Legal clinic challenges Ontario panhandling law as unconstitutional

A Toronto legal clinic has launched a constitutional challenge against an Ontario law that targets panhandling.

The Fair Change clinic argues that the Safe Streets Act violates the rights of people who beg for money, including freedom of expression, the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

The clinic says the law _ enacted in 2000 to address aggressive panhandling and squeegeeing _ criminalizes poverty. It says people ticketed under the act are unable to pay the fines.

Gerry Williams, a former Fair Change client, says he faced nearly $10,000 in tickets for panhandling, which the clinic helped him appeal.

Williams, who says he had a traumatic upbringing on a fly-in First Nation, says the fines he could never have paid added an extra burden to his homelessness, alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A previous constitutional challenge failed after the courts agreed the law infringed on individual charter rights, but said the infringement was justified in the interests of public safety.

A spokesman for Ontario's attorney general did not immediately respond to a request for comment.