Stolen metal law comes into force in B.C.

B.C.'s new anti-metal theft law comes into effect, but critics say it will do little to stop the multi-million dollar trade in stolen metal.
In a joint investigation with CBC News, Vancouver Sun reporter Mike Hager goes undercover to sell a Telus phone booth for scrap metal. (Vancouver Sun)

B.C.'s new anti-metal theft law comes into effect today, but critics say it will do little to stop the problem.

The new law aims to curb the multi-million-dollar trade in stolen metal, which mostly affects utilities such as BC Hydro and Telus, but also has far-reaching consequences for the public.

Cost of Metal Theft

  • Thieves stole live Telus cable 380 times in 2011 at a cost of $19 million.
  • Last year, the City of Surrey spent $2.8 million to repair street light wire, up from $15,000 in 2005. Based on the amount spent so far this year, losses will hit the $3-million range in 2012.
  • The City of Langley spent $146,000 in 2011 to repair stolen wire from streetlights. So far this year, it has spent $29,000 and that number is expected to spike in the summer months.

Under the new law, the province's 60 to 70 scrap metal dealers will be forced to file daily reports to police, who will be able to compare the information with reports of metal theft.

Sellers with more than $50 in scrap will be paid by cheque, not cash, to reduce walk-in traffic by individuals who want quick cash.

Sellers will also be required to give their personal identity information to the dealers and police will be able to obtain that information with a court order if they believe the metal was illegally obtained.

Seven provincial inspectors will be assigned to do spot checks of scrap yards, on top of doing their current jobs inspecting B.C.'s private security industry.

Dealers who fail to register with the government and fulfill reporting requirements face fines of up to $100,000.

Not punishing criminals

Len Shaw, executive director of the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries, says dealers, not thieves, are being criminalized.

"It won't stop it because they've done nothing to increase the resources for the police, nothing to prevent people from stealing it and it does nothing to prosecute the criminals," said Shaw.

Last month, a joint CBC News-Vancouver Sun hidden camera investigation into "hot metal" caught several Lower Mainland dealers buying illegal scrap metal, in violation of municipal by-laws.

In one case, CAC Enterprises Group in Maple Ridge was caught buying a clearly-marked Telus phone booth for $15.

Telus is one of the biggest victims of the "hot metal" trade and frequently sees everything from copper phone wires to aluminum phone booths stolen for illegal sale.

But it’s not just companies that are affected. In May, thieves cut five Telus cables in Delta, knocking out telephone and 911 service to nearly 3,000 homes and businesses.

In another case, thieves stole the wiring from a home that was under construction in Surrey's upscale Panorama Ridge neighbourhood.

Homeowner Paul Roop told CBC News the repair and replacement cost $60,000 and put the completion date for his house back six months, while the profit for the thieves was estimated to be about $100.