A new effort aims to combat a massive surge in the theft of catalytic converters from vehicles, as the value of metals inside the part jumps higher.
Coun. Matt Allard is pushing for a specialized task force, arguing a co-ordinated plan must extend past city limits.
"It would be helpful if every municipality were involved in the program, with standards on what types of identification were required in order (for people to sell) these metals," said Allard. "I’m confident that Winnipeg… alone doesn’t have the tools to deal with this problem adequately because even if we fix the problem in Winnipeg, making it difficult to sell these things, people can just go to another municipality that doesn’t have the same kind of requirements."
Allard noted the thefts are lucrative and appear to be "well organized."
Converter components contain precious metals, including rhodium, palladium and platinum and can be sold to scrap-metal dealers for hundreds of dollars each.
Allard wants the city to co-ordinate its efforts with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Association of Manitoba Municipalities to add universal requirements to those sales. His motion will be debated by council’s executive policy committee next month.
A local auto shop owner agrees a crackdown on the sale of the stolen goods is warranted.
"The issue is where are these converters going? If there was no one buying them, stealing them would be useless… Someone has to crack down on where the money is going," said Marco Palumbo, owner of Maxim Muffler and Auto.
Since January, Palumbo has been waiting for equipment that would allow him to develop cage-like devices that can be installed on vehicles to make catalytic converters harder to steal. He said the thefts are so common that customers request the protective devices every couple of days.
"(The thefts have) just picked up in the last year or two, simply because the prices of the elements have gone through the roof," he said.
One local effort to combat the thefts is already in place, while another provincial one is being considered.
In June 2021, the City of Winnipeg began requiring scrap metal dealers to keep records of all sales of key metals, which applies to copper, platinum, palladium, rhodium, brass, or any manufactured good that contains those metals.
"This was done to ensure that (the sale of) catalytic converters (which hold those metals) are recorded and available to police," said city spokesman Adam Campbell, in an emailed statement.
Allard said it wasn’t enough to stop the trend.
In recent months, the Free Press has reported on multiple incidents where the converters were stolen.
"I do think we need new tools and more actors involved in order to curb this because it’s a crime that apparently is very easily performed. It can be done in minutes. I’ve heard stories of crews being involved… and they can do multiple cars at a time," said Allard.
Winnipeg police said 1,620 catalytic converter thefts were reported during the first 11 months of 2021, up from 336 in 2020 and 14 in 2015. In an emailed statement, WPS noted a provincial bill that was introduced in December is set to target the issue.
"When passed, this will… (include a) requirement to record/report/enforce (transactions at) all scrap metal dealers throughout the province. The fines set for businesses are steep under Bill 9 — up to $15,000 for the first offence and $50,000 for second and subsequent offences," the statement said.
Individual fines would be set at $5,000 for first offences and $15,000 for repeat offences.
The scrap metal bill has passed second reading.
The proposed changes would require dealers to record identifying information about sellers and details of all metal sales.
They would have to report information about items considered to be "highly vulnerable" to law enforcement. Each scrap metal seller would have to produce government-issued identification, a photo of their face and a written description of the type of scrap and how it was acquired.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.