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Langford graffiti lawsuit settled in groundbreaking case

A Langford bylaw officer take photo of graffiti for the City's records. A ground-breaking lawsuit concluded Thursday between Langford and a graffiti tagger in a case going back to 2008.

A graffiti tagger who caused $30,000 in vandalism across Langford three years ago has settled damages with the City in a precedent-setting civil court case.

On Thursday, a judge in Victoria Supreme Court authorized an settlement between the man – who is now in his early 20s, but was underage at the time of the offenses – his parents and the City of Langford.

The man has agreed to pay Langford $1,800 in damages over 18 months and commit to 100 hours of community service, which the court deems to be worth $7,500 total. He also has to pay Cedric Steele Realty $885 and Pacific Coast Floor Covering $269 for damages. His parents have agreed to pay $2,000 to the Goldstream Food Bank.

The order also says the man must seek counselling for his “graffiti addiction,” and can’t posses spray paint or instruments used in graffiti vandalism. 

Three years ago, Langford and two businesses sued the man and his family for nearly $30,000 in damages related to extensive tagging on public and private property between September 2006 and March 2008. The City blamed the man for 200 graffiti hits – his signature tag was “Block 642” – on at least 20 businesses and scores of public spaces. 

The man’s lawyer, Sarah Klinger, said her client is willing and able to pay and commit to the community service, which involved graffiti cleanup and park beautification in Langford. 

“This has been a long road. At this point he is quite anxious to put it all behind him,” Klinger said outside the Victoria courthouse.

Langford municipal lawyer Troy DeSouza said the settlement is a compromise between the City and the family – it’s meant to send a message that graffiti won’t be tolerated, while not being unduly harsh on the offender. 

“We recognize young people make mistakes and do stupid things,” DeSouza said. ”We don’t want to penalize his future with a heavy mortgage, but we want to be firm. Certainly more firm than the ($325) fine in provincial court.” 

In April 2008, the man pleaded guilty to nine counts of criminal mischief, was fined $325 and completed 40 hours of community service. Outraged at the slap on the wrist, Langford council initiated a lawsuit against the man and his parents, the first time a municipality had pursued a vandal for damages in civil court in Canada.

“He was a very serious vandal,” DeSouza said. “He was a hardcore graffiti vandal, the best of the best in the south Vancouver Island area.”  

Langford bylaw enforcement officers broke the case open in early 2008, after discovering the identity of another busy tagger who used the signature “Rez,” and who was part of same crew as “Block 642.”  

Langford also sued “Rez,” who in October 2009 agreed to pay Langford $6,400 in damages and complete 30 hours of community service. Langford became the first community in B.C. to receive a judicial order to recover funds used to clean graffiti vandalism from the vandal.

The court order issued Thursday with “Block 642” again is an agreement related to repayment for vandalism, but it also establishes that parents can be financially liable for their offspring’s actions. 

“For the first time in Canada the parents will pay and acknowledge responsibility in not curtailing graffiti vandalism from their kid,” DeSouza said. “This court order is the first time (the courts) have establishes parental responsibility.

“This isn’t a judgment against the parents,” he stressed. “They seem to be decent people, but at the end of the day there are damages. There is a loss to the community and someone has to pay up.”

DeSouza also noted the City was willing to take the case to trial, which would have cost both sides tens of thousands of dollars, far more than the settlement. 

Thursday's court order helps clarify case law when it comes to parental responsibility, DeSouza said, which should act as a "soft warning" to parents that they could be held financially responsible if their children commit vandalism.

"For parents this is a caution," he said. "If police come knocking on your door for something your kid did, take it seriously."  

Langford senior bylaw officer Lorne Fletcher said during long period of negotiations, Langford’s side discovered the man’s parents made sincere efforts to curtail their son’s vandalism. On the other hand, Fletcher said the parents became aware of the extent of damage across the city.

“There is no negative out of this,” Fletcher said. “We are not seeing the same level of graffiti over the last few years. There’s been a lot of really good work done.”

Fletcher also noted that government officials from half a dozen municipalities across Canada have contacted Langford about how the City pursued its vandalism cases.

“We’ve discovered a lot of local governments don’t realize they have options,” Fletcher said. “Never before has a local government taken these steps to hold someone responsible for their actions. The overall message is clear: This community will not tolerate this kind of vandalism.”