Toronto

Proposed bylaw aims to ban 'chopping' of stolen bicycles in downtown parks

Toronto city council is set to debate a proposed bylaw that would ban the assembly and disassembly of bicycles in downtown parks. Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam says bike thieves feel emboldened to take apart stolen bikes in plain view under current city rules.

Bylaw would ban the assembling and disassembling of bicycles

More than 3,700 bicycles were reported stolen in Toronto in 2016. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Toronto city council is set to debate a proposed bylaw Tuesday that would ban the "chopping" of stolen bicycles in downtown parks.

The proposal is part of a motion by Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale.

She says bike thieves have become so emboldened that they now openly assemble and disassemble stolen bikes in plain view around downtown Toronto.

"The residents have expressed a level of frustration and concern that these bike thefts are not being deterred at all," Wong-Tam said.

"It seems to be an open market downtown."

The proposed bylaw would not only ban assembly and disassembly, but also ban any offenders from entering a park after their second violation.

It would exclude light maintenance, such as inflating tires or adjusting seat posts, Wong-Tam said.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam has says her constituents feel 'powerless' to prevent thieves from taking apart bikes in public spaces. (CBC)

She added that Toronto Police have recorded an increase in bike chopping at downtown parks over recent years. Most of the cases involve the same suspects repeatedly bringing a variety of different bicycles into parks to be taken apart.

In 2016, 3,728 bikes were reported stolen in Toronto, a 26 per cent increase over the 2,949 reported stolen in 2016.

Bike chopping happens 'throughout the entire day'

At Bike on Wheels, a bustling sales and repair shop in Kensington Market, staff say customers show up at least once a day after having a part stolen from their bike.

"Wheels, seat posts. I've seen bars. I've seen parts that you need tools to take," said Ali Sabbah, the shop's lead mechanic.

The store's owner says that while he hasn't seen a theft take place near his business, there are often people around the neighbourhood who appear to be chopping already stolen bikes with little fear of repercussions.

"It's happening throughout the entire day," said Sean Killen.

Bike mechanic Ali Sabbah says customers come to him after having a part stolen at least once a day. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Killen echoed the concerns expressed by Wong-Tam that onlookers often feel powerless to stop someone from disassembling a stolen bike.

"If I see that happening, I'd have to think twice about approaching someone," Killen said.

Asked who might have the power to intervene: "I think a police officer would have to do it," he said.

Bikes often unregistered

Police, however, are often unable to successfully intervene even if they spot a bike chop taking place in front of them.

That's because only a "small number of cyclists" register their bicycles with police, according to Wong-Tam's member motion.

"Without this information or substantial immediate evidence, officers cannot intervene when bicycles are being disassembled, reassembled, or otherwise modified," the motion reads.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam says thieves are causing damage to park benches, like this one at Barbara Hall Park, while chopping stolen bikes. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Instead, Wong-Tam says the new rules would be enforced by bylaw officers, as well as diligent citizens who call in suspicious activity.

That could also include bike mechanics like Sabbah. Along with the customers who show up with missing parts, he says the thieves themselves also come to him looking for help putting stolen parts back together.

"I have no one to talk to and I have no one to communicate this information to, so I can't do much," he said. "I'm happy to hear that they're trying to do something, but it's all about the execution."

About the Author

Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nick Boisvert is a reporter based in Toronto with an interest in politics, civic issues and the environment. Outside work, Nick enjoys cooking, following the NBA and listing things in threes. You can reach him at nick.boisvert@cbc.ca.