Banning the sale of spray paint to minors could be the city's newest weapon in the war against graffiti.

Councillor Chad Collins has asked staff to report on restricting the
sale of aerosol sprays in order to combat the growing problem of
tagging vandals.

"I think it could be done from a licensing perspective," he said.

"Any kind of business operation that has aerosol cans for sale, we
could implement a licence -- it doesn't have to be a large fee --
similar to cigarettes."


The initiative got immediate pickup from a number of councillors,
who complained about the plague of graffiti infecting the city.

Collins says the idea is to study the cost and mechanics of imposing
sale restrictions based on the experiences of London, Ont., and places
in the U.S., Britain and Australia that also have bylaws.

In 2006, London banned the sale of spray paint, broad-tipped marker
pens and glass-etching tools to youths under 18 without adult
accompaniment. Stores convicted of breaking the bylaw face a fine of
$300 to $5,000.

Fines rise from $500 to $10,000 for subsequent convictions.

The tipping point for Collins, who represents Ward 5 in the east end, was a recent stroll along the Red Hill Valley trail.

"There is not a sign in place throughout the trail where there isn't some form of graffiti," he said.

He says spray vandalism is also rampant on valley bridges and noise walls along the parkway itself.

While Mayor Fred Eisenberger supports the push to find more and
better ways to tackle the problem, he noted city staff and police are
already hard at it.

"There's no sense that anyone has dropped the ball on this," Eisenberger said.

Certainly, Hamilton police have had a special graffiti prevention
program in place for the last three years, which saw a rise in charges
and the number of citizen calls soar from 123 to 516.

And it's good to know that police are once again targeting graffiti
this year. (If you see someone in the act of tagging, you're supposed
to call police at 911. The city has its own hotline -- 905-546-2489 --
for reporting graffiti that's already up.)

Nonetheless, there is an uneasy feeling that even if we're not
fighting a losing battle against urban scrawl, we're not winning it,

A ramble through the city reveals far too many unsightly splatters
and defacing tags on both public and private property, from fences and
walls to bus shelters and mailboxes.

"We're chasing our own tails," Collins said.

Dan Rodrigues, chair of the Clean City Liaison Committee, agrees
council needs to take stronger action but says age bans on spray bombs
don't do the trick.

"We know that London does have a bylaw restricting selling spray
cans and markers to youths 18 and under, but we also know that it has
little or no impact on the amount of graffiti in their neighbourhoods."

Rodrigues says research suggests that rapid removal of graffiti is the most effective remedy.

To that end, his committee wants council to change the rules so
property owners will have just 72 hours to remove graffiti once they've
been notified of a complaint. Property owners currently have 19 days to
clean up before facing a fine or being billed for the work by the city.

"We know the longer it sits there, it's just going to attract more graffiti because it becomes acceptable," Rodrigues said.

His committee also wants council to study how much it would cost the
city to take on removal costs for both private and public property.

Although it's estimated the city currently spends about $250,000 a
year combatting it, Rodrigues says the exact figure is not known
because the cost is buried in various departmental budgets.

Still, whether a sale ban or quick removal is the way to go, the
drum beat to ramp up the war against visual pollution is clearly
getting louder.

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