Red Tape vs. Red Paint – A Series Part IV

by Liz Faure

Westmount (the province’s richest neighbourhood), plans to support its NDG neighbour with a new motion similar to “Operation Graffiti”.  NDG’s Operation Graffiti program is asking Quebec to ban the sale of spray paint to minors, and create a provincial registry, among other things.

“These kids don’t understand graffiti is a serious crime,” says Councillor Gary Ikeman, who overlooks Public Security in Westmount.  “You see your name on a billboard, you feel like a star … but it’s the same as throwing a rock through a window, its outright vandalism.”

Westmount’s website promotes fast graffiti cleanup (72 hours or less, year-round), and encourages residents to engage in dialogue sessions about graffiti with local youth.

All good things, according to Under Pressure co-founder Sterling Downey, who says, “If people are doing graffiti 365 days a year, you need to clean it 365 days a year.”  Downey, who does graffiti workshops with youth, also likes the idea of dialogue sessions.

But Westmount’s website isn’t up-to-date, and city officials admit sometimes it takes more than three days to clean graff.  As well, there are no dialogue sessions taking place at the moment.  “The website is old,” admits Ikeman, who is unfamiliar with many aspects of Westmount’s graffiti policy.  Ikeman would like to start dialogue sessions with youth.  “Young people need to sort themselves out – they’re growing, and it’s challenging,” he says.  Ikeman would like to get young people interested in “woodworking, karate, and belly-dancing – anything to get their minds off graffiti and onto more constructive things.”

“That’s great,” laughs Roskoe Idiosti, from SUB-V spray paint store, right next to Westmount.  “So, instead of doing graffiti, maybe they’ll go do some woodwork, or belly-dancing?  Good luck.”  Idiosti says a lot of young graffiti writers are attracted to graffiti because they aren’t good at other subjects, like math or sports.  “When you take away that outlet for expression, it’s even harder for them.”

An odd aspect of Westmount’s support for “Operation Graffiti” is that Ikeman admits he doesn’t think the plan will work.  He thinks there are “way too many holes” in Operation Graffiti for it to be effective.  Ikeman says young vandals will find ways to get spray paint no matter what, and even thinks a black market could develop for the product.  “Imagine an 18-year-old – it’s a great business!  I’ll just buy this stuff and sell it to kids!”

Ikeman knows many vandals aren’t minors, and there are many ways to do graffiti that don’t involve spray paint.  But he supports NDG’s planned ban and registry, “in the spirit of goodwill.”

It’s unclear when Westmount will pass their own “Operation Graffiti” motion.  Downey has extended a standing invite to Ikeman to meet and discuss an alternative graff strategy for the city.  He predicts a spray paint ban or registry will only have one effect: more graffiti from vandals in response.  “Westmount can go ahead and do this, but they’d better be prepared to increase their graffiti clean-up budget.”