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Critics want tougher laws for abusive panhandlers
A Vancouver man accused of attacking an elderly churchgoer who gave him money appeared for a bail hearing Monday, as critics called for a crackdown on aggressive panhandling.
Darcy Lance Jones, 43, allegedly mugged a 79-year-old man who had given him $5 for a fifth consecutive day. The incident happened inside Holy Rosary Cathedral in the city's downtown area.
A judge ordered him to remain behind bars Monday until his next court appearance, expected later this week. The decision came as Toronto police considered upgrading charges in another violent panhandling incident.
Murder charges could be laid against two men and two women, after 32-year-old Ross Hammond was fatally stabbed when he apparently refused to give the group money.
All of the suspects may have been in Canada illegally, The Canadian Press reported.
Both Ontario and B.C. already have a Safe Streets Act that targets aggressive panhandling, but critics say such legislation is either poorly enforced or too weak.
Ontario panhandlers are not allowed to ask for money at specific locations, like ATMs and bus stops. And there is a $70 fine for so-called "squeegee kids" who ask for change, in exchange for unsolicited car window washes.
One man found cleaning car windows in downtown Toronto Monday said he didn't believe he was acting aggressively.
"If someone says no, I stop," he said.
But when asked if he had been ticketed by police for panhandling, he said: "Not in a while. And when I do, it usually gets thrown out in court."
Police spokesperson Sgt. Mark Hayward said officers make an effort of ticketing abusive panhandlers, but the courts usually toss out the charges.
"Some of (the officers) feel they're not getting the support of the courts," he said.
"Some of the prosecutors withdraw the charges when they don't have fixed addresses, and they're reluctant to impose any charges because they're homeless."
Councillor Michael Thompson, personally attacked by a panhandler outside Toronto's city hall, said Toronto needs special laws targeting aggressive behaviour.
"What we need is a direct bylaw that is Toronto specific, that deals with a problem that we're experiencing here," he said.
But a spokesperson for Toronto Mayor David Miller said the existing provincial legislation could not be trumped. And Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty echoed that comment, and warned that recent attacks are shocking but very rare.
"I've been premier for four years, a (member of the Ontario legislature) for 17," he told CP. "There may have been other incidents of grave injury caused by panhandlers, but nothing's coming to my mind."
The Ontario Safe Streets Act was introduced in 1999. B.C. followed suit five years later, when Liberal Lorne Mayencourt's private member's bill became law.
With files from CTV Toronto, CTV British Columbia and files from The Canadian Press