Toronto MPP calls for 'pay-first' policy at Ontario pumps

The death of a Toronto gas attendant in an alleged gas-and-dash over the weekend has a member of the provincial legislature pushing for a "pay-first" policy at the pumps.
Jayesh Prajapati, 44, died after he was struck by a vehicle on Saturday night at the Toronto gas station where he worked. (Natalie Kalata/CBC)

The death of a Toronto gas station attendant in an alleged gas and dash over the weekend has led to renewed calls for a "pay-first" policy and revived concerns over the safety of those working at the pumps.

Mike Colle, a Liberal member of the Ontario legislature, said Tuesday he's working on a private member's bill he believes would help curb gas theft by forcing drivers to pay upfront.

Not enough is being done to protect gas station workers whose safety is at risk whenever gas theft occurs, he said.

"The public doesn't seem to be aware this is not a victimless crime, this is a serious threat to these workers on the spot," he said. 

Colle, whose riding includes the Shell gas station where Saturday's fatal incident took place, said he's heard from some in the industry that employees are commonly penalized for losses due to theft, despite laws and policies prohibiting the practice.

"In theory, it's against the law, but there seems to be this grey practice out there that...if you don't stop the gas runner, they'll take it out of your pay directly or indirectly," he said.

The issue alarmed the Ontario Federation of Labour, which said such penalties amount to "wilfully putting workers' rights at risk."

A spokesman for Shell Canada said Tuesday the company requires all its operators to comply with existing laws and regulations.

"Today we have reminded our operators that it is illegal to charge sales associates for drive-aways, and that there will continue to be zero tolerance for this in the Shell network," David Williams said in an email.

The company's rules also explicitly forbid workers from intervening in gas-and-dash incidents, he said, adding employees are instead trained to watch for suspicious activity so they can assist police in the investigation.

Maz Alibhai, manager of the gas station where the fatal incident took place, told the Globe and Mail that employees are never expected to cover the cost if a driver leaves without paying.

"They've all been trained not to chase after cars, they've all been trained to take plates," he said.

A former gas station employee said managers told him to report gas theft so the company could file an insurance claim.

Failure to do so would result in docked wages, said Huzaifa Saeed, who worked in two Hamilton-area gas stations in 2010.

Twice someone drove off without paying on his watch, Saeed said, adding he wasn't penalized because he showed he was alert.

"Had I not been paying attention, I'm quite certain my pay would have been docked," he said.

The Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association said its members — who account for roughly 30 per cent of gasoline sales in Canada — report complying with the law.

Tricia Anderson, the association's president and CEO, said she polled members on the issue Monday in light of the Toronto incident.

"The message I got back is no, that's an illegal activity... we do not make employees pay for gas thefts," she said.

So-called "drive-offs" represents "a very, very small percentage" of gas station transactions overall, but some retailers in high-risk areas report up to four incidents a week, she said.

"One gas theft can erode a lot of chocolate bar sales," she said.

Many gas stations already use prepayment in some measure to prevent theft at the pumps, but imposing it across the board could be "very challenging" for smaller or rural retailers, Anderson said.

Deterring would-be thieves also requires more consistent policing efforts and charges against repeat offenders, she said.

Premier Dalton McGuinty promised Monday to take a look at what he can do to make workplaces safer for gas attendants.

Meanwhile, Toronto police are looking for a 39-year-old man wanted on a second-degree murder charge in Saturday's incident, which claimed the life of a 44-year-old man.

Jayesh Prajapati was hit Saturday night after a motorist driving a four-door SUV had filled up his tank with $112 worth of gas and left the station without paying.

Investigators are urging Max Edwin Tutiven of Toronto to turn himself in to police, saying they believe he may have gone to Montreal.   

It wouldn't be the first time the province considers making drivers prepay for gas.

The issue came up last year when a station attendant in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, died after trying to stop a driver from leaving without paying.   

At the time, McGuinty said he would seek advice on the matter from police, consumer groups and businesses.

British Columbia instituted a pay-first policy back in 2008 and named it Grant's Law after Grant DePatie, a man who was dragged to death while trying to stop a $12 gas and dash.

Prepayment is also common at many gas stations in the United States.