Graffiti tool ban nearer
Tue, April 25, 2006
London soon could be the first city in Canada to prohibit the sale of spray paint to minors.
By JONATHAN SHER, FREE PRESS CITY HALL REPORTER
London politicians moved a step closer last night to making the city the first in Canada to fight graffiti by banning the sale of markers and spray paint to minors.
After a sometimes heated debate, a city committee narrowly backed the ban, its recommendation to to go to council Monday.
The person who spearheaded the push for a ban, Coun. Bernie MacDonald, had harsh words for two council members who oppose it, Coun. David Winninger and Controller Russ Monteith.
"I'm trying to correct the problem and you're going the other way," MacDonald said.
While the city's community and protective services committee agreed graffiti was a growing problem, it split on whether a ban would be effective or even legal.
Monteith and Winninger, the only two lawyers on council, both warned the city could be vulnerable to a legal challenge if council passes a ban.
It's doubtful the city has the authority to pass a ban, said Winninger, an assessment seconded by a city lawyer.
"I'm concerned about the infringement on Charter rights -- age discrimination," Winninger said.
There's not enough evidence to show minors rather than adults are behind most of the city's graffiti, Monteith said.
But London police service, which supports a ban, presented some evidence yesterday suggesting minors are more often than not wielding spray cans and markers.
In the last two years, 25 of 42 people arrested for making graffiti were under 18, while 92 of of 126 of the people seen but not caught were minors.
Most cases involved spray paint commonly found in local stores, said Const. Michael Hay said.
"If you have to walk downtown, you see it just about everywhere," he said.
When people see a neighbourhood riddled with graffiti, they typically assume it is crime-ridden, he said.
Many U.S. cities have cracked down on spray paint sales, but no Canadian city has followed suit, police and city staff said.
"We feel this bylaw will serve as an additional preventative tool," said Orest Katolyk, the city's head of bylaw enforcement.
Also backing a ban was Jeanette MacDonald of Mainstreet London, who said the London Downtown Business Association spends $25,000 a year removing graffiti.
Artist Morag Webster-Lesarge opposed the ban. "It's an art form that shouldn't be lost or legislated," she said.
But artistic expression shouldn't be made on the property of others, said Londoner Mike Wagstaff, who's tired of cleaning graffiti on the walled entrance to his subdivision.
"I've only lived six months (in my Hazeldon home) and I've already had to clean six times," he said.
Supporting a ban with MacDonald were controller Gord Hume and Coun. Susan Eagle.