Skip to content

City of Thompson wants large commercial property owners to give blanket permission for graffiti cover up

The City of Thompson is hoping large commercial property owners will sign advance blanket agreements to allow graffiti to be covered up as soon as it is discovered. The Canadian Mental Health Association Thompson Inc.
Gang-tagged building

The City of Thompson is hoping large commercial property owners will sign advance blanket agreements to allow graffiti to be covered up as soon as it is discovered.

The Canadian Mental Health Association Thompson Inc. operates the summer-long graffiti cover up program under contract to the city. The program is in its third year. Last year, the contract was worth $16,000 to the CMHA locally. In 2007, the Thompson Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation (TNRC), subcontracted to the CMHA in an initial $2,600 graffiti cover-up project.

This year, the graffiti cover up program, which began June 1, will be running on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Connie Krahenbil, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Thompson Inc., said last September when they were about to be begin their summer's work in 2008 they sent out 156 letters and notices to local businesses offering their free services and got zero response.

It wasn't until the city started authorizing legal notices under the bylaw that there was any demand for their services, Krahenbil said.

Coun. Harold Smith, chair of the city's development review committee, which now oversees property standards, told the Thompson Chamber of Commerce June 24 the "city is seeking advance agreements with property owners for cover up" of graffiti as it's found without having to send them notices and receive specific permission in each and ever instance to go on their property and do the work.

Smith says they can even "pick the colour of the paint" they want used.

Smith suggested that covering up graffiti quickly reduces the incidences of it - an argument made regularly and unequivocally by city officials - despite at best mixed evidence to support that proposition.

TNRC claimed in 2007, without offering any supporting evidence, that graffiti that is removed or covered up within 24 to 48 hours has a nearly "zero re-occurrence rate," but graffiti left for 10 days has a 100 per cent re-occurrence rate."

However, Steven Kohm, an assistant professor and then acting chair of the criminal justice department at the University of Winnipeg, who lead a TNRC-sponsored workshop here on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) in March 2008 said there is no sound empirical evidence that he's aware of to make the claim that graffiti that is removed or covered up within 24 to 48 hours have nearly "zero re-occurrence rate," but graffiti left "for 10 days have a 100 per cent re-occurrence rate."

Indeed in his final report to council in December 2007 on that summer's pilot project, deputy mayor Oswald Sawh included TNRC documentation noting the Meridian Hotel on Cree Road was the largest job with graffiti covering the majority of the back of the hotel, the TNRC said, and it was cleaned up and re-tagged with graffiti the following day; cleaned up again the day after that and re-tagged for a second time two weeks after the program ended.

Graffiti comes from the Italian graffito, meaning scribbling, and is the practice of drawing symbols, images, or words on private or public surfaces without permission. Graffiti can mean many things; an act of shared group identity, a political statement, an artistic expression, you name it.

Krahenbil told the chamber last September they did 37 graffiti cover-up jobs between July 3 and Aug. 26, 2008 and five buildings were re-tagged. Those five were cleaned up again and one was re-tagged for a second time, she said.

Stephanie Chernetski, education and training program co-ordinator with CMHA Thompson Inc., said May after Prairie Bylaw Enforcement officers distributed CMHA business cards and told people about the program, the number of times businesses were re-tagged definitely fell, with only five of the 52 jobs graffiti removal jobs completed last year being re-tagged.Smith said getting property owners onside with the 2007 graffiti bylaw is the only way it is ever going to work, as "our bylaw enforcement capacity is limited. Everyone knows that."On April 6, in a 6-2 vote, city council approved a new two year-contract with Prairie Bylaw Enforcement at a cost of $912,500. Prairie Bylaw offered an $87,600 discount over the two years off its current rate, which would have come in at just over $1 million for two years ending March 31, 2011.

Prairie Bylaw Enforcement has had the bylaw enforcement contract for the city since shortly after the graffiti bylaw came into effect, although the City of Thompson chooses which priorities to accentuate at a given time.

Smith suggested the city wants to work with property owners in terms of voluntary compliance with the graffiti bylaw. The graffiti bylaw holds business owners and commercial tenants responsible for removing, painting over or permanently blocking from public view graffiti within three working days of receiving a written notice from a bylaw enforcement officer or face an initial fine of $100, plus $50 "for each day the offence continues."

"In the past year we've tried hard to get our own shop in order," Smith noted, saying the City of Thompson realizes it need to set a good example on property standards itself for areas under it ownership and control if it expects commercial enterprises and private residents to do the same.

He acknowledged that while the city has made progress there's still lots of work to do and it comes down to a matter of pride in what Thompson looks like.

Smith said the city has to think carefully about what areas to focus on and it may not always be the most immediately obvious ones that need the most attention. He cited the Wal-Mart parking lot as something visitors to Thompson "from the north and the south" almost always see and wind up using as an example of an important site, not only in terms of appearance but also for safety.

He said he would like to see the city take a look at parking lots, along with commercial owners, and work to make them more "pedestrian friendly" and safer from a vehicular point of view instead of the present situation where vehicles often traverse them in all kinds of ways and directions.

In terms of appearance, Smith made special mention of Rick Oberdorfer's A&W franchise on Thompson Drive North as an example of a property that is always well maintained in terms of property standards and appearance. In August 2005, Oberdorfer, and his wife, Lori, were also awarded the first place prize overall by the Thompson Garden Club in the home grounds competition for their residence at 35 Smith Cres.

Smith said Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) remains one of the development review committee's "long term priorities." CPTED is based on the premise that "the proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the fear and incidence of crime as well as an improvement in the quality of life."

CPTED techniques are directed against crimes of opportunity and protecting "defensible space," a concept popularized by the late architect Oscar Newman.

The emphasis with CPTED is on the physical environment and making productive use of space, as well as potentially modifying the behaviour of people to create environments that are absent of cues that cause opportunities for crime to occur. If politicians, private developers, architects and urban planners don't fully think out the intended use of space, particularly public and semi-public space, unintended uses will fill the vacuum, CPTED advocates argue.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks