciting in an aggressive manner and carries a minimum fine amount of $109. The Safe Streets Act prohibits soliciting a person in a vehicle, and carries a fine of $86.

But, what city officials say has been an increase in the number of aggressive panhandlers on city streets in the last 18 months prompted the police and its bylaw department to act.

“I think there is a general concern about this,” said city manager Ron Mattiussi, adding he has noticed more panhandlers around city hall of late and they are more aggressive in asking for money.

He said in light of that, the city has increased security patrols at the nearby Queensway bus loop.

The police are reminding motorists to maintain their attention when driving and stopped at intersections, and asking them to report any aggressive panhandling behaviour to police, and the city’s bylaws department.