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Municipal 2018
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Graffiti potentially puts image of community at risk

by Mike Robinson

BALLINAFAD - For all the talk surrounding the issue of graffiti in Erin - relatively few members of the public attended the public meeting here on April 23.

A proposed bylaw would make property owners responsible for the cleanup.

Failure to do so within a reasonable or assigned period of time could potentially result in fines of $400 to $20,000 and/or having the work done on the property owner’s behalf and including the costs on the individual’s tax bill.

Of the 15 people attending the meeting, at the Ballinafad community hall, two-thirds attending were either Erin councillors or members of the Erin COP committee.

Those that were there were either definitely for or strongly against the proposed bylaw.

COP committee members attending included: Jean Denison, Shelley Foord, Carolyn Molyneaux and Mario Alie and council representative Deb Callaghan.

Callaghan said that when she started on council, she wanted to initiate a Community Oriented Policing committee.

“We immediately identified three issues - vehicle break-ins; mischief/vandalism in the downtown core, and graffiti.”

To deal with the graffiti issue, an information meeting was set up with a staff inspector from the Toronto police.

The inspector did a tour of the town viewing existing graffiti.

While the inspector agreed there was graffiti in the community, “it [as an issue] was still in its infancy.”

“It is something we need to address now or it will escalate.”

Callaghan said the program used in Toronto is to paint over the graffiti.

“If it shows up the next day, you paint over it. If it shows up the next day, you paint over it ... and so on.”

The idea is to let those involved know that whatever is done, it will be removed.

COP committee chairman Mario Alie said the problem for communities such as Erin is that if the problem reoccurs “we can’t just keep taking care of it over and over and over.”

While currently limited to a few areas in Erin, he was concerned it would spread further into the downtown areas.

He pointed to the former school in Erin where one bit of graffiti has turned into much, much more.

“Now it has moved across the street to garbage cans by the store ... and further down the street.”

He said one of the bigger concerns is that with the proposed development in town, “We’re going to be introducing a bunch of new people and new kids. If the graffiti is not taken care of by that point, we’re  basically telling these kids - Go ahead and paint the town.”

Committee member Carolyn Molyneaux also serves as a police officer for Peel Regional Police.

Molyneaux explained that she’d done quite a bit of work on behalf of the committee and the town. Much of that revolves around the potential of the graffiti bylaw.

Issues include the types of properties (public/private), materials used to remove graffiti, who is responsible to remove or cover the graffiti.

She noted one option which could be considered is bringing in insured professionals to remove the graffiti - which would cover liability issues - but if done by the town would impact local tax bills.

“Obviously the number one priority is to get police identification of those involved in graffiti.”

Molyneaux understood similar bylaws are being considered in communities across the province.

In some, the issue is being dealt with through property standards enforcement.

She stressed that even though other municipalities have bylaws such as the one proposed for Erin - they are only using them as a last resort.

Molyneaux explained the bylaw exists to deal with problem areas where the owners will not do anything.

The preferred option, she said, is to work with property owners.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the time, that approach appears to be very effective,” Molyneaux said.

She agreed that one of her original concerns was that such a bylaw would “re-victimize the victim” by requiring the property owner to cleanup the graffiti.

But once the graffiti is cleaned up, the chances of graffiti happening again is greatly reduced - especially in a small community such as Erin.

She maintained the bylaw is really in place to deal with major issues which are crossing the line for property standards.

“These areas are eyesores and detrimental to the community in terms of tourism and for the residents who live there.”

Foord agreed that Erin needs to have some standards in place, “so we can nip it in the bud now, rather than down the road.”

From a BIA perspective, Foord said beautification of the community is one of its main mandates.

She pointed to an instance where there was graffiti on her own building. “I immediately wanted to clean it up ... and I think the average person would want to as well.”

The bylaw would only have an impact for property owners “who do not care quite as much,” Foord said.

As a property owner in Erin, Dan Callaghan said “I drive past the old public school all the time. I’ve watched it go from one or two tags to all the walls being tagged. I’ve watched the windows being broken. There is an absentee landlord who doesn’t seem to care about his building. But all of the citizens who live in the area have to put up with the destruction.”

“It was a beautiful building and it’s been totally destroyed, not just by the individuals tagging it, but by the absentee landlord.”

“As a citizen and as a taxpayer I am disgusted with the shape of that building and that there is no way to make him clean it up.”

He contended if a building is cleaned up, the graffiti will end.

He said council really needs to consider putting teeth into a bylaw so when people do not look after their buildings, something can be done.

Others in the audience contended this was not really about property standards or graffiti and that the bylaw was directed primarily at one landowner.

The question was then raised as to whether something should be installed as an area where graffiti could go - possibly by the skateboard park.

Another member of the audience stated she’d moved from Brampton to Erin because it was a nice, clean and safe small town.

She said she was absolutely in favour of any bylaws against graffiti. “When you drive through a town and see a school covered in graffiti, it is absolutely disgusting.”

Molyneaux reiterated that the bylaw is a last resort and that it was never intended to be used for every instance of graffiti.

Councillor Josie Wintersinger said that while the former Erin Public School was cited as a troublespot for graffiti, she did not place all the blame on an absentee property owner.

Wintersinger said the individuals running programs out of that building (which include a skateboard ramp in front of the building.)”

“When the kids started to do graffiti on that ramp, I guess there was a leniency and they were allowed to continue.”

“But without a bylaw, I don’t think we can deal with the kids. Until you make an example of someone, it is not going to stop them.”

Councillor Callaghan contended this situation is essentially no different than the town’s property standards bylaw which has been in place for 20 years.

She said if the property is not cleaned up, an order can be placed on the property or the town can clean it up and put the bill on the taxes.

The councillor also suggested if people are more comfortable, it could be in the property standards bylaw.

“I don’t think we were trying to come up with a heavy stick. It is about working with people. But this is a problem which is going slowly through the downtown. I think we need to address it right away.”

Councillor Barb Tocher remained concerned with aspects of the proposed bylaw and that it represents a second victimization of the property.

“The person who’s property has been graffitied is now under the bylaw required to clean it up.”

She said painting, vandalizing or doing graffiti is a criminal act and punishable.

Tocher asked if there are other options such as a moveable camera to catch culprits in the act. “That might send a clearer message.”

“I’ve never been a big fan of punishing 100% of the population because of 3% of the population committing something.”

She said if the bylaw was being considered as a last resort and the goal is to work with property owners, “why aren’t we doing that now?”

Tocher said if that type of collaboration with property owners works, “is the bylaw even necessary.”

Her other issue was the definition of graffiti as compared to what someone might consider as art.

If the property owner considered the work as art, Tocher asked if the municipality has the right to ask for it to be removed.

“Who’s judgement is it that something is graffiti. Should the municipality be the purveyors of good taste.”

“I’ve seen a lot of graffiti which is now considered classic art.”

Councillor John Brennan was reluctant to create a further victimization of property owners.

He said the apprehension of the people who create the graffiti is largely out of the municipality’s hand.

“Perhaps there needs to be more vigilance in town of people being on the lookout to determine who is creating the graffiti and to make a point of reporting in.”

“We need to have some teeth in the apprehension and prosecution.”

“If there are no consequences of being caught, they are likely to continue the same behaviour.”

While community service is largely in the hands of the court system, Brennan would like to see some way the municipality could make use of it.

Like Tocher, he believed the definition of graffiti was problematic.

“My grandson just spent five months touring in Europe and every city he went to, he was taking pictures of this ‘graffiti’ all over Europe. And some of it is quite beautiful.”

He said “Somehow we need to get at the root of the problem.”

Mayor Lou Maieron agreed the majority of the issue is at the old school.

However, he too was reluctant to pass a bylaw affecting just one individual.

While painting over the graffiti may work on a painted building, he questioned how that works on brick.

He asked why this could not be included within the property standards bylaw.

On the idea of a graffiti wall, Maieron said his understanding was that such a venue wouldn’t really solve the problem.

He too questioned the idea or revictimizing the victim, but did not like the idea of bringing the costs to the municipal tax bill.

He preferred to tie the cleanup efforts to community service requirements for those who had committed offenses in the community.

Foord used another analogy to illustrate what is happening.

““If someone breaks my window, I am victimized. I have to pay for it and think nothing of it.”

She considered the same to hold true for graffiti.

Maieron again suggested contacting the property owners to suggest the graffiti be removed by a certain date.

Callaghan expressed concern about making the request when the municipality has no recourse if the property owner does not comply.

She stressed “this is not a witch hunt regarding one property owner.”

Wintersinger favoured the idea of including the graffiti issue in the property standards bylaw.

Mayor Maieron commented “I think the attendance here speaks volumes.”

He had thought graffiti to be a major concern to business, which is why the meeting was relocated to a larger facility.

May 3, 2013


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