In an earlier article I talked about a new Calgary by-law. One that supposedly was designed to make the streets safer for Calgarians, but whose real mission was to further criminalize the homeless. On Monday  morning a pair of Calgary’s finest issued their first ticket under the provincial environmental protection law for the “improper disposal of waste.”

The offence? Spitting into a garbage can near one of the downtown train stations! The ticket carries a $115 fine.

This by-law is designed to make it easier for the police to enforce public safety, by targeting such things as public drunkenness, unruly behavior, fighting, and defecating in public places. I am sure that most average people would support such a measure.

Unfortunately the Calgary police decided to act on the letter of the law and not the spirit.

I had an opportunity to interview the individual who received the ticket, and to sate your curiosity, yes, he is homeless, and is currently living at the Calgary Drop-In Centre.

He asked that I not use his real name, so let us call him Joe.

Joe does not look like your archetypal homeless man, he is in his mid 20’s and quite clean cut. You would not pick him out in a crowd.

Apparently Joe and 4 of his friends had obtained a casual labor job on a construction site. Because it was going to be messy they were dressed in dirty clothes and were stood around chatting waiting for the train at about 6:45am. Joe needed to spit, and being a very well mannered young man, did so into a garbage can. It was at that point that the two policemen came over, asked for ID and proceeded to issue the ticket.

Now I don’t know about you, but in my simplistic eyes that smacks of profiling! A group of 5 people hanging around, wearing dirty clothes and unshaven. Apparently I am not the only person that has that thought, the head of Alberta’s Environmental Law Centre, Cindy Chiasson is also questioning the appropriateness of the ticket.

The good news for Joe is that his ticket has generated a good deal of local and national publicity, and several agencies and lawyers have expressed an interest in representing Joe in an attempt to rectify this obvious misuse of the by-law.

Both CBC and The Globe and Mail have articles about this.

Simon Barrett

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