Every week some form of graffiti springs up in Oak Bay, according to parks staff sent to clean and clear the vandalism.
Earlier this fall, staff spent two full days – totalling 32 hours of staff time – cleaning graffiti from Carnarvon Park and a road nearby.
It’s a trend seen in adjacent jurisdictions as well. Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA), said one estimate shows it costs $1 million a year in the region.
“It’s a huge expense, but beyond that a lot of buildings are old heritage brick buildings. Once they graffiti it, it’s damaged forever. It ruins the buildings, quite frankly,” he said.
“It’s not the struggling artist anymore, it’s pure vandalism.”
The DVBA keeps more than 200 containers of a variety of shades of paint on hand. Its clean team tackles graffiti as it appears, with agreements in place with businesses to paint over using the shade in stock. In 2019 across private property in the downtown core, the team removed 15,098 tags, in 2020 they tackled 14,550.
While downtown Victoria numbers barely shifted, Saanich parks numbers show a jump over 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 Saanich documented 1,400 tags reported and dealt with. In 2021 by the end of August the district had tracked 2,555. Public works, which deals with the vandalism outside of parks, reported about 500.
Graffiti often goes unreported, or is dealt with by utilities companies whose property is commonly tagged.
There are other frequent locations for graffiti and simply painting over it seems almost futile, said Oak Bay Police Chief Ray Bernoties.
“When we are notified of graffiti, we photograph it and investigate each case we are called to. It is also a common practice for us to send the info to our crime analyst, who tries to analyze similar events across the CRD in an effort to assist our investigation,” he said.
Bernoties echoed Bray’s message, that removing it immediately is a good practice. It’s not unusual in Oak Bay to see an officer patrolling on bike carrying graffiti wipes, to manage tags while on the go.
Saanich has explored offering legal graffiti walls, and it remains on the radar, but there are none as yet. There are few places for legal graffiti in the region, most being commissioned mural work.
“There was a period of time when graffiti art was exactly that. It was colourful and creative, it may still be vandalism, but there was still something artistic in there,” Bray said. Those times came with terms, where artwork wouldn’t be touched by others, he noted. But those times have changed.
“It’s just a narcissistic effort to get their name out there. That’s what’s changed, it’s just tagging now, scrawl.”