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Owner of a former Silver City building with $650K in damages says the city is changing

Thieves have been targeting the old Silver City building on Walker Road regularly for more than a year, its co-owner said. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)
Thieves have been targeting the old Silver City building on Walker Road regularly for more than a year, its co-owner said. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)

The owner of the former Silver City building on Walker Road says he's lost more than $650,000 due to property damage caused by thieves trashing the place while searching for copper and other metal to sell.

Joseph Mikhail of Mikhail Holdings said the property has been targeted "non-stop almost on a weekly or daily basis" for nearly a year now.

"Insurance won't cover this," he said.

Mikhail sent an email to police in February appealing once again for their help, saying, "In all my years doing business in Windsor, I have yet to see such outright lawlessness and vandalism."

It began when vandals dismantled the power grid servicing the building and the parking lot, cutting off all power to the premises, he said.

Submitted by Joe Mikhail
Submitted by Joe Mikhail

"Somebody without the knowledge could have easily killed themselves by touching it," he told CBC. "So there's some knowledge involved there."

Next the individuals tore down drywall in the interior of the building to strip out wires and copper.

Recently, he said, they have climbed onto the roof and destroyed heating and cooling units valued at $100,000.

"We have welded doors shut, we have boarded them with locks and heavy screws, we have sealed garbage compactors — videos, security, we have done almost everything possible," Mikhail told police in an email.

"But they come with hard hats, tools and ladders … professionals … you would think … but what professional would destroy over $650,000 of a building to take about $2,000 in metal?"

Cineplex announced in January 2022 that it was closing the location on Walker Road.

At the time, Mikhail told CBC he could see few options other than to tear down the building.

Now, he said, he has begun renovating the building and has applied to the Ontario Ministry of Health to repurpose part of it as a private MRI clinic.

Police have visited the building "dozens of times" with canine units, Mikhail said.

But he added, "You can't guard that building with one or two people because it's a large facility. It's a block, right? So we have cameras. We have security. We have police … but these individuals — they want to get in."

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

A security consultant for Electricity Canada, which represents the electricity sector, says the laws around the theft of non-ferrous metals are not very strict.

"If somebody steals 10 pounds of copper, on the one hand you could say, 'Well [that's] $30 or $40 [worth of] theft ...It doesn't reflect the replacement cost," Ross Johnson said.

When thieves steal wires, workers have to go out to a site, assess its safety, replace grounding wires, search the entire premises to ensure other grounding wires are intact and the facility is safe, and repair damaged fences.

Electricity Canada is calling on the the province to enact regulations that will prevent metal recyclers from buying metal from sellers for cash.

"There needs to be an audit trail," Johnson said.

Submitted by Joe Mikhail
Submitted by Joe Mikhail

"We worked with the Alberta government for several years, and now we have a law in there where somebody that goes in and brings in copper has to show identification like picture ID and ... the information is taken down by the recycler, and they're paid by cheque."

But the president of the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries balked at Johnson's suggestion, saying scrap metal dealers already maintain records of their transactions for tax purposes.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

"Requiring additional recording is redundant and unnecessary and does not assist in identifying stolen material," Tracey Shaw said.

"What's more, there is no evidence this ultimately reduces the incidence of metal theft."

Statistics from the Windsor Police Service's online dashboard show that the number of break and enters in the city increased 15 per cent from 1,247 in 2021 to 1,437 in 2022.

They are up slightly again in the first two months of 2023 – a total of 207 break and enters compared with 197 during the same period in 2022.

Mikhail owns a number of properties in the city, and they're all being targeted, he said.

"Situations have changed in the city. I can't put my finger as to why," Mikhail said.

"We're prospering in Windsor. People have jobs. There's employment. Our economy is strong. But we seem to have way more of these types of vandalism than when the economy was much weaker. And I can't explain it."