Here's What You Need to Know About Panhandling in Mississauga

I remember the first time I was approached by a panhandler in Mississauga. It was the summer of 2001 and I was 16-years-old. I was stepping out of my father’s new-ish car in a parking lot in the Eglinton and Hurontario area when a wide-eyed and somewhat aggressive older gentleman approached our group on a bicycle. He circled us — casually, not quite menacingly. I thought he was going to ask for directions.

Hey, people with the new car. Do you have some McDollars so I can go and buy myself a McSomething?”

Hand to God, that’s what he said.

We said nothing.

Why, we all thought — silently and to ourselves — were we being approached for loose change in the suburbs? Nothing like that had ever happened before. That was a Toronto thing.

The man was adamant that we could spare some change for a burger if we could spare even bigger bucks for a glossy new ride. My father gave him some change and he thanked us and left.

We dismissed it as a bizarre one-off, but as the years wore on, panhandling became more common in Mississauga—a city that absolutely does have issues with poverty and what United Way has referred to as “hidden homelessness.”

Now, it’s not uncommon to see people panhandling on highway exit ramps and near busy stores. In the past two years, numerous residents have reported being approached and asked for change near Square One, Heartland Town Centre and on the 403 and QEW ramps.

So, what exactly does the term “panhandling” refer to?

If you’ve ever encountered someone asking for money on the streets or in parks in Mississauga, you’ve encountered someone who’s panhandling, or soliciting funds.

There are many reasons why someone might be driven to panhandling, and while there do not appear to be any specific bylaws that address panhandling in Mississauga, there are still rules and regulations governing such interactions.

Section 38 (6) of the traffic bylaw states the following: No person shall walk, stand or engage in any other activities on a roadway together with one or more other persons in such a manner as to impede pedestrians or vehicles,” explains Carley Smith DeBenedictis, senior communications advisor, City of Mississauga.

That said, the city has limited means to enforce the bylaw.

“We consider this to be a police matter as our powers are limited when it comes to obtaining personal identification necessary to enforce this provision. The public should be advised to report these incidents to police,” she says.

In nearby Toronto where panhandling is more common, there are no specific city bylaws in place to govern the practice either. That said, the City of Toronto says that while panhandling is not illegal (and is regulated by the province’s Safe Streets Act), certain types of interactions—namely aggressive ones—are not permitted.

So, what should you know about panhandling or soliciting funds in Mississauga or any other Ontario city?

For the most part, panhandling falls under the jurisdiction of Peel Regional Police or Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) depending on where the incident happens.

As for where the regulations around panhandling can be found, the province’s Highway Traffic Act and the aforementioned Safe Streets Act cover most of those complaints, such as if someone is soliciting money on the road when cars are exiting the highway (common in Mississauga).

Here’s what the acts and bylaws say about panhandling or public solicitation in Ontario:

Highway Traffic Act

Section 177(1): No person, while on the roadway, shall solicit a ride from the driver of a motor vehicle other than a public passenger conveyance.

Section 177(2): No person, while on the roadway, shall stop, attempt to stop or approach a motor vehicle for the purpose of offering, selling or providing any commodity or service to the driver or any other person in the motor vehicle.

Penalties: Police officers can direct possible solictors to stop engaging in that activity. If the officer thinks that it’s necessary to arrest that person without warrant to identify them and prevent them from repeating the contravention, they can. Further penalties would be decided from there.

Safe Streets Act

While this act specifies that panhandling is permitted throughout Ontario, it does specify that, in some instances, soliciting can be illegal.

When can you get in trouble?

Section 3(2): No person shall:

(a) solicit a person who is using, waiting to use, or departing from an automated teller machine;

(b) solicit a person who is using or waiting to use a pay telephone or a public toilet facility;

(c) solicit a person who is waiting at a taxi stand or a public transit stop;

(d) solicit a person who is in or on a public transit vehicle;

(e) solicit a person who is in the process of getting in, out of, on or off a vehicle or who is in a parking lot; or

(f) while on a roadway, solicit a person who is in or on a stopped, standing or parked vehicle.

Penalties: similar to Highway Traffic Act conviction.

People who are panhandling or being approached by people who are soliciting money should remember that the Safe Streets Act is enforced by police—meaning authorities can be called in the event that someone is soliciting aggressively or targeting people who might find it difficult to remove themselves from the situation.

If you are approached by someone who is asking for money, it’s completely up to you whether or not you want to help them—there’s no law against giving money voluntarily.

If you or someone else is in need of assistance, you can contact a number of Peel area shelters.

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