Legal Geography: Policing Poverty through the Regulation of Public Space
What is the purpose of criminal law?
Protect society, social order, enables us to be safe, tells us what is right/wrong, (No universal
Who does it apply to?
The Dangerous Poor:
Marcus Aurelius: “poverty is the mother of crime”
Old prejudice: the poor are a dangerous lot who will stoop to criminality if given the opportunity.
This became unpopular because in the twentieth century, every man and woman was considered
Governance Question: How do you contain, control or neutralize the danger this class of people
Law and ‘Equality’:
Liberal Notion of Justice,
Anatole France: “The Law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep
under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread”
Liberal Notion of Justice: we must all be treated equally.
The Rule of Law:
Distinction between the FORMAL side of the law (how the law reads) and it’s ACTUAL
The law itself will not tell you anything. 2
Laws regulating the use of space signify function of space + citizenship. Citizenship in the City –
Urban Subjectivity. Who does the law envision citizens to be in the City of Toronto? (i.e.
constructing benches to try and prevent homeless people to sleep on the benches).
Key Term: Urban Subjectivity (the subject of the law) – the bylaw targets the benches.
Therefore, purposedly the law does not target homeless people. Making small amounts of spaces
that by being there, discourage large gatherings (i.e. smaller hallways).Also, the way bathrooms
are set up, small gap in between door to discourage sexual activities, drugs, etc. However, the
laws do not do anything to enforce these. Space can regulate activity.
Inherited vagrancy law from Britain
History of Vagrancy Law tells us volumes about the changing conception of urban citizenship.
Dictionary Definition of Vagrant: someone who is both homeless and jobless and earns a living
1869: 1 domestic VagrancyAct
In 19 century British Law vagrants were divided into 3 classes: an idle or disorderly person, a
rogue and vagabond, and an incorrigible rogue. These classes were meant to separate vagrants
into three classes
Exceptions the deserving poor – the impotent poor, the lame and disabled, the sick, disbanded
soldiers and university scholars
Canadian Criminal Code (1892):
Statutory definition of vagrant:
“Every one is a loose, idle or disorderly person or vagrant
(a.) not having any visible means of maintaining himself lives without employment;
(b.) being able to work and thereby or by other means to maintain himself and family wilfully
refuses or neglects to do so;
(c.) openly exposes or exhibits in any street, road, highway or public place, any indecent
(d.) without a certificate signed, within six months, by a priest, clergyman or minister of the
Gospel, or two justices of the peace, residing in the municipality where the alms are being
asked, that he or she is a deserving object of charity, wanders about and begs, or goes about 3
from door to door, or places himself or herself in any street, highway, passage or public place
to beg or receive alms;
(e.) loiters on any street, road, highway or public place, and obstructs passengers by standing
across the footpath, or by using insulting language, or in any other way;
(f.) causes a disturbance in or near any street, road, highway or public place, by screaming,
swearing or singing, or by being drunk, or by impeding or incommoding peaceable
(g.) by discharging firearms, or by riotous or disorderly conduct in any street or highway, wantonly
disturbs the peace and quiet of the inmates of any dwellinghouse near such street or highway;
(h.) tears down or defaces signs, breaks windows, or doors or door plates, or the walls of houses,
roads or gardens, or destroys fences;
(i.) being a common prostitute or night walker, wanders in the fields, public streets or highways,
lanes or places of public meeting or