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Killing a red herring in panhandling debate


By —— Bio and Archives--September 1, 2007

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Over a week ago, Ross Hammond, a 32-year-old man from St. Catharines Ontario and a friend were walking on Queen Street West when they were confronted by a beggar. The one turned into four and an argument broke out. When it was over, Hammond had been stabbed at least eight times and the four; two men and two women were arrested and charged with aggravated assault. A couple of days later Hammond succumbed to his injuries and one of the panhandlers is now facing a charge of second degree murder.

Hammond’s death has reignited the debate over what to do about panhandlers on the streets of Toronto which bills itself as a world class city, a moniker that is quickly becoming a joke.

Hammond’s death should not be used as a reason to ban panhandling anymore than a murder committed by a police officer or a roofer should be used to ban those “professions”. Panhandling should be banned because it is wrong; both for society and for those who are tacitly encouraged to lounge around our streets in the belief that the world, or more specifically Torontonians, owes them a living.

It is likely that when those who are charged in the death of Ross Hammond come up for trial, we will learn that they are not physically or mentally disabled or challenged. The fact that three of the four are from the United States seems to bear this out. They, and many of the cohorts are not on the streets out of necessity; they are there because it is a “lifestyle choice”. They are allowed to stay on the streets and accost people for money while they go about their business on the streets of Canada’s largest city because it makes a significant part of the population feel good about themselves. And that’s what it’s all about. Feeling good.

Having people beg for money makes those who throw them the odd loonie feel good. It makes them feel superior to the downtrodden and they can then go home and feel good about the fact that they had helped a homeless person even though many who panhandlers who grace our streets are not homeless. In our society, where the emphasis is too often on “me”, those who give money to beggars get to have a warm fuzzy feeling about doing something to help the homeless or to help humanity. To many of these people the thought about giving money to a charity that really does help those who are truly disadvantaged no doubt elude them. The reality is that for a dollar they get to tell themselves how wonderful and caring they are and let’s face it; you can’t even get a cup of coffee for a buck.

The Safe Streets Act that was passed in 1999 by the Harris government is a joke. Penalizing “soliciting in an aggressive manner” there have been over 1400 charges laid this year compared to 1,257 for all of 2006. The penalty is a fine, which of course is never paid; the results are no different than if stray cats were given tickets. For the good of the city and more importantly for the good of those who are taking the easy way out by asking, sometimes forcefully, for money, we have to remove the panhandlers from the streets of Toronto. Unfortunately, there are no easy ways to accomplish this and we are blessed with politicians that will never do anything that requires actual thinking as opposed to just spending money.

Local politicians will continue to do their surveys and their studies but nothing will be done; and there will be more Ross Hammond’s who will made out by some in the media to have caused or brought on his own death by arguing with his alleged killer in what is now a familiar sight on the streets of downtown Toronto. Unfortunately, there is no political will to solve the problem and it will only get worse. The smug will continue to throw coins at those they have convinced themselves are homeless and incapable of living any other way.

We should not buy into the argument that as the death of Ross Hammond was an unusual event and not typical of the actions of beggars that panhandling is somehow okay and should be tolerated. It shouldn’t.

On the other hand, the panhandlers fit in quite nicely with Mayor David Miller’s vision of Toronto as a dirtier, more gridlocked and unsafe city that he has promised in the wake of council’s rejection of his new revenue tools. Perhaps we should put pictures of panhandlers on a flag, fly it in front of city hall and leave it at that.



Arthur Weinreb -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Arthur Weinreb is an author, columnist and Associate Editor of Canada Free Press. Arthur’s latest book, Ford Nation: Why hundreds of thousands of Torontonians supported their conservative crack-smoking mayor is available at Amazon. Racism and the Death of Trayvon Martin is also available at Smashwords. His work has appeared on Newsmax.com,  Drudge Report, Foxnews.com.

Older articles (2007) by Arthur Weinreb

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