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British Columbia sets rules to deter scrap theft


Scrap metal dealers in the Pacific coast Canadian province of British Columbia will face tighter regulations from July 23, as its government struggles with widespread theft of high-value metals.

British Columbian dealers trying to sell metals, including aluminium, bronze, brass, lead, nickel, zinc and magnesium – often targeted by thieves – will need to provide identification before completing deals.

Purchasers will have to register with provincial authorities and share seller information with the police. Those who fail to do this will risk fines of up to Canadian C$100,000 ($99,900) and a maximum six months’ imprisonment.

The move has been sparked by thieves stealing items such as copper telephone wire, causing losses to utilities and municipalities.

British Columbia Hydro, an electricity utility company, alone racked up at C$10 million in losses in 2011, according to the province’s ministry of justice.

Leonard Shaw, executive director of the Canadian Assn of Recycling Industries, said thieves were motivated by high prices for metals such as copper and aluminium, spurred by high demand in China and India.

“Metal theft has increased in the past decade and it is directly proportional to the increase in the price of metal,” he said.

But new regulations would not solve the problem because it is nearly impossible to distinguish between pieces of metal, legitimate or not, Shaw said.

Prosecution of theft is difficult when police cannot prove where someone obtained the metal and if it is stolen property.

Steel Pacific Recycling, the largest metal recycler on Vancouver Island, supports the regulations as “higher standards” for recyclers, Andrew Ketch, the company’s director of communication, said.

“Steel Pacific Recycling is very encouraged that the Province of BC [British Columbia] is taking action against metal theft and we fully support the new guidelines,” Ketch said.

That said, there are concerns the rules could lead to an increase in black market exports by deterring thieves from dealing with scrap metal purchasers, Shaw said.

Ian Weinstein, co-director of Allied Salvage and Metals, based in Richmond, British Columbia, agreed the regulations could encourage the development of underground scrapyards allowing thieves to export without divulging information.

“They could export for sure. They would have the means to do it,” he said.

Kitty So

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