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Maple Ridge mulls scrap metal bylaw

Mike Salo at Fraser Valley Metal Exchange doubts the district will be able to enforce the bylaw. - James MacLennan/The News
Mike Salo at Fraser Valley Metal Exchange doubts the district will be able to enforce the bylaw.
— image credit: James MacLennan/The News

It’s going to be a tougher time to fence stolen scrap metal if Maple Ridge council accepts a draft bylaw regulating the trade in the next few weeks.

The new rules would require scrap metal dealers to fax to police daily their purchases of copper wire, scrap aluminum or bronze plaques, so police can check it against stolen goods reports.

And any junk that a dealer accepts must be held, untouched, for a week if the transaction was recorded on computers, and for 21 days, if paper records were kept.

“We’re hoping to bring this bylaw forward very soon,” bylaws director Liz Holitzky told council Monday.

Holitzky showed slides of the effects of metal theft on municipal infrastructure, one which depicted a gaping hole in the sidewalk that endangered passersby after thieves stole the cover and the wires inside.

Another showed lengths of thick copper cable chopped down from telephone poles, leaving the poles hanging precariously. The thieves left the wire beside the roadside and if the police don’t respond, they return later to pick up the wire. The plastic insulation then is burnt off before it gets taken to a dealer.

Thieves even will go on to B.C. Hydro substations to rip out wires. “These are very secure properties,” Holitzky said.

Mike Salo though, with Fraser Valley Metal Exchange, has his doubts about the bylaw.

“There’s no way they’re going to be able to enforce it.”

Keeping material for seven days would require him to increase the amount of cash reserve in his bank account. And even if it was kept that long, it would be difficult to find it again.

He says he could fax in the transactions daily to police, but it would make more sense for police to fax in their lists of stolen materials so the shops can watch for it.

He already requires valid, photo ID before making a purchase, while the seller must also have a licensed vehicle and can’t arrive on foot, bicycle or with a grocery cart.

“We’ve done everything possible to prevent any [stolen] material from coming in here.”

The bylaw is a result of a Lower Mainland task force on scrap metal dealers and follows tough bylaws enacted in Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey.

Those bylaws, however, could just move heavy metal thieves to municipalities that don’t yet have the bylaws, such as Maple Ridge and Langley.

It could also spark an increase in crime, said Coun. Cheryl Ashlie, who was on the task force.

The bylaw also would require that any scrap metal from identifiable sources, such as B.C. Hydro, Telus, traffic or street signs, or wire that has been burned, has to be delivered by a vehicle from that source.

The task force asked the provincial government to enact such laws, but it hasn’t done anything, so cities are taking on the responsibility, said a staff report.

A 2008 court decision ruled that municipalities can’t require sellers to provide their identities when they’re selling their goods.

If council enacts the bylaw, the district would have the power to yank the shop’s business licence and slap on a fine of up to $10,000.

Mayor Ernie Daykin said some scrap metal dealers are looking forward to the new bylaw, hoping it will weed out the less-reputable dealers.

But he added that municipalities have to ensure they have the political will to move forward with the laws if the scrap metal dealers mobilize

Holitzky said eventually second-hand goods stores and pawn shops will be included in the new bylaw, while Ashlie pointed out other cities are charging higher business licence fees for pawn shops because of the high revenues into the stores.

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