Vancouver metal thieves pick new and dangerous target — street storm drains

Scrap metal REUTERS/Thomas Peter Pedestrians normally look left and right before crossing the street but in Vancouver they'd be well advised to look down, too.

Metal thieves have been making off with an alarming number of storm-drain covers despite the fact they're pretty darn heavy, the Vancouver Province reports.

So far in November, 13 of the 63-kilogram covers have disappeared in Vancouver. The city lost 92 in June alone, according to a Vancouver Police Department news release.

"Missing covers pose a significant public safety risk. Pets, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists could all be seriously harmed by an open catch basin," said Bruce Todd, the city's superintendent of sewer operations.

"In the dark, people may not recognize that a catch basin is missing or the open hole may be covered with leaves and debris making it harder to distinguish the hole from solid ground."

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The grates cost $176 each and it's estimated they might fetch $14 as scrap, the police said. The city estimates the thefts have cost it more than $19,000 so far.

The drain-cover thefts took place throughout the city, but most were in the southwest, with back lanes most frequently targeted, police said.

Metal theft has become a growing problem in Canada and elsewhere as world metal prices have risen.

Thieves respect nothing. A court in St. Catharines, Ont., this month sentenced Dave Jewers to six and a half months in jail for his part in stealing the copper maple leaf markers from the graves of 370 soldiers last February, the St. Catharines Standard reported. A second man received 30 days.

A tip led police to a nearby apartment and then to a local scrapyard where the markers were recovered.

The value of copper has pushed thieves to strip phone and electrical cables hundreds of metres at a time. A Calgary police unit devoted to investigating metal thefts estimated the cost in that city alone at $20 million, CBC News reported.

The thieves seem heedless of the danger to others or even themselves. The Toronto Star reported last February a gas leak began at a Toronto home after someone stole the gas pipe. In 2009, a Windsor man was electrocuted trying to steal copper from a power company substation, the Star said.

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Vancouver was swept by a small wave of thefts of metal front gates. Police later found five of the dozen missing gates at a scrap-metal dealer's yard, Global TV BC News reported.

The B.C. government responded to the chronic problem by toughening regulations for scrap metal and increasing fines for dealers caught with stolen material. CBC News reported sellers would have to provide personal identity information to dealers and provide it to police if they believed metal had been illegally obtained.