London·Video

Ontario's cargo theft 'epidemic' is costing you money and seems to be getting worse

Unlike violent crime, cargo factor thefts rarely make the news. When they do, it's usually more for the bizarre factor, rather than a pocketbook issue for consumers.

It's a $5B problem in Canada and only a fraction of stolen goods ever gets recovered

Jim Langeveld holds a GPS device that used to be attached to the cab of one his tractor trailers. In July, thieves ripped it out and ran it over to thwart attempts to track them, after they hotwired one his trucks. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Jim Langeveld doesn't sleep well most nights. 

He runs Country Cargo, a fleet of about 30 tractor trailers at a small but busy shipping yard near Highway 401 in Woodstock, Ont. What keeps him up at night isn't freight rates or whether his drivers make their deliveries on time – it's cargo thieves. 

"These guys know their stuff and I believe they are part of a gang," he said. "I believe they are part of a team of people whose made this their profession."

This summer, thieves hit Langeveld's company hard. In July, they pinched a trailer loaded with $471,0000 worth of Blundstone footwear. To add insult to injury, they hot wired one of Langeveld's own trucks to do it. 

"We really need law enforcement to put an end to it," he said. "It's really frustrating." 

How cargo thieves do their work

'These guys know their stuff:' how cargo thieves operate 2:09

Frustrating because Langeveld said the loss means he'll have to raise his rates, a cost that ultimately gets passed on to consumers, he said. 

"Basically what it boils down to is, a lack of enforcement only hurts honest people," he said. "It affects everybody. Insurance companies never lose money." 

With the exception of police in Peel and York Regions, where most stolen tractor trailers in Ontario end up being recovered, the issue doesn't seem to receive much attention.  

It could because, unlike violent crime, cargo thefts rarely make the news.  When they do, it's rarely framed as a pocketbook issue for consumers. 

The truth is cargo theft costs money. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), there's estimated to be approximately $5 billion worth of cargo theft in Canada every year. Only a fraction of the stolen goods, which range from lobsters, to steaks, to shoes, are ever recovered. 

The IBC said only $52.7 million worth of cargo thefts were recovered last year, compared to $23.6 million worth of goods recovered in the first eight months of 2019.

The IBC says the vast majority of what thieves take go unreported, either because of high deductibles or a company's fear of harming their reputation. Either way, insurance companies say Ontario is a hot bed for stolen cargo – and unless police choose to do more about it, that's not going to change anytime soon. 

"It's epidemic," said Mike Proska, a former Peel Police officer who used to work cargo theft before he started Burl-Oak Investigative Services, a private investigation company, based out of Burlington, Ont. 

Proska said he handles about 100 cases of cargo theft a year. He's hired by people like Jim Langeveld, small business owners who feel police aren't doing enough about the problem. 

Cargo theft a dangerous problem

"I don't fault the police for it because I'd be doing the same," he said, noting that property crime often doesn't get the same attention as violent crime, or firearms, even though he thinks cargo theft presents a real danger to the public. 

"It is dangerous. You got heavy transport equipment and you got us, the public, on the roads," he said.

"Many of these guys are on heroin and other drugs at the time of the theft. They're hurtling down the road with 80,000 pounds, he said.  

Proska believes the problem is sentencing because if the thieves are caught, they often get only a few months house arrest or probation, before they're back on the job again. 

"We see such minimal sentences sometimes," he said. "It makes it difficult. So we need some more stringent sentencing in my opinion." 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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