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Attack highlights upswing in Duncan begging problem

Panhandlers are increasing. - Lexi Bainas/Citizen
Panhandlers are increasing.
— image credit: Lexi Bainas/Citizen

Police are looking for witnesses to an incident on Feb. 10 in which a motorist assaulted a panhandler in Duncan, the latest incident in a long line involving local panhandlers in the area.

The male panhandler is recovering from his injuries after being assaulted on the Trans Canada Highway near Coronation Avenue at approximately 10 a.m. last Friday.

The panhandler reportedly exchanged words with a motorist, which escalated to the motorist exiting his vehicle and assaulting the man.

“This incident happened in a busy location and we are confident there is someone out there who saw something, or knows something, that can help our investigation,” said RCMP Const. Caitlyn Rissanen.

Rissanen said witnesses reported seeing the suspect fleeing the scene in a red pickup truck.

The suspect is described as being a white man, approximately 30 years old, having dark curly or frizzy hair, a bushy beard, and had a tattoo on one of his hands.

Anyone with information relating to this offence is asked to contact North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP at 250-748-5522 or Crime Stoppers atcowichancrimestoppers.com.

The occurrence of panhandlers is becoming more frequent in the region.

In a direct response to this and the ever rising calls for service in relation to panhandling, the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment has said it is being as proactive as possible to combat the issue.

Specific instances where officers have had to intervene on the behalf of the panhandler to ensure their safety have brought the issue to the forefront.

As much as the police and Cowichan Tribes realize that this is a safety issue, it is also an opportunity to encourage enforcement which will bring these individuals and their specific situations to light, RCMP said. The Safe Streets Act is the authority that guides the actions of police when dealing with those who choose to obtain funds through panhandling.

The solicitation of persons in a defined public place or a captive audience holds a fine ranging from $86 to $115.

But it is mostly a safety issue both for the public and the panhandlers as well, that causes police concern.

“Standing on the median at Trunk Road and the Trans Canada Highway is not safe for the panhandler or the motoring public,” said Cpl. Krista Hobday.

Hobday said it’s a sure recipe for a pedestrian collision or a rear-ender.

She said contributing to this activity by making an offering only encourages the panhandler to come back tomorrow.

Const. Amron Russell said the RCMP is not unsympathetic to those who find themselves in need.

She said the same individuals you see on the street with their hat in hand have the option to frequent the Cowichan Valley Basket Society and other community resources.

“Cowichan Tribes offers food vouchers to those in need and The Welcome Centre has a breakfast program, to mention a few,” she said.

“The individuals that work at these worthwhile community services can liaise with those who drop by and give them information on how to access the resource that will best fulfill their needs.”

Russell said if members of the public would like to contribute to the food bank or other related charities, they are encouraged to do that instead of tossing a loonie into a hat at the street corner.

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