Downtown condo residents left 'vulnerable' after Canada Post key stolen

A group of Ottawa condominium directors is blaming Canada Post for having antiquated mail delivery policies after a 'master key' that unlocks several downtown residential buildings ended up in the hands of thieves.

Condo group says thieves have been using 'master key' to steal mail

Janine Hutt, a member of the Condo Directors Group, says residents are worried about their personal information after they found out someone with access to a Canada Post “master key” had been stealing mail and packages from their building. 1:03

A group of Ottawa condominium directors is blaming Canada Post for having antiquated mail delivery policies after a key that unlocks several downtown residential buildings was stolen.

The Condo Directors Group says one of Canada Post's "master keys" is now in the hands of a pair of brazen thieves who've been caught on camera dozens of times dating back to January.

The key opens the secure entrance of many downtown buildings, given the holder access to all of the mailboxes and package lockers.  It's meant to allow postal workers unfettered entry to multiple buildings in a neighbourhood.

"We have thousands of residents that have been left vulnerable," said Janine Hutt, one of the group's members. 

Hutt said she's furious that Canada Post isn't being transparent about how many buildings the compromised master key unlocks. 

"[When] you go to your mailbox and you don't see something in it, you're not quite thinking that somebody may have stolen your mail. Because that's not supposed to happen," she said.


Footage of thefts

Hutt said the thefts went unnoticed until a resident found a mailbox left open and unlocked, which prompted a review of security camera footage.

That review showed dozens of thefts at multiple buildings by what appears to be the same two men, she said. They would enter the buildings in the early morning, open secure mailboxes and walk away with documents and parcels.

"Some were broken into four, five, even seven times. There's no way of knowing, when you go into the mailbox, that people had been in there," Hutt said.

Knowing that people were entering our building without our authority and not telling us is gross negligence, as far as we're concerned.- Janine Hutt

Some condo residents, she said, found out later their cheques had been stolen and cashed. Others are worried the consequences of identity theft may not be felt until some time down the road. 

"We have a small community in our buildings," said Eva Mohan, who lives in a downtown Ottawa condo. "We see each other as neighbours, there's a certain level of trust. So, it's a little disturbing."

Mohan said she's especially unsettled by the fact she doesn't know if the key theft has left her building at risk.

"I want to be walking my dog at night and not having to worry about coming home and [finding out] someone has had access or tried to break into my unit," she said.

"There's a flaw, so the flaw needs to be fixed."

Eva Mohan lives in a downtown Ottawa condo and says she's unsettled by the fact she doesn't even know if the theft of the Canada Post key has left her building compromised. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco/CBC)

Hutt blames Canada Post for not proactively warning condo directors that a master key had been compromised. 

"We trust them with a key to our building," she said. "Knowing that people were entering our building without our authority and not telling us is gross negligence, as far as we're concerned."

Canada Post said it's aware of the thefts but will not comment, citing an ongoing investigation by Ottawa police.

"To avoid undermining the security of the items we deliver, we don't publicly discuss the specific measures we take or the information we receive from customers," said a spokesperson in an email to CBC.

The Ottawa Police Service said it's working with Canada Post on the investigation, and while it believes the thieves are still in possession of the master key, no reports of similar thefts have come in since mid-July.

Despite having the images of the suspects, the force had not announced any arrests as of Thursday afternoon.

Mail theft is a criminal code offence, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Canada Post says it's aware of the thefts from downtown Ottawa condo buildings, but isn't commenting further due to the police investigation. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A better system?

Hutt said Canada Post has changed the locks on some of the compromised buildings, but she thinks the entire master key system is antiquated and wants it changed.

"Somebody can get into the building in the middle of the night and be walking around the hallways … Part of our job as directors [is] to ensure safety and security. This is not acceptable," said Hutt.

Hutt suggests implementing a system of master keys that would only work during office hours, when staff can be on the lookout for odd behaviour.

She said she's yet to hear back from Canada Post on any solution other than changing the locks and using a new master key. 

"It shouldn't be up to the corporation to protect a key that [belongs to] Canada Post," she said. "It should be their job to make sure that it is not breached."

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