New B.C. regulations clamping down on metal theft are now in effect but nobody’s predicting the scourge will be wiped out any time soon.
Scrap metal buyers now must keep a daily log of their purchases and suppliers, who have to provide identification, be registered and can only be paid by cheque for amounts over $50.
The Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act aims to plug gaps in the patchwork of different municipal bylaws drawn up by cities to try to combat wire theft.
“Hopefully we’ve landed at a place where we have something that will work effectively,” said provincial spokesman and Chilliwack MLA John Les, adding the government will consider further changes if necessary.
“There are some awfully wily people out there who are sometimes pretty clever in figuring out the workarounds.”
While bylaws have helped reduce unscrupulous salvage metal buying in a dozen Lower Mainland cities, wire and other objects are still pilfered in those areas and then resold where no bylaws exist.
Despite having a bylaw, the City of Surrey alone incurred nearly $3 million in losses last year and media stings have found spotty compliance among local dealers.
Telus pegs its losses to metal thieves at $16 million last year – resulting in phone service outages that left customers unable to use 911 in emergencies – and the firm is averaging an incident each day so far this year.
“We hope it will be a turning point in the battle against metal theft in B.C.,” Telus vice-president Dave Cunningham said of the new law.
He wouldn’t estimate how much Telus might pare its losses, but said the company would be happy if it could halt the steady climb in metal theft incidents.
Everything from phone and power lines to phone booths and manhole covers get dragged in to metal salvagers, mainly by prolific offenders in search of drug money.
Provincial inspectors will also do periodic spot checks of the more than 120 scrap metal dealers in B.C. to ensure they register and comply with the rules.
Violators face fines of up to $100,000 and possible jail time.
The regulations cover not just wire – the main target of thieves – but other specific metal objects like traffic lights, signs, sewer grates and metal grave markers.
The new law was a long time coming – municipalities and utilities had been lobbying for action since at least 2006.
Questions abound over how much use police will be able to make of the information collected by buyers to pursue suspected thieves.
Dealers are supposed to relay the information on what they buy daily and police can compare that to reports of stolen items and then get a court order for more information as needed.
Surrey RCMP Supt. Bill Fordy said greater dealer accountability will give police more scope to investigate.
“If we see a pattern of persons bringing in items to a certain contact, it gives us a point to initiate an investigation and we can go from there,” Fordy said.
Surrey RCMP recently arrested a pair of prolific offenders with 700 pounds of copper wire and busted another 35 metal theft suspects last year.
Fordy admitted a planned system for scrap dealers around the province to electoronically send their buyer logs to local police isn’t yet in place and he had no estimate of when it will be ready.
“It is a priority – we’ll deal with it as quickly as we can.”
Critics in the recycling industry contend the rules put too much onus on them instead of the thieves.
Telus VP Dave Cunningham and Surrey RCMP Supt. Bill Fordy examine a piece of cut cable.