Two communities in Ontario have raised and then dismissed the idea of introducing a loitering bylaw.
Both Thunder Bay and Kenora were considering the bylaw as a way to deal with concerns about public safety and neighbourhood crime.
Kenora voted down a motion for the bylaw while Thunder Bay closed debate after an hour of discussion.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox told APTN News that he respects the concerns of residents and work of the councilors – but says harming those who have been hurt by the legacy of residential schools is not the way to go.
“Some of those people they may have ended up on the streets due to that longstanding issue of colonialism and racism and you know, it’s not for us to judge them,” he said. “It’s for us to be compassionate and understand that they have no where else to go.
“If they’re homeless, they’re there for a reason.”
Nicholas Blomley is a researcher at Simon Fraser University in B.C. who studies how municipalities use bylaws to address poverty.
“A homeless person sitting on the sidewalk begging for change could become an obstruction, so it’s a way of if you like, it’s a way of weaponizing public space, weaponizing law and using law in ways that have a target again,” he said.
“Target marginalized people in ways that pass Constitutional muster.”
Thunder Bay council said it’s been trying for years to get to the bottom of poverty, homelessness and mental health issues in the city.
Fox said he hopes any discussion of how to address these issues will involve the Nations on whose territory the cities were built.
He also wonders if and when help from the federal and provincial governments might arrive.
“It’s been a longstanding problem of many of our cities. It’s not just any one organization or city’s problem,” he said. “It’s for all of us to have a say to do something about it.
“But penalizing them, criminalizing them, fining them, is no way to go about it.”