In February 2017, a group of thieves executed one of the biggest produce heists in Canadian history, stealing $100,000 worth of blueberries from a trucking yard in Hamilton.
The yard’s owner/operator suffered not only an immediate hit to his bottom line, but was at risk of losing his insurance, and going out of business altogether. All this while facing the dwindling chances of recovering a perishable product that disappears quickly on the streets – a reality the police attempted to address with a new real-time strategy to track down the perpetrators.
The #BlueberryBandit episode is a bit different in the Farm Crime series in that the crime took place thousands of kilometres from the farm where the blueberries were harvested. It’s also the most layered of all of the stories the production company, Big Cedar Films, investigated.
It gave the production team an opportunity to explore a number of farm crime-related issues like food security in transport, the sale of black market produce, and particularly, the way the farm crimes are covered in the press. The headlines in these types of stories are often littered with puns and bear a tone that sometimes feels a little too light given the seriousness of the offenses.
In this case, the Hamilton Police Service sent out a tweet asking if anybody had seen the "#BlueberryBandit." Sure, it got the public’s attention and went viral — but did it help in apprehending the perpetrators? How did the victim feel about this form of publicity? Perhaps the increased awareness justified the cheeky messaging? The answers aren’t always easy, but one thing is certain — farm crime is no laughing matter.
Farm crime facts:
- Four days after the blueberries were stolen from the transport yard in Hamilton, a trailer with $50,000 worth of milk was taken from a parking lot in nearby Mississauga.
- Blueberries are Canada’s top fruit export, but in the winter we import most of our fresh blueberries from Chile.
- Chile is the biggest blueberry producer in the southern hemisphere and the second largest producer of cultivated blueberries in the world.
- In 2017, there were more than 1,300 reported cargo thefts in Canada, with 90 per cent of them taking place in the Greater Toronto Area.
- Cargo crime costs the Canadian economy $5 billion a year according to a study by the Canadian Trucking Alliance.