Editorial: Saanich opens tagging canvas

You might notice graffiti tags popping up and remaining in place in Saanich over the next fiscal year.

You might notice graffiti tags popping up and remaining in place in Saanich over the next fiscal year.

Under a mandate to cut back budgets by one per cent, the district’s public works department axed its roads division’s graffiti removal program, which is worth about $30,000.

This funding paid for staff to paint over or wipe clean tags from municipal benches, walls and overpasses. Now unless the graffiti is profane, it won’t be removed.

Saanich is a large, expensive municipality to run and such decisions are never easy, but allowing graffiti tags to go unchecked is one of the worst forms of inaction a local government can commit.

Squiggled tags and random attempts at art painted across telephone poles, fences, bridges and other public structures is the kind of vandalism that begets vandalism. The longer graffiti stays in an area, the more the graffiti bleeds out.

For many residents across the region, graffiti-tagged streets create perceptions that the block is seedy or dangerous, and the people don’t care about their neighbourhood. For local businesses, it drives away potential customers and gives areas bad reputations.

Colwood, a city with many budget woes of its own, decided to roll the dice and invested tax dollars in a bylaw officer dedicated to removing graffiti, tracking tags and gathering evidence, as well as organizing community cleanups. That city has sent a message that taggers will be tracked, fined or criminally charged.

Victoria has offered its citizens an anti-graffiti program that offers free cleanup kits, but largely depends on volunteers taking an interest in their community. Saanich is offering the same, and hopefully residents step up to the plate when tags linger.

But in the meantime, Saanich has placed itself in the position of a double-standard – homeowners are required to remove tags from their property, but the district isn’t.

It also runs the risk of eventually spending more tax dollars on cleanup, as taggers realize parts of the municipality are an open canvas.