The City of Quesnel is cracking down on people who loiter or panhandle on city street or engage in behaviour it says may discourage residents and tourists from using the downtown.
Anyone caught sitting on sidewalks or sleeping on the grass will face a stiff fine after the city’s nuisance bylaw was amended this week.
Fines of up to $500 will be issued by city bylaw staff if people are found loitering in certain areas of downtown, causing a disturbance, panhandling near bus stops, and drinking alcohol in public.
“The public is increasingly feeling unsafe because of aggressive panhandling, because of public use of illicit drugs,” Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson told CBC’s Betsy Trumpener.
“Our community members feel that they’re under assault.”
Simpson said the city has been under pressure from both the business community and the public to do something about ongoing crime and drug use.
Earlier this month, 150 people rallied downtown to tell city council and administrators that they don’t feel safe.
Fines target vulnerable, says professor
But not everyone is in favour of the fines. Quesnel resident Heather Peters called the changes shocking.
“What they’ll mostly do is increase the amount of stigma that people face,” Peters, a professor of social work at Quesnel’s University of Northern B.C. campus, told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.
“They risk criminalizing perfectly normal behaviour of needing to sit down to rest.”
People who spend time loitering downtown are often homeless or in other vulnerable positions, which means they likely won’t have the means to pay any fines, she said.
“People that are already vulnerable and marginalized end up feeling even worse about themselves,” Peters said.
But Simpson said the city wants to create safe spaces in downtown Quesnel.
Peter argued that the city needs to consider creating more shelter space, and a place for people to be in between accessing services, instead of changing the nuisance bylaw
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