By: Nicolas Di Nardo
A law created in 1999 known as the Safe Streets Act is being challenged by the Fair Change Community Legal Clinic on the basis that it discriminates against people with mental health and addiction issues.
Leading this dispute is Gerry Williams, along with the Fair Change Community Legal Clinic. Williams shares his experiences of being homeless and the amount of fines he was given over 9 years while trying to survive. Since then, he has overcome homelessness, has a job and a place to live.
Gerry suffered from alcoholism and undiagnosed mental health issues, but is a very different person today. Before he was able to get the help he needed to thrive, he suffered.
He managed to be handed $65,000 in fines over 9 years ago while homeless, all of which were given to him through provincial offences and convictions. These included:
- Drinking in public
Gerry determined that approximately $10,000 worth of his tickets were issued through the Safe Streets Act while he was panhandling to survive.
This law was intended to limit the aggressive behaviour brought on by people asking for money on the street, which also included squeegeeing.
Williams is now part of a constitutional challenge to the Act, which was filed by the legal clinic last Wednesday.
Fair Change has spoken up about the issues with this law, stating it is:
- Impacting people with mental health and addiction issues
- Costing the public $2 million in court fees and paperwork
- Fines under the act will likely never be paid
- Ruined credit scores, limiting opportunity for housing, drivers license, or work after being convicted under the Act
- Hurts people that are already vulnerable
- Increases homelessness
Poverty remains the most pressing human rights issue in Canada, however, Joanna Nefs says the law is not doing anything to help fix that. Laws that are criminalizing people in poverty does not line up with the goal to end poverty, or the Human Rights Code, which Renu Mandhane, chief Commissioner for the Ontario Human Rights Commission is making reference to the Safe Streets Act as one of those laws.
Fair Change is looking for the law to be repealed rather than fighting it, and this is not the first time. MPP Cheri DiNovo tabled private members’ bills in 2015 and 2016 for the Act to be repealed.
Please check back to our blog for more update and developments to this story.
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