Friday, August 24

The Criminalization of Poverty?

Thursday August 23, the Supreme Court intends to deliver judgment in an application for leave that, however decided, is sure to provoke considerable controversy. The case, David Banks, et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen (31929), concerns an appeal by a group of homeless men convicted of panhandling offences under sections of Ontario’s Safe Streets Act, 1999, S.O. 1999 c.8 and the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8 (as amended by section 7 of the Safe Streets Act). While the appellants concede that by ’squeegeeing’ on various Toronto city roads and soliciting money from cars stopped at red lights, they had committed an offence, they seek to have their convictions set aside because the legislation is unconstitutional in nature.

The Safe Streets Act has long provoked the consternation of advocates for Ontario’s homeless youth, who envision the overall piece of legislation as an attempt to criminalize poverty, and to further politically and economically disenfranchise some of the province’s poorest citizens.

At the Court of Appeal, the appellants were represented by the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law (a.k.a. Justice for Youth and Children) and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. These two groups worked together to file an impassioned and well-reasoned factum that, despite its virtues, ultimately failed to persuade the Court of Appeal.

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