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Curiouser and curiouser! Exploring the narratives and consequences of panhandling regulation in British Columbia Lawrence-Anand, April Katherine

Abstract

In 2004 the British Columbia legislature passed the Safe Streets and Trespass Amendment Acts. The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) credits its lobbying process as having convinced the government to do so. The DVBIA is an unusual Business Improvement Association (BIA) as its advocacy mandate concerns extra-economic issues and its resources vastly exceed those of other BIAs in Vancouver. This thesis explores its advocacy position and the consequences of the legislation. The lobby process is treated as one of narrative creation, with some attention to how the DVBIA's resources influenced its success. Broken Windows Theory is used to explain the DVBI A's presentation of panhandling and trespass as elective activities, separate from any conception of need. The DVBIA's narrative must construct these actions as optional before they can be rendered criminal. A Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is used to explore both why the DVBIA successfully generated support for the legislation, and why the opponents of the legislation were unsuccessful. The CDA reveals that the DVBIA had access to narratives - such as poverty as the fault of the individual, the competitive city or security - that are connected directly to contemporary society. These narratives allow for simple stories of blame and reform, tidily creating the 'problem' and the 'solution'. These simple narratives are easily communicated through sound-bite media. The' opponents of the legislation had access only to narratives such as fairness, generalized poverty, compassion or civil liberties. These narratives have complicated explanations of panhandling's root causes, offer no simple solutions and were ineffective in countering the DVBIA's simple problem constructions. An analysis of the legislation examines its consequence for an actively political public space, citizenship and rights as well as the penalties for violation of the Acts. The consequences advocated by the DVBIA, arrest and area restrictions, are discussed in terms of the principle of legal proportionality and theories of what punishment is to accomplish. The analysis is finally framed in terms of Mill's Harm Principle to discuss how the Safe Streets Act incorrectly legislates panhandling as a harm and as an offence worthy of legal consequence.

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