Fighting Nuisance Tickets in Toronto
Over the last six years, several hundred homeless people in Toronto that have turned to the free, drop-in legal clinic offered by Fair Change Community Legal Services. Cumulatively, many of the city’s “street-involved” residents have accrued thousands of dollars in outstanding fines that they are entirely unable to pay.

For some formerly homeless citizens that have turned their lives around, these outstanding fines continue to limit their ability to find work and become self-sufficient. Unless these debts are paid, citizens cannot obtain a legal driver’s license, which is, of course, the first step toward gainful employment and self-sufficiency.

Fair Change Community Legal Services’ Clinic

The free clinic was the brainchild of former Osgoode Hall law student Joanna Nefs. Through her previous work with drop-in legal centres, Nefs observed the need for such a clinic in Toronto. Widely believed to be the only one of its’ kind in the Greater Toronto Area, the clinic is open every Friday afternoon at the Fred Victor Centre, which is located between Queen St. and Jarvis St.

The clinic has largely become devoted to handling appeals of what they call “nuisance” tickets. According to Nefs, who is now a practicing lawyer but still voluntarily supervises the students operating the clinic, “I could always find people to deal with landlord and tenant, immigration and criminal issues, but nobody was handling tickets.”

In addition to helping many of Toronto’s homeless residents appeal fines, the students operating the clinic are also pushing a provincial campaign to end “criminalization of the homeless” through the abolishment of the Safe Streets Act.

Ontario’s Safe Streets Act

The act, which was introduced back in 1999 by the Mike Harris constituency to deal with what they labeled as “squeegee kids,” was purportedly enacted to prohibit panhandling “in an aggressive manner.” Tickets issued under the act range anywhere from $60 to $500, and only escalate when they move into default and are turned over to a collection agency.

During the last ten years, more than 15,000 tickets have been issues in the name of the Safe Streets Act. Though the act has carried a cost of $1 million to enforce and the value of tickets issued equates to $4 million, an astounding 99 percent of issued tickets reportedly go unpaid.

Interestingly, 80 percent of the tickets issued are for what is termed “non-aggressive soliciting” and a whopping 16,847 police hours have been recorded for the processing of tickets issued to homeless people, according to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, York University.

Changing How We Treat Homelessness

York University professor Stephen Gaetz, who is also the director of the homelessness observatory, says that the antiquated act is a larger symbol of how we’re approaching homelessness as a whole. “We have people who are in extreme poverty, who are often suffering from addictions and mental health problems, and issuing tickets they have no hope of paying. How does that make any financial or moral sense?”

“The act is an ineffective, expensive, inhumane response to homelessness,” adds Osgood Hall student Jaime Mor, who is one of the students, along with Cassandra Stefanucci, that has run the Fair Change Clinic for the past two years. “[The law] was enacted to get at aggressive panhandling. But these guys aren’t aggressive. The only people being aggressive are the police in issuing these tickets.”

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Posted by: DSR
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Tag: Legal
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