THE SAFE Streets Act aims to ensure appropriate behaviour of people in public.
This provincially legislated act is relatively new, beginning in 2004, but is used quite often, said Terrace RCMP community policing officer Const. Angela Rabut.
It gives police officers a way to stop people from behaving badly in public without having to charge them criminally, which is what would happen before the legislation came into being, she explained.
That way it prevents charges being laid for acts that aren’t necessarily in the public interest to prosecute, she said.
“It’s given police tools to use that are more appropriate,” said Rabut about the act.
Fines are given to people under the act for soliciting in an aggressive manner or soliciting to a captive audience, such as a person waiting for a bus or at a bank machine, or soliciting a person in a vehicle or at a named event. Fines are $86 or $115 depending on the violation.
There has to be a balance as people have a right to ask for change but people also have the right to walk down the street without being harassed, she said.
“The rights of everyone have to be respected,” said Rabut.
When a person doesn’t feel safe due to someone soliciting money or something else, that’s considered aggressive.
That can include a group of two or more people following a person, which can be aggressive as soon as the person being followed doesn’t feel a sense of security, she explained.
Businesses have a right to make a living and if panhandlers threaten customers, they won’t return.
Officers weigh the balance as a person may not be aggressive but if the person is at the doorway of a business all the time, customers may not come to the business.
When the act came out, it was extremely controversial as it was believed that it would target poor people, said Rabut.
But the act targets behaviour and not specifically poor people, she added.
At the same time, just because someone is poor, it doesn’t give that person the right to behave badly or occupy private doorways, she said.
As the Safe Streets Act isn’t part of the criminal code, only police officers can enforce it; private security people or “downtown ambassadors” cannot.