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Panhandling now restricted in Olds to mitigate negative impacts

Bylaw enacted in response to increase of panhandling in Olds and complaints of harassment
Panhandling is a regulated activity within Olds’ town limits. Stock photo

OLDS -  Officers in Olds are now armed with legislation to help mitigate what has been identified as a significant social and safety concern in the town.

As of last week, panhandling became a regulated activity within Olds’ town limits with rules restricting under what circumstances solicitation can take place.

The town’s council passed a bylaw April 8 intended to help mitigate certain identified negative impacts of panhandling activities -- defined as personal, verbal and direct solicitation by a person of gratuitous donations of money, food or goods of any kind whether by spoken or printed word, or bodily gesture, from any member of the public.

“So I think it meets our needs right now (and is) given to the RCMP as a tool in their toolbox to address what we’re seeing right now primarily at Cornerstone shopping centre,” said the town’s chief administrative officer, Brent Williams.

Town officials say an increase in the activity over the winter and into spring has brought complaints from people who say they have been harassed by panhandlers in front of some stores in the community – especially grocery stores.

The town’s protective services manager said it appears panhandlers have been coming from out of town.

“Panhandling in public spaces can create safety hazards for both panhandlers and members of the public. Aggressive panhandling tactics, such as approaching vehicles at intersections, or persistently soliciting individuals, can lead to confrontation and conflict,” town staff noted in a backgrounder council considered while deliberating whether to enact the bylaw or not.

Fashioned largely after the City of Calgary’s panhandling bylaw, the Town of Olds legislation prohibits obstructing the passage of, walking next to, or following the person being solicited.

It prohibits panhandling within 10 metres of an ATM and the entrance to a financial institution where cash can be withdrawn or accessed, as well as at any pedestrian crossing and panhandling involving occupants of a vehicle.

Panhandling in private retail areas, including but not limited to the Cornerstone shopping area and Mountain View Plaza, is prohibited without the property owner's written permission.

“The presence of panhandlers in commercial areas can have negative economic repercussions for local businesses. Potential customers may feel uncomfortable or intimidated by aggressive panhandling, leading them to avoid the business altogether,” town staff noted to council .

“Additionally, studies have shown that persistent panhandling can deter investment and development, hindering community economic growth.”

Panhandling within Olds’ corporate limits is also now prohibited between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Specified penalties for contravening the bylaw range from $500 for a first offence to $1,500 for a third offence. Enforcement officers can also issue a violation ticket requiring a court appearance or in the case of RCMP, charge in lieu of issuing a municipal violation ticket. A summary conviction will net violators a fine of not more than $2,500 and not less than $50.  

The final approved wording in the bylaw was altered from the original version that council passed first and second readings of on March 25.

Coun. Harvey Walsh took issue with the original proposed bylaw’s intent to outright prohibit panhandling in public areas in the community. His opposition stopped full enactment of the bylaw on March 25.

Council members made no comment on the amended version that they passed unanimously April 8.

The bylaw does not restrict solicitation of charitable donations and expressly excludes such activity allowed or authorized by the Charitable Fund-raising Act or other legislation.

Town staff noted the bylaw is part of a coordinated approach to panhandling that includes awareness and outreach programs to promote alternative income generating and support options that are available for panhandlers.

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