Guardin’ City: Mapping “No Loitering” signs in downtown Victoria

During the week of September 11th, 2017, I took photos of every “no loitering,” “no trespassing,” “no camping,” and “private property” sign I could find in downtown Victoria. I’ve mapped those signs below.

I made this map because I wanted to show the prevalence of these signs in the downtown core. It’s important to note, however, that this map can’t be used as a guide for where these activities might be allowed. Even if a property doesn’t have “No Loitering” signs, for example, that doesn’t mean that the owners, the police, or city bylaw officers won’t try to move people along. The map is simply a visual representation of how the city has embraced laws that are disproportionately used to displace people in street community.

The map uses property outlines put online by the city. Properties are outlined by land “parcels,” not individual addresses. All of Market Square, for example, is one parcel, even though it contains multiple businesses and addresses. I attached photos to each parcel, as appropriate, and sorted them into categories. If a parcel shows up on the map as having a “No Loitering” sign, it means that somewhere on that parcel is a “No Loitering” sign. It does not mean that every business, address, or tenant within that parcel has a “No Loitering” sign. Keeping that limitation in mind, please do not make assumptions about whether or not a particular business or address has any type of sign based on this map alone.

This map includes photos of all of the signs I found, except for duplicates found on the same parcel. [Note: As of March, 2018, the majority of the photos have disappeared due to an unknown problem with the map] I’ve done my best to map the signs correctly, but if I’ve made a mistake, please let me know! The map is intended to be a snapshot of what Victoria looked like during the week of September 11th, 2017. I’m happy to fix incorrect information and to add signs that were likely present during that week; however, this map will not be kept up to date as new signs go up or as old ones come down.

Below the map you’ll find some tips on how to use it, as well as some brief thoughts on Victoria’s “No Loitering” signs. If you're using a computer, I suggest clicking the top right corner of the map to open it in a new window.

Using this map

  • You can turn layers on and off (e.g., “No Camping Signs”) by clicking the “sidebar” button at the top left of the map, and then choosing the layers you would like to see. Click the sidebar again to return to the map.
  • Clicking a parcel will show you information on any signs found there. “Yes” means the parcel has the type of sign indicated; “No” means it does not have that type of sign. Images of those signs will also be displayed. Clicking the images will display additional photos, if any.
  • I didn’t photograph “No Smoking,” “No Soliciting,” “Area Under Surveillance,” or security signs, with the exception of Themis Security signs that say “No Trespassing.”
  • The “Enforcement, Prosecution, or Arrest” category refers to signs that mention a police response, prosecution, or arrest.
  • “Community Includes Everyone” signs were produced as part of a campaign by the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG).
  • The “Other Signs” layer includes signs telling people not to panhandle, play hacky sack, deposit chattel goods, skateboard, etc.
  • The map contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – City of Victoria.

Loitering in Victoria

VIPIRG writes that “Many street-involved people – and especially those who are homeless and/or unstably housed – have no choice but to use public spaces to meet their basic needs.” Loitering and trespassing rules are disproportionately enforced against those groups, which include people who may not have their own private space to sit, sleep, work, or hang out.

If you’ve walked around downtown Victoria, you’ve probably seen signs of all types telling people to take a hike. In 2007, the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) began distributing signs telling people not to camp, trespass, loiter, or solicit. According to the Times Colonist, some businesses also “sen[t] forms to Victoria police, authorizing officers to go to particular properties to enforce the Trespass Act.” The Times Colonist wrote in an earlier article that the trespassing law was updated by the provincial government in 2004 to “allo[w] property owners to prohibit an activity … on their premises by oral or written notice.” Hence the signs, I suppose, which are also encouraged by the police. In response to “concerns with trespassing” at one provincial government office, the Victoria Police Department told them to use “‘police authorized’ no trespass signage,” which mentions the possibility of arrest.

"Private Property. No camping, trespassing, loitering, or soliciting. Police are authorized to enforce and arrest in accordance with Sections 4 & 10 of the BC Trespass Act."

"Private Property. No camping, trespassing, loitering, or soliciting. Police are authorized to enforce and arrest in accordance with Sections 4 & 10 of the BC Trespass Act."

I counted ninety-nine parcels with signs that threaten arrest or prosecution, which is about one parcel in four. 113 parcels have signs that say “no loitering”; 113 have signs that say “no trespassing”; 90 specify “no camping”; and 26 say they have “no public washroom,” a resource that’s in short supply in Victoria. Ninety-one parcels have signs letting everyone know that the sidewalk, alcove, parking lot, or alley in question is “private property.” In the past, the DVBA has praised private property signs as “one element in our ongoing effort to … create a safe and vibrant downtown.”

I took hundreds of photos of these signs, and I didn’t see a vibrant downtown. I saw a city that is, frankly, pretty mean. Of course it’s governments, not individual property owners, that have chosen poverty and homelessness for thousands of people. But when businesses, condos, churches, and the city join together to tell people they’re not wanted — a message that’s directed primarily at the street community — I think those groups bear a collective responsibility for contributing to a Victoria that’s less friendly, less vibrant, and less safe for the people these signs push away.

The signs are a symptom of a community that is used to responding to poverty by ignoring it or policing it. “No Loitering” signs didn’t get us to this place, but they do normalize displacement. The fact that the signs are so prevalent points to a much deeper problem with how the city responds to visible poverty. If every one of these signs came down tomorrow, anti-poor stigma would still be rampant in Victoria, and the street community would still be met with police and bylaw officers every day. It could, however, go some small way to starting to undo that stigma.

Stephen Harrison