Nova Scotia

Scrap metal bill targets copper thieves

Nova Scotia will require scrap metal dealers to record details of their buys as a way to crack down on metal thieves.

Nova Scotia will require scrap metal dealers to record details of their buys as a way to crack down on metal thieves.

The Safe Collection of Scrap Metal Act was introduced in the provincial legislature Thursday.

The province wants to crack down on metal theft. (CBC)

Once passed, dealers and recyclers will have to record all of their transactions, along with the name of every seller. Violators will face a fine of up to $5,000 or one year in jail.

The government is hoping to discourage thieves from ripping copper wire off power poles, substations and oil tanks.

"We know that thieves put the health of workers at risk when copper wire is stolen from power stations … [and] that homeowners and individuals lose emotionally and financially when oil tank lines are cut and fuel seeps into their yards," Justice Minister Ross Landry said in a statement.

Businesses suffer when material is taken from job sites, he added.

The province says police investigate more than 300 cases of metal theft a year.

Greg Fong was the unfortunate victim in such a case.

After a thief took a copper line worth about $15, Fong's oil tank spilled its contents and cost him much, much more.

The work took weeks, and cost him $120,000.

"Oh it's an enormous emotional toll, I mean it's difficult to have to swallow," Fong said, before needing to stop to regain his composure.

For Nova Scotia Power, copper theft at substations is not only an expensive problem, it's a matter of life and death.

"Down on the south shore this year, we had an event where we had linemen, experienced long-term linemen, running from our substation because oil-filled porcelain equipment was exploding and there were shards of porcelain going everywhere," said Frank Woodworth for NSP.

Landry said this is just the first step.

Greg Fong paid $120,000 to fix an oil spill mess after copper thieves took a wire from his oil tank. (CBC)

"I think it's a start. Whether it's enough or not, we'll have to look at what other gaps are there, but the initial part is that one of the avenues that they have to move the stolen goods is being blocked," Landry said.

Scrap metal dealers say stolen material accounts for no more than two per cent of all the scrap metal they see. The industry has said it's unfair to burden dealers with more red tape when they already co-operate with police.

Wyatt Redmond, vice-president of the Eastern Recycler's Association, said the obligation to record sales and check for identification is extra red tape, but better than what was originally planned.

"The legislation has been trimmed down to a fine legislation, very simple, not too much detail. Unfortunately the regulations can come in pretty heavy, we're not sure," said Redmond.

Landry said there will be an opportunity for consultation before the bill is passed.

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