Catalytic converter thefts up across Alberta despite legislation to curb crime

Catalytic converter thefts have risen across Alberta despite legislation aimed at deterring their sale.

Protecting Alberta Industry from Theft Act was passed last year

Edmonton's Food Bank has had multiple catalyst convertors stolen in recent years — including last February, when this photo was taken. (Edmonton's Food Bank/Twitter)

Catalytic converter thefts have risen across Alberta despite legislation aimed at making it harder for criminals to sell stolen metals for scrap.

Catalytic converters are part of an exhaust system, converting pollutants to less toxic material before they're expelled. They contain small amounts of metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium, which have risen in value in recent years.

Thefts are a problem seen across Canada. Edmonton's Food Bank has had several catalytic converters stolen from the trucks it uses for delivery.

"It's unfortunate that not only are the food banks and other non-profits being targeted, but individuals too," said spokesperson Tamisan Bencz-Knight. 

"That somebody just needs to get up, go to work, and they can't even start their car in the morning."

She said towing the trucks and replacing stolen converters costs money that could be better used for charity work.

An unseen man holds up a catalytic converter, which is thick in the middle with pipes coming out either end.
Catalytic converters contain valuable precious metals — thieves typically crawl under vehicles to cut them out and then sell. (Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press)

Alberta passed the Protecting Alberta Industry from Theft Act in 2020. The legislation creates requirements for dealers to report transactions to law enforcement and for all payments to be made using traceable forms of currency, such as electronic transfers or cheques.

Sellers also need to provide government-issued photo ID with dealers required to record and retain a seller's ID information as well as details of the transaction.

But since the legislation went into effect on Nov. 1, 2020, catalytic converter thefts have increased across the province.

In Edmonton, there were 2,484 reported catalytic converter thefts between Nov. 1, 2020 and Oct. 31, 2021 — an increase from 1,697 over the same period the previous year.

In Calgary, converter thefts rose from 300 reported thefts in 2020 to 1,014 up until August 2021.

Alberta RCMP said there in reports where catalytic converters were mentioned, there were 647 thefts in 2020 compared to 1,147 in 2021 from January until Nov. 11.

Raising awareness

A spokesperson for Alberta Justice said in an emailed statement the scrap metal legislation works to deter the theft of high-value items, including copper cables and catalytic converters.

The province created and funded the transaction database but because police operate independently of the government, questions regarding how these tools are being used are best directed to agencies, the spokesperson said.

Edmonton Police Service spokesperson Scott Pattison said since the legislation went into effect, there have been 3,397 transactions documented mentioning catalytic converters.

Pattison said a number of investigations related to catalytic converters were ongoing, although much of the past year has been spent raising awareness and educating recyclers about their responsibilities.

Between April 1 and Nov. 9, three charges were commenced in the Provincial Court of Alberta under the act.