A protracted dispute between the local government and Penticton panhandler Paul Braun took another twist this week with the revelation that city officials tried unsuccessfully to have police arrest him for bylaw offences.
Mayor John Vassilaki made the admission at Tuesday’s city council meeting during an exchange with RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager.
Braun pleaded guilty in September 2018 to eight contraventions of the Good Neighbour Bylaw by panhandling within 10 metres of a downtown alcove on the 200 block of Main Street in 2017.
The city hired its own lawyer to run the prosecution after Mounties apparently declined to get involved and send the matter through the criminal court process.
Braun’s lawyer said Wednesday he wasn’t surprised to learn of the city’s attempt to draw police into the battle.
“They’d rather the federal and provincial governments be seen wasting tax dollars trying to prosecute a social problem into submission instead of having the city caught trying to do that,” said Paul Varga.
“Maybe the mayor wants the RCMP to hand out some jaywalking tickets while they’re at it.”
Varga said he’s also concerned with the increasing size of the city’s contingent of bylaw officers and its apparent willingness to take a “U.S.-style” approach to keeping order.
In the lead up to his exchange with De Jager, the mayor asked for better co-operation from police, suggesting Braun’s matter could have been settled quicker through the criminal court process than it was with a private lawyer acting as a prosecutor on behalf of the city.
“We did co-operate with the municipal prosecutor to the extent of the law,” replied De Jager.
“The notion of using the Criminal Code and the powers of arrest… to address a social issue or an issue of poverty will never fly with the Supreme Court and puts my members in the position where they are breaching the law to do that.”
Vassilaki said the city obtained a legal opinion that states police are able to use their powers of arrest for bylaw offences, but accepts the RCMP believe otherwise and hopes Mounties will continue working alongside city bylaw officers.
“Co-operation? Absolutely. Using the powers of arrest on a bylaw? I can’t see a situation where the courts would condone that,” responded De Jager.
As part of Braun’s plea agreement, he was sentenced to 60 hours of community service, plus fines and restitution totalling $145.
The city now alleges Braun didn’t hold up his end of the bargain and the matter is set for trial in November.