Toronto·Video

Brazen daylight bike theft points to 'crisis' in Toronto, cycling advocate warns

A video shot by a CBC reporter that appears to show a thief ignoring a hostile crowd as he steals a bike points to a growing "crisis" in Toronto, cycling advocates warn.

Toronto Police Service does not have dedicated resources for investigating bike thefts

A video appears to show a man using cutters to remove a lock from a bike near Toronto's Harbourfront. 0:16

A video of a brazen daytime bike heist near a bustling public trail is an indication the city is dealing with a theft "crisis," a cycling advocacy group says.  

On Sunday afternoon while off work, I captured the above video of a man with bolt cutters trying to chop through a bike lock at Lower Simcoe Street and Queens Quay as throngs of people passed by. 

Eventually, a small group formed around the man, with many people telling him to stop. The man didn't seem to pay attention. He grabbed a bike and quickly rode off.

CBC News decided to blur the man's face because police did not receive a report about the bike, and could not verify whether the bike was, indeed, stolen. 

But a spokesperson from Cycle Toronto said it sure looks like a bike theft after seeing the video.

"It's egregious," said Liz Sutherland, the organization's director of advocacy and government relations.

She says the video is just one of a rising number of bike thefts in Toronto over the past several years — a trend borne out by police statistics.

"We have a crisis point problem in terms of bike theft in Toronto," Sutherland said. 

"It's daylight hours and he works really fast and gets away with it," she added in reference to the video.

"There's "clearly a problem when someone can do that ... There's no deterrent." 

The video appears to show bike theft in progress at Queens Quay Sunday afternoon. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

The issue of bike theft is a familiar one to Sgt. Chris McCann of 52 Division's community response unit. CBC Toronto also showed the video to him.

"I can't say I'm completely surprised. Unfortunately, it does happen," he said, saying the passersby not engaging beyond telling the man to stop was the right decision as he was holding what could have been used as a weapon.

Only 1% of stolen bikes recovered in 2016, police say

While McCann says no one reported the stolen bike in the video, it's not unusual. Many people don't report bike thefts.

Sutherland says it's because the chances of recovering a stolen bike are low. According to police data, only 1 per cent of bikes that were reported stolen in 2016 were recovered. 

Toronto police are currently crunching numbers from 2017, and could not immediately provide them to CBC Toronto, but previous data shows a 26 per cent increase in bike thefts between 2014 and 2016. There were 3,728 bikes stolen in the city in 2016, up from 2,949 bikes in 2014. 

McCann says the number of stolen bicycles for 52 Division is down this year compared with the same time last year. 

"There are people that know what they're doing and grab the bikes. They could have [them] stripped down and in different colours in a matter of no time at all," said McCann. 

What you can do

Even so, he still urges cyclists to register their bikes with police to have a better chance of recovering them.

"Having a chance is better than having no chance at all," he said, suggesting people also use two locks and if a bike doesn't have a serial number, to "engrave" something on it as a way to identify it. 

While Sutherland, with Cycle Toronto, is on board with these measures, she is also urging police to dedicate more resources to the problem. 

"The current registration system isn't well-known," she said.

"You can't upload a photo to it and it's not linked to systems in other jurisdictions," Sutherland added.

"Other cities that seen real success having dedicated task forces."

Currently, the Toronto Police Service does not dedicate any officers to investigating bike thefts full-time. 

"We would like to see action on this," said Sutherland.

"It would really make a lot of difference to people riding. Almost everyone you speak to has had a bike stolen. It's such an unnecessary thing. It's so preventable." 

About the Author

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller, dabbling in camping, canoeing and crafting. Email Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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