In our municipality we have a public safety bylaw, and one part of the bylaw clearly states that, "No person shall engage in panhandling." The definition of panhandling in the bylaw is as follows:

“panhandling” means the personal, verbal, and direct solicitation by a person of gratuitous donations of money, food, or goods of any kind, or the exchange of money, food, or goods, or an unsolicited service for money of any kind from any member of the public, but does not include a solicitation allowed or authorized pursuant to the Charitable Fundraising Act, or any other legislation permitting the solicitation of charitable donations;

I'm trying to discern whether the interpretation of this definition is:

  1. “panhandling” means the [...] direct solicitation by a person of gratuitous donations of money [...], or the exchange of money [...] from any member of the public...


  1. “panhandling” means the [...] solicitation [...] of gratuitous donations [...] or the (solicitation of the) exchange of money...

With the way this definition is worded, is it illegal to give to panhandlers when solicited as much as it is for a panhandler to solicit for money? Can someone who gives money to a panhandler be considered to be engaging in panhandling according to this definition?

I asked the local Peace Officer, and he said he's not certain.

3 Answers 3


There is only one way to construe the definition of "panhandling" to include giving to panhandlers:

"panhandling" means the ... exchange of money, food, or goods ...

Which is absolutely absurd - every transaction in Alberta would be considered panhandling. The other way of interpreting that part is:

"panhandling" means the ... solicitation ... of ... the exchange of money, food, or goods ...

Probably not illegal

User6726 points out that the bylaw does not simply say "panhandling is illegal" but that it is illegal to "engage in panhandling":

No person shall engage in panhandling

You are saved here by the word "in". If the purpose of the rule were to outlaw giving money to panhandlers, it would be better written as such:

No person shall engage with panhandling

This dichotomy is accentuated by substituting panhandling with "the solicitation of donations":

No person shall engage in the solicitation of donations

No person shall engage with the solicitation of donations

If you still have doubts, try it this way:

No person shall engage in asking for money on the streets

No person shall engage with someone asking for money on the streets

Consider asking your MLA for less ambiguous language or a statement of clarification, like "no person shall panhandle". Unlike the constitution, ambiguity in bylaws hurts the average citizen more than it helps.

  • 1
    So yes or no? I don't feel like you've answered the question.
    – ShemSeger
    Nov 4, 2016 at 14:53
  • 1
    You should focus on the word "engage". They specifically define "panhangling" as soliciting, so your attempt to introduce "exchange" is without merit. You need to prove that "engage" means "perform" and not "participate, be part of".
    – user6726
    Nov 4, 2016 at 16:16

It could be illegal: it depends on how the authorities think "engage (in)" is defined. Merriam-Webster's definition 2b of intransitive "engage" (which takes "with") is "to do or take part in something". On the face of it, then, if you are a party to a panhandling exchange, you have taken part in the forbidden act. My legal dictionaries don't bother to define "engage", but there might be some applicable Canadian case law that says whether both parties "engage" in the act.

Normally I would point to the wording of prostitution statutes for corroboration, but that doesn't work given Canada's law. So instead, we have US law. RCW 9A.88.030 is the Washington state law against prostitution, which says "A person is guilty of prostitution if such person engages or agrees or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee". RCW 9A.88.110 is a separate offense, patronizing a prostitute:

Pursuant to a prior understanding, he or she pays a fee to another person as compensation for such person or a third person having engaged in sexual conduct with him or her...

The point is that if under Washington state law, "engage" means "take part", then a patron would be guilty of violating 9A.88.030, but in fact patrons are convicted of violating 9A.88.110. Of course, Washington law doesn't export to Alberta, but this at least gives you a legal leg to stand on in case the matter arises, as long as they take Washington law over Merriam-Webster.


You may not be panhandling, but if panhandling is an illegal act then you are facilitating the commission of a crime by giving money to a panhandler, potentially. That in itself can be a crime in some jurisdictions.

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