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Copper theft is “Dangerous, Expensive and a Threat to Reliability”

March 4, 2014 | By Anthony Capkun

March 3, 2014 – “Copper Theft from Canada’s Electricity Infrastructure: Dangerous, Expensive and a Threat to Reliability” is the title of a new policy paper released by the Canadian Electricity Association that aims to draw attention to the serious impacts of this issue, and outlines four key recommendations to deter copper theft in Canada.

“Given the high price of copper, copper thefts across the country are on the rise,” said CEA president and CEO Jim Burpee. “These thefts pose a real and significant threat to the safety of Canadians and the reliability of our system.”

The policy paper, complete with case studies drawn from incidents that have taken place across Canada over the last few years, paints a picture of the impacts of copper theft on electricity utilities, businesses and Canadians.

CEA says that, since 2010, media reports have shown people suffering serious injuries as a result of copper theft—eight of which lost their lives. While costly to the electricity sector—about $40 million each year—copper theft is also costly to other sectors and businesses across the country, insists the association, and puts Canadians in vulnerable situations, such as loss of access to 9-1-1, medical care and other critical services.


“In my line of work I have seen first-hand the tragic and damaging impacts of copper theft in Ontario and across the country,” explained Scott Tod, deputy commissioner, investigations and organized crime, Ontario Provincial Police. “Lives of innocent Canadians are put in danger by copper theft. It is time to take action to crack down on copper theft in Canada.”

The policy paper identifies four detailed recommendations to combat copper theft across the country:

Action by all: The development of a national action plan on copper theft by federal, provincial and territorial governments will help ensure copper theft isn’t pushed from one jurisdiction to another. It will also provide a forum for governments to share best practices and actions in an effort to reverse current trends.

Coalitions to combat copper theft: Some utility companies have formed working groups that bring together law enforcement, the legal community, security personnel and others interested in deterring the theft of copper. These on-the-ground local approaches serve as models that should be implemented across the country, insists CEA, as “there is no greater force than individuals who are directly involved on the ground in impacted communities”.

Provincial regulation of scrap metal dealers: British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia have passed legislation to crack down on metal theft in their jurisdictions. All provinces should take action to pass legislation to regulate the sale of copper. Currently, the lack of regulation in other provinces allows copper thieves to steal copper in one jurisdiction and sell it in another.

Amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code: At present, the Criminal Code penalties do not accurately reflect the severity of copper theft, argues CEA. An individual apprehended for stealing copper is currently charged with “theft under $5000” (the same as stealing a bicycle, adds CEA). The code should be updated to reflect the dangers copper theft poses to emergency first responders and local residents. It should also reflect the impact to the reliability of Canada’s grid.

Below you can download the full policy paper, as well as a copper theft fact sheet and Q&A.

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