Sunday, June 10, 2007

First Guest Post by ET - The Dubious Rights of Panhandlers

Our spring recruiting drive has resulted in another point of view to join our team. ET is a globally respected academic in a major institution. We welcome this new, opininated and knowledgeable member of the CBL team.

What is panhandling? Someone who stands in front of the corner store, the subway, the bank, the coffee shop, the grocery store, the bus stop – and asks you for ‘spare change for a coffee’. A very few may be dirty and disheveled but the majority are young and healthy. Strange. Are these people really that impoverished? Is that why they are begging?
Or is the truth something quite different, something that our utopian mayor and city council refuse to consider?
The question is, are the majority of panhandlers genuinely impoverished because they are unable to work or are they panhandlers because they refuse to work. Criminal activity such as drug dealing and robberies are economic choices. Panhandling is another economic choice. My colleague at CBL, Nom de Blog, a few days ago presented the argument that crime is also such.
It is a choice for many young men in particular, and some young women, who reject the strictures and demands of a low wage job; they find that they can live their own lifestyle on welfare combined with panhandling. It’s a basic economic activity in large cities, with specific ‘rights-to-beg’ in certain areas, each area jealously guarded by the individuals panhandling that ‘turf’.
For example, the panhandlers in Toronto who 'work the cars', daily, everyday, at the corner of Lower Jarvis and Lakeshore, are young men and women. They ride up on their bicycles to 'work the cars'. It’s their 'turf' and stock in trade.
Let’s consider some of the issues about panhandling.
1) Panhandling is not merely a problem for tourists and businesses; it is a problem for residents, who are constantly harassed by panhandlers.
2) There is a big difference between the legitimately homeless and those unable to work (due to physical and/or psychological problems) and those who make the specific choice to reject work and subsist off the public welfare system and by panhandling.
The legitimately homeless and unable to work are few in number (a survey last year put their numbers at about 800) and, for the most part, they do not panhandle; they do not harass the public.
A survey by the Downtown Business Association of ALL downtown panhandlers revealed that not s single one did not have a place to sleep and eat.
By merging these two very distinct groups, we are creating a situation that is difficult to remedy - because the panhandler is immediately identified as a passive 'victim' rather than an active agent in their own lifestyle.
3) It is a mistake to declare that the panhandler is a victim or protected by the Charter. The appeal to the Charter and 'freedom of expression' of the panhandler is a fallacious argument and should be challenged rather than passively accepted.
Freedom of expression is defined in the Charter (2b) as "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication".
The key words are 'thought, belief, opinion-and-expression'. That is, begging and asking for handouts has nothing to do with expressing a thought, a belief, an opinion'.
Importantly, the panhandler is not expressing an opinion. He is informing you of his state of life as impoverished. It is actually a request that you do something about his state-of-life. This has moved completely out of 'freedom of expression' and into an action requesting a reaction. That's not covered by the Charter.
Equally, shouldn't these thoughts, beliefs and opinions, if they are about the speaker, be a valid representation of the speaker? The panhandler is lying to the public; he is not legitimately unable to work and impoverished; he has chosen this lifestyle.
4) The real question then becomes - is his 'expression' about himself legitimate? Is he really impoverished; is he really unable to work; is he really dependent on the passer-by for his food?
The answer is - NO. His expression about himself is fraudulent. It is not legitimate.
Does the Charter permit someone to abuse the trust of the public, to present himself as impoverished and dependent, when he is able to work, able to support himself - but chooses not to? Does someone who fraudulently claims to be an aboriginal receive the rights for aboriginals in the Charter? Of course not.
Isn't this an abuse of my rights as an individual, to have someone presenting a false representation of himself to me, and in that action, asking me to do something for him?
5) What about my rights? What about my rights in the Charter to have (2a) "freedom of conscience". My conscience tells me that I must not allow someone to exist in an impoverished state. But, the panhandler is violating and abusing my freedom of conscience because he is pretending to be impoverished when the fact is, that he refuses to work and psychologically abuses me by his appeal to my morality and conscience.
To summarize, shouldn't I be permitted freedom of conscience, such that I make the decision about my charitable acts - rather than being constantly confronted with people pretending to be impoverished and asking for money. What about my freedoms and rights to act as I make the choices - not as these panhandlers present themselves.
Panhandling becomes worse in the summer, as the youth from out of town flock to the city, and 'work the streets' mooching. I'm tired of the harassment; I'm fed up with being psychologically abused by these people.
What about my rights?

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