Panhandling should not be criminalized, says study

September 20, 2007

OTTAWA—Restrictions on peaceful panhandling—such as City of Winnipeg Bylaw No. 128/2005—constitute an illegitimate use of state power, says a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The study, by Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, says there is no moral or legal justification for turning peaceful beggars into criminals.

“Non-aggressive begging,” Schafer says, “involves the kind of expressive communication between people that a free and democratic society should seek to protect rather than restrict. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, so any law that limits or interferes with this liberty should be viewed as a violation of human rights.”

The study notes that beggars, as a seriously marginalized group, have few opportunities to make their plight known to their fellow citizens.

“When they are denied the opportunity to communicate their needs to the privileged classes, when they are excluded from the free marketplace of ideas, the advancement of knowledge for everyone is prejudicially affected,” says Schafer.

Schafer argues that municipalities that want to ban or restrict peaceful panhandling must prove such constraints are justified.

“They must show, with credible empirical evidence, that begging causes serious social harm, that its criminalization will reduce or eliminate such alleged harm, that no other less liberty-invasive means are available, and that the overall good produced by violating the freedom of panhandlers will outweigh the harm caused to them, to pedestrians who wish to interact with them, and to society as a whole.”

The study finds that the laws restricting peaceful begging in Winnipeg and other communities fail to meet these prerequisites. Schafer says that, instead of relying on legal penalties, cities should focus instead on efforts to reduce the poverty, homelessness, lack of access to mental health services, and insufficiency or unavailability of treatment abuse programmes that force people to beg for help.

“If we value civility in our public spaces, we must be prepared to invest in the needs of people now excluded from the mainstream of society.”


The Expressive Liberty of Beggars: Why it matters to them and to us is available on the CCPA’s website at

For more information contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Communications Officer, at 613-563-1341 x306.