In a small room inside a building that began its life as police station, concerned Beaches-East York residents and their local city councillor gathered to get tips on graffiti removal.
The group was there to learn from a Crown’s representative what the courts are doing about graffiti vandals, and what they heard left many there dissatisfied and angry.
During the Community Centre 55’s recent Graffiti Removal & Information Program (GRIP) workshop, residents learned that the act of defacing or tagging homes and businesses, using spray paint, bingo dabbers, black permanent markers or shoe polish dabbers is seen as no more than a nuisance in the eyes of the law.
“I know it is hard to hear this but it is true, a person can’t be sent to jail for graffiti.” assistant Crown attorney Kevin Stewart said.
According to Stewart, Police can only give warnings to first time offenders. For the repeat offenders “extrajudicial sanctions” come into play.
Extrajudicial measures means measures other than judicial proceedings under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Penalties may include apology to victim, restitution, and community service. Stewart also said young persons in some cases think graffiti is art.
However for residents affected, graffiti is not just a nuisance and definitely not art; for them it is a serious matter. It meanspaying money out of pocket and higher taxes for removal of graffiti, lower property value, and according to many residents in the community increased fear of crime.
Moreover, they see measures taken by the courts for the offenders of tagging to be an insignificant punishment.
The City of Toronto graffiti bylaw requires the owner or occupant maintain property free of graffiti. Municipal Licensing and Standards staff usually enforce the bylaw in a notice to the owner to remove graffiti within three days.
Failure to comply can result in a fine for the property owner or tenants. Community members and their leaders want the criminal justice system to hear them on this issue.
“Community members are waiting to present their case and appear before the courts,” on this issue Beaches-East York Councillor Sandra Bussin said. On the other hand, “we now find out it is just a nuisance for the judges. Where do we go from here?” Coun. Bussin asked.
One way is “writing to your MPP and Attorney General’s office,” Stewart said. He remembers when there was a similar view in regards to prostitution. Communities campaigned and changed people’s perceptions on the issue he said.
There has also been some progress made in limiting access to the tools of the graffiti trade. The Canadian Tire store located at Leslie Street and Lakeshore Boulevard has recently adopted a ‘no sell’ to minors policy in regard to spray paint.
Residents are hoping more stores that sell paint and other potential graffiti materials will follow in their footsteps.
“We are trying our best to help the community to get rid of this problem,” Community Centre 55’s graffiti removal program coordinator Evonne Hossack said.
Community Centre 55 gives tips and employs youths to remove graffiti in East Toronto area. For further information visit: www.centre55.com