A longtime Vancouver business owner plagued by graffiti vandalism is questioning the city’s priorities after he claims he is paying the price for repeat tagging.
David McKie, president of Dressew Supply, said a film crew recently paid him to add more graffiti to the alley behind his West Hastings Street store, where landlords are required to remove illegal tags or face fines.
“It’s cruelly ironic,” McKie said.
The $500 he received is the same amount as a fine the city levied earlier this year over the state of his dumpster.
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“With all the problems going on in the city right now, graffiti in a garbage bin in an alley is so far down the list,” McKie told Global News.
Dressew Supply, which sells fabric, sewing materials and costume supplies, has been at the same downtown location since 1981.
McKie secured his storefront at the end of March 2020 and it remains boarded up to guard against rampant vandalism.
The windows of neighbouring businesses along West Hastings, West Cordova and West Pender streets have been repeatedly smashed, and Dressew recently shared photos of the damage on social media.
McKie said he paid $80 a month to have professionals remove the graffiti on the exterior of his building for 25 years – until the fee jumped 400 per cent during the pandemic.
“We spent tens of thousands of dollars over decades fighting graffiti and it just doesn’t work,” McKie said.
Every garbage bin is his alley, McKie said, is awash in graffiti and repainting them just gives taggers a fresh canvas.
In March, the city warned Waste Connections that McKie’s bin violated solid waste bylaws because the hauler label and user address were obscured by graffiti.
An order to comply followed but McKie said he refused to repaint the dumpster knowing it would be tagged again.
His garbage hauler was then slapped with a $500 ticket for failing to obey the earlier order, a fine McKie said was passed on to him.
“It just seems punitive and ridiculous,” he said.
“The city isn’t helping the small businesses, they’re fining them for being victims of crime, I just can’t get my head around it.”
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Councillor Pete Fry, who tried to assist McKie in having the fine reversed, said the policy intended to keep a lid on graffiti is not working in this case.
“We need to come up with a better set of solutions,” Fry said in an interview.
“It’s punishing him and he obviously can’t keep up with it, nor can his hauler, so there’s certainly some work that we need to figure out.”
Global News asked the City of Vancouver why fines for graffiti on commercial garbage bins are a priority given other pressing issues like homelessness, a deadly drug crisis, the VPD reporting an average of four random attacks per day and ongoing street disorder.
In response, the city, which issued the fine, blamed the waste hauler for passing it on to the business owner.
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“The city’s approach isn’t to target, enforce or issue fines solely for graffiti on waste containers stored on city property. However, if the city is seeking compliance on another more significant issue related to a waste container (i.e. a missing identification/hauler label or overflowing waste), and graffiti is present, city inspectors will note in the compliance order the requirement to keep the container free of graffiti,” read an emailed statement.
The number of orders issued for waste containers on city property with missing identification or hauler labels or with excess garbage increased from 102 in 2021 to 170 in 2022 through the end of August.
Tickets were also up from 18 issued in 2021 to 34 so far this year.
“I think the city needs to take a completely different approach,” McKie said.
McKie also paid $150 for a new garbage bin in May, which he said was almost instantly covered in graffiti.
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