Metal thieves attack wired world

With copper trading at more than $3 a pound, thefts of phone wire have become a daily occurrence in B.C.

Dave Cunningham of Telus and Bill Storie

VICTORIA – With copper trading at more than $3 a pound, thefts of phone wire have become a daily occurrence in B.C., and the B.C. government is tightening rules for scrap metal sales in an effort to stop it.

Police say it’s not just power and phone lines being targeted now. Aluminum ladders, billboards, grave markers, street signs and even manhole covers are being stolen. Construction sites are targeted for plumbing and wiring.

A bill before the B.C. legislature will require metal sellers to register for a “customer code” that must be recorded along with the description of any metal sold. The approach is similar to that taken with B.C. pawn shops, where operators must have transaction records to show police.

Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond said the phone and electric grids are vulnerable, as well as 911 service, and she wants the federal government to consider new penalties for theft from critical infrastructure.

“Good security and surveillance equipment doesn’t always stop the thieves from coming back again and again, especially when your metals are necessarily in remote locations, or distributed along hundreds of kilometres of roads,” Bond said. “Even though many scrupulous recyclers consistently turn away shady characters, somebody keeps buying, and that has to stop.”

Telus executive Dave Cunningham said 2011 has been a particularly bad year, with 325 wire thefts so far. The Fraser Valley is a “hotbed” for organized theft, leaving piles of insulation casings and in some cases downed wires across highways.

Saanich Police Deputy Chief Const. Bob Downie said thieves recently took all the drainage grates from a five-kilometer stretch of Highway 17 between Victoria and the ferry terminal, leaving a dangerous situation for cyclists and drivers.

Bill Storie, bylaw manager for the Township of Langley, said the Union of B.C. Municipalities supported his local bylaw to stem the trade in stolen metal, and the provincial action will help.

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