You may have noticed a recent news item regarding some $10,000 worth of copper power cable that was stolen from a business near the Kelowna airport. Cable was cut and taken away to be loaded into a waiting pickup truck, no doubt damaging property in its wake.
Unfortunately, this kind of crime has become all too typical. Utilities estimate losses due to metal theft have surpassed $50 million in B.C.—and that’s just the materials themselves.
That doesn’t include replacement costs, labour, extra security, or property damage, which add another few million dollars to the losses. Who pays for this? Besides the companies being robbed, you do. When the phone company’s materials are stolen, their operating costs increase—which is reflected in your bills.
Sometimes the metal isn’t stolen from storage or lots, but directly from working equipment—even telephone and power lines. This has caused power outages and disrupted 911 service; alarming enough for an isolated incident, but Telus reported 325 incidents of their live cables being stolen in 2011 alone, each incident cutting off service, including 911. That’s simply unacceptable.
This has been a particular problem in B.C.’s interior. Last September at the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention, West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater and his council met with Minister Shirley Bond to draw attention to the issue, and to indicate they believed coordinated provincial action was necessary. Bond agreed wholeheartedly, and told them she was going to act. That was no hollow promise. Just weeks later, on Nov. 7, the Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act was introduced to the legislature.
The new act doesn’t do more to prevent criminals from stealing metal. It makes it significantly more difficult to profit from doing so. It requires scrap metal dealers to register with the province, and maintain detailed daily records of their buyers and sellers, which are to be shared with police.
I’m pleased about The Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act for several reasons. First and foremost, it addresses a serious public safety issue. But it’s also a great example of what government can do in a short period of time.
Bond and her staff should be commended for focusing their attention and moving to address the issue in a remarkably short period of time.
Ben Stewart is the Westside-Kelowna Liberal MLA.