Higher fines could hit Vancouver's homeless hard
Violating City of Vancouver bylaws by sleeping on the streets or doing illegal vending may become a lot more costly.
Staff are recommending a 400-percent increase in maximum fines, from the current amount of $2,000 to a stiff $10,000. The proposed hike covers 42 bylaws. It is subject to a public hearing on Tuesday (January 15).
While councillors are required to remain neutral on matters being taken up at public hearings, Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs agreed to explain the context in which this measure is being deliberated. According to Meggs, the increase brings the city’s fines in line with changes made to the Vancouver Charter in 2009.
Meggs also noted that, based on a report prepared by staff, profits made by those who violate bylaws far exceed in many cases the fines the city levies. These infractions include illegal parking and advertising on the sides of buildings.
“The staff argument is simply that there is no deterrent,” Meggs told the Straight by phone.
Non-Partisan Association councillor George Affleck is interested to see who will show up to speak at the public hearing. He noted in a phone interview with the Straight that the increase is a “significant jump”.
The bylaws covered by the suggested fine increase are grouped into three categories: operation and management of businesses; building safety, land use and development, and property maintenance; and use of public spaces and conduct of individuals. Two of these bylaws are being challenged in court by Pivot Legal Society on behalf of a homeless man who was ticketed by police and engineering staff several times.
“Obviously $10,000 is quite severe and impossible to pay for a homeless person, and so is $2,000,” Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein told the Straight by phone. “It sucks that much more, but it’s still something that they won’t be able to pay.”
Jean Swanson, a long-time antipoverty activist in the Downtown Eastside, said that it’s “horrible” that poor street vendors are being ticketed. “So to give them higher tickets is very punitive,” Swanson told the Straight in a phone interview.
Civic watchdog Randy Helten suggested that the proposed increase seems a bit arbitrary. The founder of City Hall Watch told the Straight by phone, “Staff should present comparative information about what the fines are in other leading municipalities in Canada, and provide an adequate basis for that number.”