While the City of Penticton fighting a panhandler in the courts came to a resolution, the two parties remain on opposite sides of how a bylaw offence got as far as the court system to deal with it in the first place.
The city’s fight with well-known downtown Penticton panhandler Paul Braun started in 2017 after bylaw issued eight counts of contraventions of a bylaw which says “no person shall panhandle in a manner to cause an obstruction.” Braun regularly occupied the breezeway between Main Street and the alleyway east of the street in the 200 block.
On Wednesday, Braun and the city came to a consent guilty plea in which he is to pay $11 per count (a total of $88) as well as $57 to the city for court costs. He also faces a number of conditions. Meanwhile the city spent an estimated $26,000 in legal costs.
“You are going to have to ask the city that, why would they deliberately tank the negotiations? They make an offer then the very next day they put out garbage cans in Mr. Braun’s spot to do what they can to encourage him to not take that move,” said Braun’s lawyer, Paul Varga.
Braun said he took that situation as an insult. He further explained that the garbage cans they put up blocked the breezeway, a “bigger obstruction than I ever was.”
“Rubbish,” responded city lawyer Jarrett Plonka, to the accusation that they were purposely compromising the negotiations. “The idea that the city attempted to sabotage any negotiation is simply not true.”
Plonka said they offered a plea deal to Braun months ago that was far better than the one he took on Wednesday.
Tina Siebert, City of Penticton bylaw supervisor, said the matter was taken to court because it is about compliance and the bigger picture of enforcement.
“The whole point of pursuing this further is really we are stepping up all of our enforcement strategies throughout the whole city — so bylaw, police, everything. It is part of a bigger project with enforcement throughout the city,” she said.
Braun said he felt targeted and only agreed to the plea because he didn’t want to take the risk of losing and going to jail.
The plea was entered at the start of what was scheduled to be a three-day trial.
As part of the deal, Braun is not to be within 10 metres of the 200-block of Main Street for one year and he must comply with the City of Penticton Good Neighbour bylaw which includes no panhandling within 10 metres of an entrance to a bank or trust company, an ATM, a bus stop or shelter; the entrance to a liquor store, movie theatre, place of worship or sidewalk cafe; a payphone, a public washroom or, in this case, an enclosed or covered pedestrian walkway. The plea deal states that if Braun does not comply he will be arrested by RCMP.
Braun also must complete 60 hours of community service, picking up garbage for two hours during the weekdays, or other work as agreed, while supervised by a member of Penticton city staff. The deadline to have that service complete is Dec. 15.
Braun, who has been living at Fairhaven (a BC Housing complex) for the past year, said he will continue to panhandle as he needs. Currently on disability, Braun said he receives $375 a month for shelter.
“If I get up in the morning and I go to the cupboard and it is empty, I will have to. Because, as far as I know, going down to the Safeway to help yourself is still wrong. It’s worse than panhandling.”
Varga represented his client at no cost. He did not previously know Braun but had witnessed him receive one of the violation tickets from bylaw.
“When I walked by and I saw Mr. Braun surrounded by bylaw officers just for sitting there panhandling, it kind of touched a nerve and I thought he needs assistance. Nobody should have to deal with that, especially someone who is part of the most disadvantaged part of society,” said Varga.
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