REGINA -- The city is set to review a policing initiative that some say unfairly targets people who are homeless or marginalized, slapping them with fines they can’t re-pay.

They say the initiative, which sees people banned for causing problems on businesses and later ticketed if they ignore the ban, doesn’t solve homelessness and creates undue stress.

“The city needs to take a more serious look at how they are reacting to people in distress,” said Kathleen Donovan, who was a social worker professor before she retired.

“Instead of trying to ban and ticket them, essentially getting them out of the way, we need to assist them. People are being punished because there is a lack of services,” she said. 

Donovan recently spoke at a city council meeting in late August about the initiative.

She filed a freedom of information request with Regina police, finding more than 1,100 bans have been issued between 2016 and 2018. Multiple businesses, as well as schools and libraries, issued the bans.

From 2016 to 2018, there were 114 charges under the initiative. One person was charged 23 times.

“Someone getting fined constantly is like beating a dead horse,” Donovan said. “It shows it isn’t working.”

Regina tresspass initiative

The Regina police initiative sees people banned for causing problems on businesses and later ticketed if they ignore the ban. (Jeremy Simes/CTV Regina)

After hearing Donovan’s concerns, city council voted unanimously to have administration work with community organizations, including the police, to look into the initiative.

The review will determine how the initiative is affecting poor and vulnerable people in the city, as well as figure out if it’s feasible to collect race-based data when it’s enforced.

City administration will also come up with alternative ways to address the issue and the needs of marginalized people.

Coun. Andrew Stevens, who spearheaded the review, said he supports the idea of community enforcement.

He said Saskatoon has shown some success with that model.

“As a councillor, I want to see bench marks of success and funding models, but in principle it’s the right approach,” he said.  “It’s a different take on dealing with crime and social issues in the downtown that doesn’t involve police and another tier of policing.”

Bob Hughes, a local mental health advocate, said the initiative should be eliminated.

“There are other ways to deal with this. We can do this in a more positive way without trouncing on people’s spirits,” he said. “There is a lack of proper supports.”

Bob Hughes

Bob Hughes, a local mental health advocate, says an initiative that lets people be ticketed and banned by businesses should be eliminated. (Jeremy Simes/CTV Regina)

When the initiative launched, it was meant to target people who were causing problems by being intoxicated, harassing customers, shoplifting and panhandling, according to the Regina police website.

People who were banned but re-entered the business would receive a $250 ticket that they could voluntarily re-pay. Police hope the ticket reminds people that bans should be taken seriously.

Judith Veresuk, the executive director of the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, said even though some businesses have found the ban useful, they recognize that fines aren’t solving the problem.

“Everyone understands we need to get to the root cause of what the challenges are and develop programs to address those challenges,” Veresuk said. “The solution isn’t always the police. A lot of times, the disturbances businesses see aren’t always criminal.”

Before the fine system was in place, businesses could still ban people and tell them to leave. In serious cases, emergency services could still be called.

City administration is expected to come back with their findings on the review sometime in the spring of next year.

The business improvement district, the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, Reconciliation Regina, and other community organizations will be part of the consultations.