The City of Vancouver has seen a massive spike in graffiti vandalism since the COVID-19 pandemic began and merchants say they’re paying the price while taggers often face no punishment for their unsolicited criminal scribbling.
“It’s everywhere,” business owner Joe Chaput told Global News.
“It’s an ongoing battle to keep up with it.”
Inside les amis du FROMAGE, Chaput sells premium Camembert, Cambozola, Chevre, Cheddar and Charcuterie. Outside, he’s dealing with a different kind of cheese.
“All of sudden you come back to work on Monday morning, there’s tags on your garage door, on the front of the building,” he said.
The constant defacement is keeping the city’s graffiti removal contractor busy.
Goodbye Graffiti logged 149,837 nuisance tagging reports during patrols of city-owned property in 2020, a 41-per-cent increase over the 106,383 incidents reported in 2019.
Among them were 1,231 reports of racist graffiti, up 55 per cent from 793 reports in 2019.
Nuisance graffiti reports to 311 for city, private and third-party property also soared by 70 per cent — up from 3,421 calls in 2019 to 5,806 in 2020.
“We’ve seen a 100-per-cent increase on graffiti,” said Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association executive director Neil Wyles.
Nothing appears to be sacred in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, where even artist’s murals are being tagged.
The BIA said it’s spending upwards of $8,000 a month to paint over the mischief — more than double than prior to the pandemic, while the taggers don’t face any consequences.
“All of the costs and punishment are falling onto the property owners or the business owners,” Wyles told Global News.
Chaput said he was fined $500 for having tagged trash bins.
Under Vancouver’s graffiti bylaw, property owners can be billed for the cost of removal if they don’t get rid of the vandalism that lands on their turf.
If owners are served a notice from the city, graffiti must be removed within 10 days. Any tagging that remains after being reported may be cleaned up at the expense of the property owner.
The minimum fine for anyone caught doing unauthorized graffiti is $500 for each offence.
“I’d love to see somebody get a fine for doing it, somebody get caught,” Wyles said. “That just never happens.”
Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung said she understands the frustration, but encourages business owners to always report graffiti so police can track the most prolific taggers.
“They’re now scaling buildings and tagging, you know, near roofs or at three or four storeys and that can be very difficult to remove,” Kirby-Yung told Global News.
“There may be an opportunity for the city to provide support on some of those really difficult-to-remove areas.”
In July, city council approved $500,000 in graffiti grants to help 22 business improvement areas to remove the growing vandalism.
Property owners and tenants can also request up to two free gallons of exterior paint from the city per year to clean up graffiti.
“When it just sits there for long periods of time, it just sends this message that there’s no civic pride,” Chaput said.