Nova Scotia

Proposed law targets copper bandits

The Nova Scotia government wants to hear from the scrap metal industry before it cracks down on copper theft.
Copper wire is valuable to thieves if they can sell what they steal. (CBC)
The Nova Scotia government wants to hear from the scrap metal industry before it cracks down on copper theft.

The New Democrats plan to require scrap metal dealers and recyclers to record their transactions, including the name of the seller. Dealers and recyclers would also be required to contact police if they get industrial copper wire.

Violators would face a fine of up to $5,000 or one year in jail.

But before introducing legislation later this fall, the province wants to hear from people like Wyatt Redmond, head of an organization that represents scrap metal dealers.

Redmond said the problem of copper theft should be addressed by targeting the people who steal the metal from homes and businesses, not creating more paperwork for recyclers.

"Rather than charging somebody for stealing say from Nova Scotia Power 3,000 pounds of copper, charge them for the offence that they've caused, maybe a grid going out, perhaps a hospital having to go on backup power or perhaps millions of dollars in damages," he told CBC News on Wednesday.

"With one example made or two, people would not go and try this stuff knowing full well they could face five to 10 years in prison."

'Fine them'

Joe Balogh supports that tough approach. Someone cut a small piece of copper line worth $6 from his furnace tank, causing an oil spill.

Balogh and his wife, both in their 80s, were forced out of their Dartmouth home for several weeks.

"Don't just give them a slap on the wrist. Fine them," he said. "Not just me but a lot of people that have had this happen to them, they've gone through a lot of grief."

The theft of copper is an ongoing problem in Nova Scotia. There have been several power outages over the years because someone vandalized equipment to get at the copper.

In 2008, the Progressive Conservative government of the day proposed a crackdown on copper theft, but the plan was abandoned.

Redmond said stolen material accounts for no more than two per cent of all the scrap metal his industry sees.

He said it's not fair to burden buyers with more red tape when 98 per cent of their business is legal and they already co-operate with police when suspicious sellers show up.

The province says the consultation process, which ends Oct. 21, is open to the public. The government says it will introduce its legislation after that.