B.C. city to fine those who give cash to panhandlers, buskers

Kelowna City says it plans to review the buskers program in light of public concerns

Kelowna City Hall. Image: Capital News file

Giving to a panhandler from your vehicle while stopped at an intersection in Kelowna, or giving away bottles and cans near a recycling depot will now cost much more than the amount of your donation.

Kelowna’s city council has given initial approval to a host of changes to the panhandling section of its omnibus Good Neighbour bylaw that imposes fines of $250 on well-meaning people who think they are helping those asking for money on the street.

The recyclable donation ban makes it illegal in the city to give away bottles and cans to someone else so they can claim the refund if done so within 500 metres of a recycling depot.

After a lengthy discussion Monday afternoon, council voted 6-3 to approve a long list of changes to the panhandler portion of the bylaw, which also includes allowing panhandling—which is legal in B.C.—between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., reducing the distance from an automated teller machine (ATM) where someone can ask for money to five metres from 10 metres, and making it a ticketable offence to follow someone asking for money if the person being asked has refused.

Another part of the bylaw deals with buskers and council also made changes there, but said it plans to review the entire busker program.

Slammed by an onslaught of public criticism on social media over the weekend after news of the city’s proposed changes to the busker program surfaced, council moved ahead with the changes but said they would conduct the review and consult with the local arts community.

READ MORE: Kelowna councillor to publicly protest his own city’s busking changes

That drew the ire of Coun. Ryan Donn, who slammed the decision to review the program after making changes to it as “ridiculous.”

Included in the changes to the busker program is a requirement all buskers in the city now have a permit if they plan to ask for money. Permits are only available if the busker passes an audition with Festivals Kelowna. Buskers will be limited downtown to specified locations. With a permit, buskers will be allowed to play anywhere else in the city.

But they will be subject to noise complaints and adjudication of what is “noise” will be left up to the discretion of bylaw officers.

City staff say there have been 155 complaints about buskers since 2010 and only four tickets have been handed out. The city says it tries to get compliance rather than levy fines where possible.

Several councillors had concerns about many of the changes to both the panhandling and busking rules.

Donn didn’t like the busking changes, describing it as “criminalizing culture.”

Coun. Brad Sieben said he didn’t like the fines for people who feel they are helping the less fortunate by giving them money or donating bottles and cans. And Coun. Maxine DeHart did not like the move to shorten the distance from an ATM where panhandlers can beg for money.

On the issue of buskers, the city denies it is trying to crush the arts in Kelowna with new rules. It says it is simply an attempt to improve the quality of street entertainment in the city.

Mayor Colin Basran said all cities in Canada that have been highly rated for their arts and culture all have organized busker programs.

In the end, Donn and Sieben and Coun., Charlie Hodge, who also voiced concerns about the busker program rules, voted against the bylaw changes.

Basran agreed with Sieben that the city had not done a good job of explaining why it was doing what it did and as a result, council voted to have its communications department develop a plan to explain to the public why the changes are needed.

On the issue of bottle donations, Basran said he felt giving bottles and cans to people on the street so they can claim the refund rather than taking them to a depot simply “maintains the status quo.” He said he would prefer to see donations made instead to groups that can provide services to help people on the street.

The issue of giving away bottles and cans has led to problems on Kirschner Road, near the bottle depot there. Fights have broken out and the road is also the site of aggressive panhandling, council was told.

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