Graffiti is something that has been around for millennia, ever since prehistoric humans first picked up their sticks and smeared some pigment on the wall of their cave. The appeal of marking an area with something that represents you and asserts your dominance over the territory is an animal instinct that is not restricted to humans. In modern times, however, the act of marking a wall with symbols and designs that is viewable by the public is considered a crime. The city of Calgary punishes people who commit graffiti, which they define as “words, figures, letters, drawings or stickers applied, scribbled, scratched, etched, sprayed, or attached on or to a surface” with fines of up to $5,000.
There is a difference between thoughtless graffiti and street art, but the city’s definition of graffiti does not leave room for distinction between the two. It is the city’s policy that if a surface is vandalized by graffiti, it must be removed within 72 hours whether it is on private property or not. If witnessing an act of graffiti in progress the city requires you to call 9-1-1 to report it. These policies present a number of problems.
Calling the emergency number to report a minor crime like graffiti takes up the phone lines instead of leaving them open for higher-priority emergencies. In addition, it is unlikely that any vandals will remain around long enough to be caught by the police even if a car was dispatched right away. This is a large waste of the police force’s time and resources.
It is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure that the graffiti is removed within the time indicated and failure to do so can result in a fine of $150 out of their own pocket. The city has a graffiti abatement program that will sometimes give funds to help with graffiti removal but they reserve the right to decline service. This means that although the property owner may prefer to simply leave the graffiti up they do not have that option for penalty of incurring the fine. The choice of how private property appears should be left up to the property owner, not the city.
Although the city wants to ensure that graffiti is removed as soon as possible in order to prevent it from spreading, the crime is portrayed with too much severity in relation to the actual nature of the offence. Property owners who fall victim to vandalism should not be faced with an additional fine for something that was not their fault.