Torontoist vs. Torontoist in... Squeegee Kids!
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Torontoist vs. Torontoist in… Squeegee Kids!

Every week (or so), two Torontoist staffers square off to debate an issue that’s important to our city. We invite our readers to join the debate in the comments section following the post.
Earlier this week the Ontario Court of Appeal released a decision regarding the Ontario Safe Streets Act. A number of individuals convicted under the act had appealed, claiming that the act violates several sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a unanimous decision, the Court struck down the appeal. Was this the right decision? Read on as Torontoist tackles this issue.


Props to the Ontario Court of Appeal for recognizing that squeegee kids don’t have the right to harass, intimidate and endanger motorists for profit. Mind you, it couldn’t have been a difficult decision, since that fact is obvious to all but the most delusional of the professional poverty pests who manage to make a living out of their own self-imposed victimhood.
The Ontario Safe Streets Act was upheld on the correct premise that while stepping into traffic to filthy up strangers windshields is a form of self-expression (like poetry or interpretive dance), it doesn’t override the right of motorists not to be killed in automobile accidents. However, I ‘d go one step further and say that there’s no ethical or moral right to being a squeegee nuisance either, a view which seems to be widely held, if a selection of readers opinions in the Toronto Star is any indicator.
The choice of the squeegee over conventional begging has nothing to do with entrepreneurialism, as some of its apologists contend. There’s no actual service being provided; rather, the squeegee provides an excuse to approach prospects when they’re trapped in their cars and unable to avoid an encounter with the panhandler. Many, many people are intimidated by direct confrontation of any kind, especially with a burly teen decked out in full “look at me I’m a tough street kid” paraphernalia and carrying a stick. Others are stricken with inexplicable guilt whenever they see anyone with their hand out, no matter how undeserving. It’s this kind of basic psychology that the squeegee pests exploit to secure tax-free beer money.
Peter Rosenthal, the lawyer representing the men who were challenging the law, is quoted by CBC as saying that ““Perhaps I didn’t explain it properly to the Court of Appeal, but the people we’re talking about are people so poor they have to beg and should be considered among the groups of people against whom one can’t discriminate.” No, Peter, it’s not your explanation that’s the problem – it’s the fact that you don’t understand the meaning of the word “discriminate”. Firstly, your clients are not an identifiable group linked by race, gender or sexual orientation, or by anything other than their propensity for standing on street corners with buckets of dirty water. Secondly, they are not unique in being prohibited from harassing drivers at intersections; the law applies equally to all.
Back in 1999, when the Safe Streets Act was first conceived, opponents suggested that if street kids couldn’t squeegee (erroneously equating that dubious calling with actual employment) they’d have to turn to crime or prostitution to support themselves. Not only is this kind of thinly veiled blackmail offensive, it also isn’t borne out by the facts. While it’s impossible to examine every individual case, there’s been no statistical increase in crime among street youth since the ban, nor have I read any stories of ex-squeegees suffering from malnutrition or scurvy due to loss of income.
Every Canadian has the right to free expression, but we also have the right not to be bullied by strangers in the street. The Court made the right decision.

Arguing for the rights of squeegee kids is a difficult task. Any scan of newspapers or public forums on the issue quickly reveals a fountain of vitriolic hatred towards panhandlers in general and squeegee kids in particular. As a society, it is clear that we are overwhelmingly against this type of activity: It makes us uncomfortable and angry.
Let’s start by examining exactly what the Court of Appeal decided this week, because there seems to be some confusion. This case was not specifically about squeegeeing. Four of the eleven appellants in this case did not have squeegees: they simply approached cars with a cup or a hand out and asked for a donation. It should also be noted that none of the appellants in this case were accused of behaving in a manner that was aggressive or intimidating. Under the Safe Streets Act, none of that matters.
The Court decided that while begging is a protected form of expression, the Government can reasonably keep it out of the street in the name of public safety.
The fact that the Court found that begging is a protected form of expression under the Charter has caused much sniggering,but in a society where our freedom of expression is protected, surely saying to people “I’m in dire need, please help me” has to be near the very top of the types of expression we want to protect. The Court found that this is exactly what squeegee kids or street panhandlers are saying and, thus, it is protected. So, snigger all you like, or make jokes about interpretive dance, but in a free society we are sometimes going to encounter speech that makes us uncomfortable or angry. That’s the price of freedom. If the government wants to limit that freedom, they better have a damn good reason.
Which brings us to the question of public safety. This is a facade. I can find no reported incidents of squeegee kids or street panhandlers being injured or killed while engaged in this activity. I can find no evidence of motorists being injured or killed because of squeegee kids. Furthermore, an expert in road safety research gave evidence in this case that limiting the solicitation of stopped cars would have no discernable effect on road safety. This evidence went largely unchallenged by the government. In the end, the court decided that the province can limit freedom based solely on what it perceives to be a safety issue. This is a dangerous decision. If the government wants to limit our freedoms, they should need to have compelling supporting evidence. In this case, they did not.
Let’s face it: Milling around cars stopped at an intersection just isn’t that dangerous. Many of us do this every time we get off a streetcar. Contrast this with something really dangerous like jaywalking (dodging around and impeding the progress of moving vehicles). This leads to hundreds of accidents and deaths each year. In Toronto the fine for jaywalking is $8.75. Under the Safe Streets Act, the penalty for asking someone in a stopped car for spare change can be up to $1000 and six months in jail. So let’s drop the facade that this is about safety.
This is about the fact that we don’t like panhandling and that we’re looking for any excuse to limit it, but the government can’t make a specific anti-panhandling law, because that would be unconstitutional. So, they hide behind a bogus safety argument. Don’t we deserve laws and a government that are honest about the reasons they ban something?