Stolen copper showing up again in Calgary scrap yards

People who buy and recycle used metal need to work harder at catching crooks who peddle stolen copper, say Calgary police.

More policing needed, says metal recycler

Scrap metal recyclers are calling on police in Calgary to do a better job of catching criminals who steal and then sell stolen copper. (CBC)

The owner of a scrap metal yard wants Calgary police to turn their attention, once again, to cracking down on copper thieves.

"People are going in and stealing it from substations and it's really affecting critical infrastructure — 911, power to people's homes. This is the real concern," said Dan Klufas, owner of Federal Metals in the city's southeast.

Fuelling the problem is copper's high value. Some grades of copper can fetch almost $3 a pound, says Klufas.

Klufas, who is also vice-chair of the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries, buys used industrial materials and finds a new market for them.

He has a steady group of regular customers made up of electricians and landfill pickers, but says more and more, he's being presented with what he believes is stolen copper.

"The police force has sort of fallen apart and we're seeing a resurgence here, because all of the stakeholders are not all involved," he said. 

​Klufas says officers used to monitor the issue more closely through what he calls a "stolen metallic unit." 

"It was fantastic, we had six or seven police officers — we could pick up the phone, call them and say, 'Hey can you check on this fellow for me?' and they would check on him," said Klufas.

Copper's sky-high value on the scrap market is fuelling a theft problem that is costing lives and money. (CBC)

A spokesperson for the Calgary police says while the force is actively involved in tracking metal thieves, it has never had a unit solely dedicated to catching copper robbers.

However, between 2012 amd 2013, its stolen property unit was involved in "Operation Metallica" — a joint investigation with the RCMP and Tsuu T'ina Nation.

A group of "prolific thieves" stole more than $90,000 worth of industrial copper cable from transit lines and telecommunications towers in southern Alberta.

While several men and women were charged and arrested, CBC News was told a few also died from electrocution. 

Scrapyards must weed out thieves

Klufas says the onus is on scrapyard owners, like him, to identify whether the copper is stolen.

"It puts us in a very difficult position. We don't want to buy this, but there's really no way of telling if we are."

And if they make a mistake, the cost is enormous.

"First I lose that copper, so they confiscate that copper for evidence. So I'm out the $15,000 of copper. Plus I stand to have some significant fines put on me for actually buying stolen copper."

Calgary police say, just like pawn shop owners, it is the responsibility of scrapyard dealers to weed out stolen goods.


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