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Sarnia taking step to curtail the sale of stolen scrap metal

Troy Shantz Changes coming to a city bylaw are a good first step toward curbing metal thieves, says Coun. Mike Stark.
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Copper cables cut under the docks at Sarnia Bay Marina. City of Sarnia Photo

Troy Shantz

Changes coming to a city bylaw are a good first step toward curbing metal thieves, says Coun. Mike Stark.

Pending public feedback, metal recyclers would need to obtain the same business licence as pawn shops and second-hand stores starting Jan. 1. Recyclers would follow a list of rules including retaining information about metal sellers and cooperating with investigators.

“At the end of the day it’s giving the police more tools to investigate what they may consider as potential thieves,” said Stark, who had originally proposed a $25 permit for metal sales over one pound.

Mike Stark

“It’s actually modifying the existing bylaw to accommodate what’s workable with respect to metal recyclers.”

Unlike pawn shops, recyclers would not have to place a 30-day hold on goods purchased from the public.

Stark, a member of the Sarnia Police Services Board, was responding to a recent scourge of drug-fuelled metal thefts that have angered residents and caused major damage to homes, construction sites, monuments and municipal facilities.

In April, for example, metal thieves stripped heavy copper electrical cables from the Sarnia Bay Marina. Damage to the docks and pavilion cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and took two months to repair.

But Stark’s call for a $25 permit on metal sales died at the public consultation phase last month following pushback from residents and business owners.

Requiring a municipal permit to sell scrap metal will do little to curb the cost and damage done by metal thieves, Bryce MacDougall of Premier Recycling Sarnia Ltd. said at the June 26 public meeting.

“The metal is going out of town. I can’t stress that enough,” he said at the forum moderated by city staff and Sarnia Police Chief Norm Hansen.

Premier owner Phillip Horwood explained that local metal recyclers are already following protocol by requiring identification and cooperating with authorities.

While satisfied with the bylaw changes, Stark said he isn’t convinced all stolen metal is sold out of town.

“I believe the main recyclers that we know of in town are playing by the rules,” he said. “I believe there are others who are not. To suggest that none of it is being marketed here, I think that’s somewhat naive.”

Chief Hansen said the rules make it difficult to prosecute metal theft, which often requires thieves be caught in the act.

Those arrested are often released on bail the next day, and though curfews and other bail conditions can be requested the Crown doesn’t have to follow through, Hansen said.

“It’s very frustrating for us as well, and we’re trying.”

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