Doubts raised over effectiveness of scrap metal rule changes

‘Law breakers will always find a way to be law breakers,’ says West Coast Metals owner

Ongoing theft of wire — including telephone wire — and other scrap metal has prompted new provincial regulations.

Ongoing theft of wire — including telephone wire — and other scrap metal has prompted new provincial regulations.

New B.C. regulations clamping down on metal theft are now in effect but nobody’s predicting the scourge will be wiped out any time soon.

“I don’t think much will change. They can legislate us to death — and they are — but law breakers will always find a way to be law breakers,” said Terry McHale, co-owner of Langley’s West Coast Metals.

“Thieves will just get more creative, paint it, chop it finer. These are pretty desperate people. We are here at this level, with a provincial bylaw, because there is no punishment for criminals in a court of law.”

Scrap metal buyers now must keep a daily log of their purchases and suppliers, who have to provide identification, be registered and can only be paid by cheque for amounts over $50. McHale said that cheques will be quickly cashed at any cheque cashing business.

McHale said he has met with the inspector who is overseeing the changes, and it looks like he will have to hire someone full-time just to keep the daily log.

“We do a couple hundred transactions a day,” he said.

The Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act aims to plug gaps in the patchwork of different municipal bylaws drawn up by cities to try to combat wire theft.

While bylaws have helped reduce unscrupulous salvage metal buying in a dozen Lower Mainland cities, wire and other objects are still pilfered in those areas and then resold where no bylaws exist.

Despite having a bylaw, the City of Surrey alone incurred nearly $3 million in losses last year and media stings have found spotty compliance among local dealers.

“The same yards are caught over and over again. The police know which ones they are. Why not suspend their licence with a three strikes you’re out rule?” said McHale.

At West Coast, high resolution video is taken of the person selling, of their vehicle,  licence plate and of the materials brought in.

“We don’t attract the bad guys.”

West Coast Metal has received awards from the City for its vigilant work on deterring stolen wire.

Telus pegs its losses to metal thieves at $16 million last year and the firm is averaging an incident each day so far this year.

“We hope it will be a turning point in the battle against metal theft in B.C.,” Telus vice-president Dave Cunningham said of the new law.

Provincial inspectors will also do periodic spot checks of the more than 120 scrap metal dealers in B.C. to ensure they register and comply with the rules.

Violators face fines of up to $100,000 and possible jail time.

The regulations cover not just wire — the main target of thieves — but other specific metal objects like traffic lights, signs, sewer grates and metal grave markers.

The new law was a long time coming — municipalities and utilities had been lobbying for action since 2006.

Questions abound over what use police will be able to make of the information collected by buyers to pursue suspected thieves.

Dealers are supposed to relay the information on what they buy daily and police can compare that to reports of stolen items and then get a court order for more information as needed.

– files from Jeff Nagel