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A new bylaw that will allow some libraries in Montreal to fine and kick out visitors who have poor personal hygiene starting January 1 is being criticized as an attack on unhoused people. The new rules for public libraries ban people from sleeping indoors, bringing in bedbugs, blocking library doors, and threatening others. But a couple of Montreal boroughs have also opted to give libraries the power to remove or fine people with "personal hygiene that inconveniences staff and other users,” according to CBC News.
People will be fined between $350 and $1,000 for a first offence, $2,000 for a second offence, and $3,000 for subsequent violations. Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante tweeted that the wording of the bylaw will be modified to reflect the city’s desire for inclusion in all spaces. She said library staff deal with “delicate and complex situations” and that managers will be given a guide so that they apply the regulations in a sensitive and humane manner. But John Tessier, founder of nonprofit group Advocacy for Montreal, which helps connect homeless people to resources, said the policy is “another attack on homelessness.” “Who's going to determine what's bad hygiene?” he asked.Tessier said the city should focus on providing solutions to homelessness, including more centers open during the day in the short-term, and more subsidized housing in the long term. “People just want to survive and they're trying to first and foremost get out of the cold, and libraries normally are a big space. People can go in there, be quiet, be unnoticed, which is all they really want to do,” he said. “They don't go there to purposefully inconvenience others.” Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.People who receive $750 a month on social assistance are not going to be able to pay fines for violating the new rules around libraries, he added.
“You’re making poverty illegal. It’s just abhorrent,” he said. The move comes as other North American cities and states pass laws that target their homeless and most marginalized populations. In October, California passed a new law that can place homeless people into the state’s care, including forcing them to go to rehab. Los Angeles passed an “anti-camping law” in 2021, banning people from sitting, sleeping, lying, or storing their stuff near parks, libraries, schools, and other public sites. In November 2022, New York City rolled out a policy that allows police and paramedics to involuntarily hospitalize houseless people who are mentally ill, even if they pose no threat. New York enacted a bill of rights for homeless people in May that enshrines the right to sleep outdoors, but there are still limitations as to where people can sleep—parks, for example, are off limits between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. Montreal’s regulations come at a time when libraries—one of the few public spaces people can stay warm, use a bathroom, and access books and the internet for free—are already struggling with dwindling resources and a decline in use. As of December, public libraries in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn will close on Sundays due to budget cuts. Eve Lagacé, general director of Quebec's association of public libraries, told the CBC that she’d rather see investments into making the library more manageable than exclusionary policies. "There are libraries that have collaborated with community organizations in the area where they have social workers or street workers, and we really see a lot of benefits for both people and staff," she said.