Graffiti in some cases can be considered an art, often a form of social commentary or statement. Sometimes the art can be eye-catching beautiful, as many Montrealers have seen on the sides of all types of structures, spray painted with large creative names of the ‘taggers’ – the artist themselves who put it up. Some have even taken it a step further, creating murals on the sides of buildings that are stunning, artistic pieces – and they have usually been given approval to do so. However, graffiti can more often be ideological expressions of cultural, political and racial hatred – and when it takes that form it becomes something else entirely. It might indeed be a symptom of much that is wrong and unfair in our modern society, an expression of anger and discontent – but not only is it illegal and considered vandalism, it is ugly and a blight on our city. It is found all over the place: on the buildings of businesses and institutions, alongside new road construction and even on tombstones.
Someone who is caught can be taken to court and sentenced to jail or receive a fine, but they are often not, as most of these acts are done at night or at times when nobody is around. What is troubling is that the owner of the property is responsible to remove the graffiti at their own cost – and if they don’t, they can receive a significant fine, considered very unfair by many people.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, the creation of graffiti is considered vandalism. It is a bylaw infraction across Canada and vandals can be charged with ‘mischief under or over $5,000.’ In cities like Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, property owners are required by law to remove illegal markings. In Montreal, according to the SPVM, if it is not authorized by the owner of the structure or building it is on, graffiti is punishable by law – just like vandalism or misdemeanors with possible legal consequences if the vandal is caught. One can be taken to court, sentenced to jail or incur a fine and given a criminal record. In the case of minors, their parents themselves can be charged in civil court for damages. But are these fines and penalties enough? They do not seem to be significantly decreasing acts of graffiti vandalism.
During the October 1st 2018 Quebec provincial elections, two women were caught on video in Outremont vandalizing campaign signs for a Muslim candidate who wears a hijab. In the video taken by Timothy Merlis, one woman lowers the sign, then the other writes ‘un état laïc’, that means ‘a secular state’ in English. They could have been fined up to $2,000 and receive two years of imprisonment for defacing a political poster – but that did not stop them. In March of 2017, Eddy Kalil, an 82 year old NDG landlord was fined $700 under a borough by-law for ‘failing to keep his property free of illegal graffiti’. He pleaded ‘not guilty’ in court because it wasn’t the first time the brick wall of his building was defaced and he just kept cleaning it up. He even took measures he hoped would deter the taggers, by installing a motion-sensing floodlight and surveillance camera – but they just kept coming back. He estimated it cost him over $1000 in just one year trying to get it all off, because even the borough does provide graffiti remover he maintained, it isn’t effective enough. The product he uses costs him close to $100 per gallon. It is clear that graffiti is a problem in the city, but what is clearer – is that the city needs to have stronger laws with more severe consequences, enough for graffiti vandals to put down their spray cans.