After much debate, the majority of North Battleford council defeated a proposed amendment to the city's panhandling bylaw at its meeting Tuesday.
Council voted 5-2 against changing the existing bylaw, with only Mayor Ryan Bater and Coun. Greg Lightfoot favouring the amendment.
The amended bylaw to restrict panhandling within 100 metres of such sites as a bank, liquor store, or bus stop, would be a step up from the existing bylaw which restricts panhandling within 10 metres of these sites.
"All of council put a lot of thought into their decision and their comments," Bater said. "This is the beginning of a conversation. I think that the spirit of the discussion was one of wanting to address the challenges that we have with the discomfort that visitors and residents feel downtown. [Council] just didn't feel the tool was adequate or appropriate to address that."
On the matter of safety, Coun. Kelli Hawtin, who opposed the amendment, pointed out the existing bylaw already prohibits coercive panhandling.
Ben Feist, a local lawyer who spoke on behalf of those opposed to the amendment and said the changes could infringe on human rights. He added there are existing laws on causing a public disturbance.
After the meeting he said while safety concerns are valid, further restrictions to where panhandlers can go is not the answer.
"I think we have to find new ways to address [these concerns]," he said.
Council also received a letter from Battlefords District Food and Resource Centre executive director Erin Katerynych who said the proposed bylaw would not solve the problem, but just move it elsewhere. She added the current bylaw would be more effective if better enforced.
Brandie Carignan, of True North Radio, also sent a letter to the city saying the proposed bylaw is restrictive and targets vulnerable citizens in the community.
Following the meeting, Bater said the city will now work with its partners, including the RCMP, and city administration, to look for alternative policy solutions.
"In the short term, we will hopefully see some new ideas come out and see what happens," the mayor said. "For now I think the desire of council to see something happen, to see some change exists. It's just a matter of finding the right policy that is going to meet the needs of council."
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