You may recall last month, just a week before Christmas, we popped by Oshawa, Ont. We had been told that a group of Good Samaritans known as Communities for Freedom were planning on distributing food, clothing, and toiletries to those homeless people who converge around Memorial Park. But we also heard that Oshawa’s bylaw enforcement department had warned the group not to do so. And if they did not cease and desist their charitable work, bylaw officers would issue tickets!
We found this to be unbelievable, but it actually happened: people were ticketed for doing good deeds.
And for weeks now, we have repeatedly reached out to the city to find out what the ostensible policy reason is for bylaw going after Good Samaritans, but nobody will answer our queries.
Ashley Wickett, who heads up Communities for Freedom (and was the recipient of a ticket that was emailed to her), said she received an email from an Oshawa bylaw enforcement officer last month warning her that the city “may issue Administrative Monetary Penalties to any or all individuals involved in the organizing of the event or distribution.”
The email referenced the city’s parks and facilities bylaw, which prohibits holding a public gathering in a park without a permit and selling or distributing goods in a park.
Wickett says she thought her group of volunteers might get around this stipulation by distributing items from their cars. But when she mentioned this to City of Oshawa officials, she was told that this plan would be in violation of Oshawa’s highway vending bylaw.
“At this time you may not proceed with your proposed event,” stated an email from a bylaw enforcement officer. “If you wish to contribute to the less fortunate, particularly around this time of year, there are a number of established charities and shelters in the area who would no doubt benefit from your compassion and initiative.”
Even with the threat of monetary fines, Wickett, a single mother of two, along with the other volunteers, visited Memorial Park nevertheless.
Sure enough, Wickett did receive a $250 ticket in the days following the event. But she was informed by the city that she would not have to pay the fine due to “an administrative error.” But Wickett was also informed that the bylaw officer who issued the original ticket could decide to re-issue a proper ticket so that she might still be on the hook for that $250 fine after all. (File this notification under: “Thanks for nothing!”)
Last Tuesday, Wickett and her supporters staged a small protest outside Oshawa City Hall denouncing the municipality’s Grinch-like ways. After the protest, they returned to Memorial Park to again distribute food to the homeless. Sure enough, Oshawa bylaw vehicles drove past the Good Samaritans, presumably photographing these “criminals”; undoubtedly more fines will be emailed out to these participants in the days ahead.
And still, the question arises: why?