London·Video

London poverty advocates question 'distasteful' tactics in scrapyard sting

London poverty advocates are questioning the tactics used by city by-law officers in a recent crackdown on scrapyards that buy stolen goods, calling them 'distasteful' and saying they may be doing more harm than good.

Officials said crackdown aimed at stopping theft of metals such as copper and palladium

Chuck Lazenby questions 'distasteful' city tactics 0:41

London poverty advocates are questioning what some are calling unsavoury tactics used by city bylaw officers in a recent crackdown on local scrap yards.

City hall alleges salvage yards play a key role in fuelling the city's black market trade ​​of stolen goods by buying car parts, such as catalytic converters without verifying a sellers' identification. Bylaw enforcement officials announced Monday five salvage yards were charged during a January crackdown.

The sting angered one scrap yard owner, who publicly accused bylaw officers of lying and impersonating homeless people during a crackdown he called "insulting." 

Now, London poverty advocates are also calling into question the city's use of tactics in the operation, saying they were in poor taste and may have done more harm than good. 

I think it's not just distasteful, but perpetuates a stigma.- Chuck Lazenby

"I think it's not just distasteful, but perpetuates a stigma"," said Chuck Lazenby, the executive director of the Unity Project for Homelessness Relief in London. "It's upsetting. It's poor tactics." 

Bylaw officials said the crackdown was aimed at stopping the theft of valuable metals, such as copper and palladium, which a city news release pointed out are found in catalytic converters. 

Except in a video released by Specialized Recycling Inc., a man the owners claim is an undercover bylaw official, appears to be pushing a shopping cart filled with a fluorescent light fixture and an old propane tank. 

Surveillance video submitted by Specialized Recycling shows a man pushing a fluorescent light and propane tank in a shopping cart on Jan. 13, 2020. 0:25

Tuesday marked the second day city officials would neither confirm or deny the man in the video is a bylaw officer. 

Lazenby said what bothers her most is the context in which the city's undercover enforcement happened. 

"It correlates people with a shopping cart to a criminal and that's not okay" she said. 

"Why isn't someone showing up with a catalytic converter? That would be more of the tactic I would expect if that were the concern," she said.  

I was trying to be nice and they've basically taught me not to be nice.- Luke Zubick

"I think it disproportionately targets people who are looking for a couple of bucks just to get through the day."

At John Zubick's Limited, one of the other five scrap yards charged in the January enforcement blitz, the undercover bylaw officer showed up with about 80 pounds of metal goods, according to Luke Zubick, a manager at the facility. 

"To me, it looked like a gentleman cleaning up his garage," he said. "We try not to judge here." 

Zubick said the 80 pounds of metal included a couple of bike frames, an aluminum radiator and some tin, all told, worth about six dollars. 

Chuck Lazenby is the executive director of the Unity Project for the Relief of Homelessness in London. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"Nobody is going to steal that to try to make money off it," he said. "It's just not practical." 

Zubick said at first staff said no, but the man insisted.

"I told him this time only, we were going to make an exception," he said. "I was trying to be nice and they've basically taught me not to be nice." 

Zubick said kindness earned his business a nearly $400 fine and a pledge never to sell to anyone without ID, no matter how down on their luck someone might seem. 

"It's a lesson for us," he said. "We won't take anything right now without a drivers license, which unfortunately singles out a lot of people." 

London homelessness advocate Abe Oudshoorn said he worries the change in policy by scrap yards could cut off a lot of vulnerable people in the city from a valuable form of income. 

"I think that's really sad to hear," he said. "If you're requiring someone to have identification to make money off of something that's a legal transaction, you're shutting out a lot of people."

"I think we need to throw this policy back to the drawing board." 

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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