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A man panhandles between cars stopped at a red light in Montreal on May 4, 2022.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

An Ontario court has struck down sections of the province’s panhandling law as unconstitutional.

The Fair Change legal clinic launched a constitutional challenge of the Safe Streets Act, which prohibits soliciting in an aggressive manner and soliciting a “captive audience,” including people waiting to use an ATM or public transit.

Fair Change argued the law violates several charter rights, including freedom of expression and the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

Superior Court Judge Robert Centa did not accept all of the Fair Change arguments, but ruled that most of the ways the law defines aggressive solicitation violate the presumption of innocence and prohibiting panhandling in certain locations violates freedom of expression rights.

The court left intact the sections against soliciting in an aggressive manner and threatening people with physical harm while soliciting, and upheld a ban on walking onto a street to ask drivers for money.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says it is a significant victory in the fight against the law’s limits on the ability of poor people to ask their fellow citizens for help.

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