Stolen scrap metal feeling the heat

The latest bed-and-breakfast in Langley is nestled into three acres of woodland. - Peter Richardson
The latest bed-and-breakfast in Langley is nestled into three acres of woodland.
— image credit: Peter Richardson

The selling and buying of stolen scrap metal in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley is going under the microscope by municipalities and police, thanks to some behind the scenes work by retiring Langley City manager Cliff Gittens.

“There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it --- the recycling industry is not self- regulating,” said Gittens.

He points to the undercover operation Project Alkaline that Vancouver Police caught on video. It shows undercover officers going to a scrap metal recycling yard to sell the grave markers of deceased children. The yard staff purchased the metal without even questioning where it came from.

Gittens has put together an ad hoc group of municipal staff from around the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, and as far as Sechelt, to create a regional bylaw that will put more responsibility on the metal recycling companies.

“Last year, council asked staff to look at metal recycling and regulations, but they wanted me to look at it in conjunction with surrounding municipalities,” said Gittens.

“In November, I held a meeting to see if there was any feasibility to create a bylaw on a regional basis. The RCMP attended and they had already created an identical initiative.”

It was decided that the municipalities would draft a bylaw by the end of February that could go out to each municipality to adopt by the end of April.

The bylaw template will recommend all scrap metal buyers report transactions electronically and forward that information to police. This will help give police and municipalities the tools they need for the next step — a co-ordinated enforcement strategy. The dealers will also be asked to hold on to scrap metal purchases for seven days if they are reported electronically to police or 21 days if recorded by written registry. 

“Every municipality in the GVRD and the Fraser Valley wants to be involved,” he said.

It will be up to each municipality’s council to agree to the bylaw. Richmond already adopted a similar bylaw in January.

“Our recent bylaw changes addressing scrap metal dealers will make it more difficult for metal thieves to sell and obtain immediate cash from stolen metal goods,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

BC Hydro is also taking new measures to combat metal theft. Initiatives range from increased video surveillance, micro-dot protection, and encasing copper materials in concrete at BC Hydro’s substations. It also switching from copper cable to cable with only a little bit of copper on the outside, reducing its worth at scrap yards.

“Metal theft can result in power outages which impact traffic lights and 911 service. The replacement of stolen materials has already cost BC Hydro and B.C. Transmission Corp. several million dollars,” said Ray Stewart, BC Hydro’s chief safety officer.

A man who broke into a BC Hydro substation was electrocuted last year in Langley. In 2005, a man lost his fingers trying to cut telephone lines in Langley.

Langley has two metal recycling yards, one in Langley City and another in Murrayville.

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