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Downtown 'charity muggers' rankle Victoria city councillor

Nov 15 2012
On many downtown Victoria corners, charity canvassers approach passersby. 

On many downtown Victoria corners, charity canvassers approach passersby.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , Times Colonist

Some call it "chugging" - short for charity mugging. Wearing brightly coloured, logo-emblazoned bibs, paid canvassers stand on street corners, wave as you walk by and ask you to talk to them.

Generally, they represent an organization such as the Red Cross or Greenpeace. What they really want is your credit card number and a pledge for a monthly donation to their cause.

But as far as Victoria Coun. Shellie Gudgeon is concerned, it's time to take a look at the bylaws regulating such street solicitation.

"I don't like them, personally," Gudgeon said of the street charity solicitors.

"I find that it interferes with my [downtown] experience. My personal enjoyment of the city is being disrupted."

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Gudgeon said she sometimes crosses the street to avoid being confronted by the solicitors.

"I'm a capable, confident person, and I still find it necessary to cross the street - to alter my course to avoid that. Do I think that bodes well for the city of Victoria? No."

Gudgeon is seeking council support for a review of the Street Collections Bylaw passed 35 years ago.

Until that review is completed, her report suggests that no approval be given for any new activities under the bylaw.

Gudgeon said the "chug-gers" are in a different category than the Salvation Army's Christmas kettle volunteers.

"I'm a big supporter of the Salvation Army," Gud-geon said.

"I get a smile from the Salvation Army fellow, and that's it. I don't get engaged into a conversation."

Don Schaffer, the city's manager of legislative services, said that while there has not been many complaints, concerns have been expressed by merchants about canvassers standing too close to doorways and passersby who don't like being approached by strangers.

Downtown Victoria Business Association general manager Ken Kelly said the charity solicitors are a distraction.

"Obviously, we want to ensure that the downtown experience is appealing and unfettered as possible without any other distractions. This is another distraction," Kelly said.

"This is one of those situations that boils down to the individual canvasser. Some can be much more in your face than others."

But many groups depend on the street solicitors.

Red Cross fund development co-ordinator Carly Milloy said about 2,000 new monthly supporters have signed on since the organization in April launched street fundraising in conjunction with a door?to-door campaign in Victoria.

Any restrictions would hurt, she said.

"We've had a real strong success in this community," Milloy said. "It's a great way for us to reach new people and for us to reach younger donors."

The Red Cross campaign exclusively signs people up for monthly donations. Canvassers are paid an hourly wage through a third-party group and do not work on commission, Milloy said.

Greenpeace is not currently running a street fundraising campaign in Victoria, said Rebecca Moershel, Greenpeace Canada development director. But, she said, it is an extremely important and successful fundraising and

The IMP was established at the University of Victoria in 2004, as part of the most distributed undergraduate medical program in North America. In collaboration with UBC's Faculty of Medicine, the IMP creates new opportunities for students who want to study on Vancouver Island. The IMP, together with other similar distributed sites across BC, has contributed to the doubling of medical students in the province. educational tool and any restrictions would have a negative affect.

"It is a cost-effective way to fundraise," Moer-shel said.

"I know certainly we train our people and almost every group I know [trains] not to be too intrusive with people."

Greenpeace's website says it pays public outreach fundraisers $12 an hour.

The campaigners are required to achieve a minimum standard of $16.22 in monthly donations a day, averaged over a two-week period.

Greenpeace does not have charitable tax status because of its advocacy work and does not accept government or corporate donations.

"So something like 80 per cent of our revenue comes from people making monthly contributions," Moershel said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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