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Permanent LinkOct 2, 2010 
:scrooge: (OTTAWA) — Buskers in the ByWard Market want the City of Ottawa to see them as performers, not panhandlers, and keep its hands out of their pockets — and their hats and guitar cases.
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“I’m going to move if they don’t change,” said Paul Perreault, a Cirque du Soleil-trained acrobat.

Just in time for the municipal election, buskers are getting organized in response to a city bylaw that went into effect last spring. The bylaw requires street performers in the Market to pay up to $200 for licences, rotate positions frequently and make do without voice amplification.

In response, buskers have formed an association, endorsed a candidate in Rideau-Vanier and voted unanimously in favour of a proposal to amend the bylaw.

Perreault said the current rules are so restrictive, they’re making top-notch international performers think twice about coming to Ottawa. “They go, ‘well, I’m the world’s best in my field — I’m going to go somewhere else,’” he said.

At a meeting Thursday evening attended by about a dozen buskers, most agreed their biggest challenge is getting the city and the ByWard Market BIA to see the difference between a world-class acrobatics act and a panhandler plucking at a guitar with three broken strings. The current bylaw doesn’t differentiate between different types of performers — anyone who can afford the fee gets a licence, and everyone with a licence is subject to the same set of rules.

The newly-formed buskers association proposes lowering the maximum licence fee to $50. It also suggests different rules for four different types of acts, depending on whether they can change locations, draw a circle of spectators or require voice amplification.

The system the city put in place last summer was supposed to weed out low-quality performers who can’t afford the licence fee and level the playing field by preventing buskers from hogging prime spots. But Greg Massicotte, who plays guitar and harmonica by the BeaverTails stand, said he still found himself in nightly battles with performers of questionable talent after the bylaw enforcement officers went home at 8 p.m.

“I pay for a licence, come expecting to play, and it’s the same as it always was,” he said.

Another bone of contention is the ban on voice amplification, which Perreault said means he has to yell for 45 minutes straight every time he performs.

“I was coughing blood,” he said. “It’s like writing a report without a keyboard. It’s taking away a tool.”

Thomas Brawn, who puts on an interactive performance with a box of bells and tambourines so children can join in while he plays the flute, cautioned that if street performers want to be seen differently from panhandlers, they have to earn it by acting professional. “Many local residents see even the best of us as beggars,” he said.

Mathieu Fleury, a candidate in Rideau-Vanier, is in full support of the proposed bylaw amendments and Perreault said he’s encouraging buskers and supporters to vote for him. The Ottawa Buskers Committee is planning a meeting to present their proposal to city officials and their goal is to implement the new system by June.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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