Local homeless man Paul Braun was served a subpoena from city hall last November to appear in court over eight unpaid tickets for blocking the Main Street breezeway. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Short trial time raises concerns in Penticton panhandling case

Judge questions need for 13 witnesses from city lawyer, as trial reduced from 4 days to 3

Trial length for a Penticton homeless man facing $880 in city fines for panhandling has been reduced by a day, causing some anxiety about whether the matter will fit into its time frame.

During a pretrial conference Wednesday morning, the court learned the trial over eight bylaw infractions alleged against Paul Braun under the Good Neighbour Bylaw was reduced from four days to three by the trial co-ordinator.

Defence lawyer Paul Varga said he expected to bring a pair of applications before the court during trial, including an abuse of process application and a charter application.

Related: Five years, 34 panhandling tickets, three people

“The application will be that Mr. Braun has been targeted by the city, that the bylaw was enforced in a way to clean up the city and not deal with actual problems,” Varga said.

He also contended that Braun was already found guilty when he didn’t challenge the tickets, suggesting a double jeopardy argument that Braun should not be punished twice for the same offences.

Varga confirmed he would not be challenging the constitutionality of the panhandling provision that prohibits panhandling in a way to cause an obstruction. In the bylaw’s definition, obstruction includes being within 10 metres of a sheltered walkway, and it comes with a $110 ticket.

Related: Sit-in takes aim at City of Penticton’s panhandling squabble

At the same time, DeSouza said he had 13 witnesses to take the stand during the trial, including five bylaw officers and chief administrative officer Peter Weeber, as well as downtown business owners.

DeSouza said some witnesses would challenge the point of view of the defence, which he said has characterized Braun as “minding his own business.”

“There are witnesses that are going to have a very different point of view, including Mr. Braun taking photos of them, Mr. Braun speaking to them in aggressive language, Mr. Braun chasing another person who had been at that very spot, intending to do their own, perhaps, panhandling,” DeSouza said.

Related: Four-day trial set in Penticton panhandling case

Varga estimated a full day spent on the applications from the defence and DeSouza said likely a full day would be spent on city witnesses. Daneliuk questioned, given the timeframe, whether all 13 witnesses would be relevant to the trial, including Weeber.

“It may be that some of these witnesses that weren’t directly involved in issuing the tickets to Mr. Braun. You may be met with a question as to what is the relevance of their evidence, noting what the prosecution has to prove in the circumstances,” Daneliuk asked.

DeSouza said Weeber would testify on some of the city’s attempts to aid Braun, including helping with housing and even offering a potential job, which was rejected by Braun.

Related: Lawyer concerned city pre-writing tickets for Penticton street person

But Daneliuk still suggested there might be challenges from the trial judge about Weeber’s relevance as a witness.

DeSouza and Varga both confirmed they would be attempting to reduce the trial’s time. Varga said he would develop his full charter and abuse applications in time for the next pretrial conference on June 28, giving DeSouza a couple of months to prepare for a response in the September trial.

As well, DeSouza said he would submit some proposals to Varga for pretrial admissions to various issues to try to reduce the number of witnesses required for the trial.

Lawyers will reconvene on June 28 for a pretrial conference, with trial set to run from Sept. 12 to 14.

Related: Lawyer takes aim at City of Penticton’s ‘war on the homeless’

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter


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