PENTICTON - The City of Penticton’s prosecution of street person Paul Braun came to a sudden conclusion today.
The two parties came to an eleventh hour plea agreement in Penticton court today, Sept. 12, prior to the start of what was to be a three-day trial.
Braun, a well-known street person habitually found sitting at the entrance of a breezeway on Main Street in the city, faced eight counts of obstructive panhandling in connection to incidents that took place between July 18 and Oct. 19, 2017.
Crown prosecutor Jarret Plonka told Justice Jane Cartwright that he and defence lawyer Paul Varga had worked out a consent plea agreement “rather than face three or four days in trial.”
Braun agreed to plead guilty to all eight charges. He was fined $11 on each count for a total of $88, and he will have to pay an additional $57 toward prosecution costs. He will also need to complete two hours community service per weekday to a maximum of 60 hours by Dec. 15.
Braun is also subject to a number of conditions. He is expected to comply with the panhandling bylaw and is prohibited from being within 10 metres of the 200 block of Main Street where the breezeway is located.
If he breaches the city bylaw somewhere else in the city, Braun will receive a first offence waiver. Breaching the bylaw in his former location in the breezeway, will result in his arrest. The agreement is effective for one year. The bylaw does not restrict Braun from panhandling in parts of the city where it is allowed.
Speaking to the court, Braun expressed doubts about his ability to pick up garbage as part of his community service due to his present poor health.
“If I could work, I wouldn’t have been sitting on the street to begin with,” he said.
Braun said the city wanted to “parade me around like a puppet on a string” collecting garbage.
Varga assured the court some accommodation could be found with the city regarding the community service.
Outside court, Braun said he felt he ultimately had no recourse but to plead guilty.
“It’s because they were threatening to put me in jail, is the only reason I agreed to any of this. I feel like I was backed into a corner,” Braun said. He said he would have lost his spot in the Fairhaven affordable housing complex and would have been on the street again.
Braun said he would likely continue to panhandle.
“If I get up in the morning, and I go to the cupboard, and it’s empty, I’ll have to, because as far as I know, going down to Safeway to help yourself is still wrong, it’s worse than panhandling,” he said. Braun receives a disability income of $375 monthly for shelter.
Varga said the last minute deal was the city’s responsibility, even though a similar offer had been made earlier this year. He said the city antagonized negotiations by placing obstructions in the area where Braun sat. Varga said he didn’t think anyone, especially someone in the disadvantaged part of society, should have to deal with the city’s bylaw efforts to move Braun from the breezeway, which is why he agreed to take the case.
Plonka denied any attempt by the city to sabotage negotiations. He said the city’s earlier offer to Braun, which was made public, was much more favourable to Braun than the terms agreed to this morning.
“So the idea the city was somehow sabotaging negotiations, is without foundation,” Plonka said, noting Braun did not have to consider the extended cost to the taxpayer resulting from not accepting the city’s earlier offer.
Plonka said one of the misconceptions in the media was about trying to collect fines from Braun.
“It’s never been about money, it’s about achieving compliance,” he said.
The city’s costs for the trial to date have exceeded $26,000.
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