To Lise Mitra, it’s a sign of ridiculous times.
To the City of Kamloops community services department — formerly known as the bylaws sector — it is a case of enforcing those bylaws.
Shortly after midnight on Canada Day, a number of large, storefront windows on Victoria Street were smashed. Among the glass to shatter was a window shared by Mitra, who owns the Continental Barbershop at 319 Victoria St., and Genesis Salon, Spa, Boutique.
Mitra said the man who went on the vandalism spree then pulled a knife on a female passerby who called 9-1-1, before knocking the phone out of her hand. Three men came to the rescue, tackling the vandal and holding him until police arrived.
With the large window smashed and Mitra on a long waiting list to have it repaired, a sheet of plywood was installed in the interim.
But it was what Mitra wrote on that sheet of plywood that drew a complaint from someone, with that complaint leading to a visit on July 14 from two community service officers.
“Continental + Genesis want to thank our heroes — Lindsay, Trevor, Darryl & Carlo. We are so grateful! You guys are amazing. Don’t become complacent!! Let’s use our voices to make our streets safe again. Report Crime!”
Lise said the message is one of gratitude and community safety.
“It is literally nothing that the RCMP doesn’t say all the time,” she said.
Mitra said she was outside her barbershop when the community service officers dropped by. She said she was told the message on the plywood covering the broken window was contrary to the city’s sign bylaw and that she would either have to take it down, paint over it or face a fine.
“And I kind of snapped because I've already been through enough with that stupid window,” Mitra said. “He said it is a bylaw infraction, which is really ironic because there's a panhandler, like, six feet away and, apparently, that's not a bylaw infraction, but me putting a totally innocent message is a bylaw infraction.”
Mitra said, given the choices presented to her, she told the officers the message on the plywood was staying and that she would take the fine.
“I said, ‘Fine me then. Go ahead, because I'm not covering it over. There's nothing wrong with that message. There is nothing bad about that message whatsoever," Mitra said. “I was just so totally blown away and absolutely astounded. The message I get from that is that they're not there to protect the taxpaying citizens.
“They're here to protect the criminals. We get harassed all the time. I have to clean up from my alcove needles and feces and urine and and all sorts of crack pipe stuff. Our back alley — I don’t even want to talk about our back alley. We've actually had people come in and harass us and we've called the cops and we’ve called bylaw. I don't even call anymore because they don't do anything.”
Community services manager Tammy Blundell told KTW her department received a complaint and the two officers were acting on that complaint. She said they went out to educate, rather than to issue a warning or fine.
Blundell said the issue with the message in the plywood is that it contravenes the city’s sign bylaw. She did not specify which part of the bylaw the plywood message contravenes, although Division Four of the bylaw states: "No person shall construct, erect, enlarge, convert, alter or relocate any sign except those exempted under this by-law without first having obtained a valid permit to do so as herein provided."
The sign bylaw can be read by clicking here.
“What it comes down to is that if we let one person do it, then we have to be fair and let everybody do it,” Blundell said. “Imagine 50 business owners on Victoria Street, all with the same sign or similar sign. What would Victoria Street look like? And how many complaints would we be receiving?”
Blundell said officers have discretion when proactively patrolling, but not so much when responding to a complaint.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to when we receive a complaint, we have to act on it,” she said. “So it's challenging, right? Because we have to play both sides. We have to be there to serve the public and we also have to react to complaints.”
Blundell was asked if the situation would be different had Mitra painted a picture on the plywood, rather than written words.
“Then it would fall under under a mural because a mural is under the graffiti bylaw and it’s a totally different process to have a mural.”
Both Mitra’s message and potential artwork on the plywood would contravene bylaws, Blundell said,
“Yeah, technically it would because they have to follow the process. One’s either a sign or a mural. And a mural process has to go though a committee and I don’t have the authority to say yes or no whether that qualifies as a mural.”
Such rules, Blundell said, are aimed at maintaining consistency downtown.
Had Mitra taken those words of gratitude and community safety and written them on a big piece of paper and taped it to the inside of her barbershop window, would she be clear of bylaws infractions?
“Yeah, or post something on social media to say thank you or post something in Kamloops This Week. There is a way to say thank you,” Blundell said.
While insurance will cover most of the cost of the window, Mitra will still need to shell out several hundred dollars for the repair, which is scheduled to take place on July 20.
Mitra noted she paints rainbows in her windows every year to support Pride events.
“Rainbows are not offensive. What I wrote on the plywood is not offensive,” she said. “None of it is offensive.”