London

Scrap yard business manager 'insulted' over city's use of undercover officers

A scrap yard business owner says the city's use of undercover bylaw officers to target his industry is wrong and doesn't take into account the complexity of social issues in the city.

Charlie Gelinas says a bylaw officer dressed as a homeless person brought in scrap metal in a shopping cart

Charlie Gelinas says 'it's insulting' that the city would spend resources on undercover officers to ticket a business for purchasing $2 worth of materials. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

A scrap yard business manager says the city's use of undercover bylaw officers to target his industry is wrong and doesn't take into account the complexity of social issues in London. 

Charlie Gelinas is the manager of Specialized Recycling Inc., one of five businesses charged during a bylaw enforcement blitz, in which undercover officers aimed to crack down on the illegal sale of stolen goods, particularly catalytic converters, which are being stolen from parked cars and then sold to scrap yards for quick cash.  

"The way to address the theft problem is not by sending bylaw enforcement staff around to local businesses, impersonating homeless people, lying about their identity and bringing in two dollars worth of tin in an effort to entrap a business," Gelinas said. 

"I think it's insulting that the city would be spending resources on this kind of thing. It seriously calls into question the discretion and judgment of the person who would authorize such an action," he added.

How the purchase went down 

Gelinas says the scale attendant asked for the man's name in order to purchase the materials in his shopping cart. Under a city bylaw, salvage yards must verify a person's identity before doing so. "An ID is a significant barrier to [homeless] people ... I think it's incumbent upon us as a business to open our doors to everybody in the community irrespective of what walk of life they come from,' Gelinas said. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

Gelinas says back in January, a man wearing old track pants and sneakers pushing a shopping cart showed up to his door looking to sell some materials. 

"It was a rotten fluorescent light, a piece of wire and a propane tank. Absolutely nothing suspicious," he said. "It looked like the kind of material that the city would leave behind on garbage day," Gelinas added.

Surveillance video from Jan. 13 shows the man Gelinas described, pushing a shopping cart with the light, wire and tank into the facility. CBC News asked city bylaw if the man in the video was an officer, but city staff wouldn't confirm or deny.

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

Gelinas says the scale attendant then asked for the man's name to fill in the receipt and purchased the materials for $5, even though they were worth half of that. According to Gelinas, his attendant paid the man double to help him out as he seemed like he might be sleeping rough.

A week later, he says the man showed up at his business again and revealed that he was a bylaw enforcement officer and issued a ticket for purchasing material without verifying the sellers's identity. 

"An ID is a significant barrier to [homeless] people and we did ask for his name ...  I think it's incumbent upon us as a business to open our doors to everybody in the community irrespective of what walk of life they come from," Gelinas said. 

"I was frankly appalled that the city would even stoop to such a level in order to manufacture a charge. It should be beneath the city to act in such a fashion," he said. 

What the city says

When asked if undercover officers were part of the blitz, Orest Katolyk, the city's chief bylaw enforcement officer, said they don't discuss their protocols. 

"I don't believe that anybody was being targeted because regulations that are set by council aren't really worth the paper they're written on unless they're audited for compliance," Katolyk said. 

"So, I would question that perception that somebody that comes in with just a little bit of metal should not get verified for their identification. I think people would have a difference of opinion if their bicycle or lawnmower got stolen out of their back shed," he added.  

The City of London conducted the blitz in an effort to crack down on the sale of illegally obtained goods. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

Gelinas says he's ready to contest the $350 fine. 

"It isn't the [money]," he said. 

"If it were thirty five cents, I would be contesting it because of the underhanded and dishonest fashion in which they conducted themselves in issuing it."

With files from the CBC's Kerry McKee

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