The B.C. government has issued 16 violation tickets to scrap dealers under a law passed 10 years ago to crack down on the theft and fencing of scrap metals.
The Public Safety and Solicitor-General’s Ministry carried out 250 inspections of the province’s 69 registered metal dealers, which works out to a rate of about one every three years on average.
The Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act (MDRA) was passed a decade ago in response to a spike in metal thefts from construction yards, public utility property, and even public plaques and monuments.
The ministry didn’t respond to a request for further comment on how it interpreted the number of tickets, most of which were for incomplete collecting or reporting of transactions, or the frequency of inspections.
But the head of a national association representing scrap dealers said theft of metals is rampant and a law that targets legitimate scrap dealers instead of rogue dealers and the thieves themselves is the wrong way to combat the theft.
“Regulating scrap dealers does not stop metal theft,” Tracy Shaw, CEO of the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries, said in an email.
“Metal theft is a problem,” she said. But “scrap dealers are not fences; they are lawful businesses that are essential to the environmental and economic health of Canada.”
“Those 16 violation tickets were issued primarily for administrative infringements. How many resulted in the recovery of stolen material? How many resulted in the conviction of the thief/thieves?”
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She said, “Thieves know where to take material so that it won’t be recorded or traced: to illegitimate dealers, across borders, or (as is especially common with catalytic converters at the moment), online platforms like Facebook Marketplace.”
Analyzing the number of violation tickets or inspection frequency is to ask the wrong questions, said Jan Dimant, co-owner with her husband, Dov Dimant, of Capital Salvage in Vancouver.
“You might want to ask how many times thieves have been caught due to the act?” she said.
Capital Salvage submits a daily report of metal purchases to Vancouver police as required under the act but “I don’t think it was a priority for the police, Crown counsel and the justice system” to go after those fencing stolen metals or those unregistered buyers who operated mobile operations when there were little or no consequences for thefts, she said.
“What’s the point of arresting people if they’re not going to do anything” to ensure they’re charged and prosecuted? she said.
The act, which targets legitimate dealers, is “not effective. It’s just there to appease public opinion,” said Jan Dimant.
And metal thefts will continue as long as there are people desperate enough to steal because of poverty and addiction issues, and those causes have to be addressed, she said.
A ministry spokesman, who didn’t want to be identified, said in an email that the MDRA requires businesses that purchase scrap metal to register. The ministry’s security programs division is responsible for registration, compliance and enforcement. Inspectors have issued the 16 tickets and 127 warnings for violations such as failure to assign a customer code, collect or record required transaction information or to provide it to police, operating without being registered or paying cash for regulated metal with a value greater than $50.
The act allows for fines of up to $10,000 for individuals and up to $100,000 for businesses.
Police have laid theft-under-$5,000 charges in recent months against those suspected of stealing catalytic converters, which aren’t required to be included in the purchases scrap dealers submit daily to police. Thefts of those emission-control devices quadrupled in B.C. over the past five years, to 1,061 last year from 270 in 2016, costing ICBC around $2 million in claim payouts and car owners hundreds-of-dollars each for their comprehensive deductibles.
The ministry spokesman said it has received requests to have converters included in the legislation, and is consulting with police and the industry.