Buskers vs Panhandlers in Toronto

by | September 9, 2018
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Listen to Podcast here

This is the loose transcript of my podsast. While I am not a Roman Attwood or a Casey Neistat, I hope one day people will look back at my first few podcasts and remember my messags.

I wanted to talk about a touchy subject where everyone might have an opinion, but no opinion is always correct and no opinion is wrong, it is subjective.

Before I start, I just want to be clear that this podcast is in no way an attach on the poor or marginalized. I also want to say that my opinion is squewed by the friendships I have developed with many of the buskers that I know from Yonge and Dundas.

For the past four years that I have lived downtown, I have gotten to know many of the regular characters who spend a great deal of time at Yonge and Dundas, particularly the south west corner where the north entrance of the Eaton Centre is.

For the most part there are three types of people vying for attention at this popular intersection:
First you have Pann Handlers, thise group is not unique to this intersection, but they are sometimes the most prolific in and around downtown. They are normally seen with signs asking for food or assistance in finding shelter. some will just be asking for help feeding their various pets.
A second group of people that are more noticeable (partly because of their sound systems) are the street preachers or other religious groups, their mission is to convert people to their way of thinking and to gain followers for their particular faith.
The last group of people that you will encounter at Yonge and Dundas is the buskers who are trying to earn a living by showcasing their talents or special skills. Whether they are musicians, artists, costume players (exept for a certain spiderman which i might talk about later) or magicians, they are giving of their tallents for tips, but they are not begging, they are busking.

Buskers have been around for centuries and provide entertainment for the masses and only ask for donations or tips. Some make a full time living at busking, while others perform for enjoyment and only ask for tips to help fund their craft.

Again, I have had many conversations with some of the buskers who are regulars at Yonge and Dundas and the condenses that I get from them is that they are the only ones asking for tips that are regulated and require a busking licence from the city. Yes, a busker must pay a license fee of about $45 per season to work in the City of Toronto and even with a licence they still have limitations placed on them. They are told when and where they perform. Some of them even declare their earnings from busking on their personal income taxes. If you ask the Canada Revenue Agency how many people list their source of income as busker you will find a number of people, but they will never see a person listing their source of income as panhandler.

All of that aside, there are also buskers who give back in non financial ways. I know of a few buskers who use their talents to give their time or voice to special causes or even legal interests. Sorry Steve I have to out you here…. one of my favorite buskers that I know from Yonge and Dundas is Steve the Magician. Steve not only put himself through University, he is also putting himself through Law School. While Steve mentions some of what he has learned in Law School in his act, he is also using his tips to fund a charter challenge to fight for the laws surrounding street performers and the harassment they receive from government officials.

Speaking of harrasement from governement officials, I recently spoke to an artist named Cinima who currently working on a sidewalk version of David touching the hand of God. He has currently invested over 180 work hours on his creation and was most recently chased away from the Dufferin gate of the CNE because he could not afford to buy his 2018 license. He was not chased away because he did not have a license, he was chased away because of complaints from a person selling conterfit handbags asked why he was allowed to stay.

Okay, I said I might come back to topic of a certain spider man that charged people for having their picture taken with him, but I have to say that I come to talking about him for a few reasons. Many people can guess who I am talking about without me naming him, but I would rather talk about his actions as a busker that have brought him to the ire of many people and the cosplay community (cosplay or costume players being those people who busk as comic book or sci fifi characters). This person has been known to be very aggressive in demanding people to tip him for pictures and being rude to those who do not. He recently came under fire when he attacked a well known drummer “Duckman” for not having a busking license. Duckman or DK the Entertainer does have a license and has even taken his drumming on the road to New York City where he was very welcomed.

The drama around the various groups around Yonge and Dundas is not limited to that between buskers, it can sometimes be the drama between buskers and other people trying to work that intersection.

OOPs sorry Phoenix, I have to mention your story. Two years ago I met a very talented singer songwriter that performed on the south west corner of Yonge and Dundas. She would often take up the space that the very outgoing christian group would set up their PA system and attack people for not being Christian. When they would see that she had set up before they arrived, they would try to push her away and try to intimidate her to move from what they thought was their rightful place in the intersection.

Aside from some of the drama, I am still of the mind that buskers who pay for a license to perform at this iconic intersectio, should be given more leeway than those who are simply begging for money because they are providing entertainment and not demanding money for nothing.

I do not want this podcast to be a one way conversation, I want feedback and your opinions. Let me know what you think in the blog version and keep the conversation going.