On the Line: Copper wire theft and vandalism on the rise across Canada

Ottawa, Ontario — Copper wire thefts have been steadily on the rise across North America, thanks to recent upswings in its selling price. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta have all reported recent increases in the frequency of copper wire thefts on businesses, homes and construction sites alike.

Copper is most commonly found in wire and harnesses, though it can also be found in the aluminum of engine blocks or transmission housings.

While copper wire thefts aren’t anything new, Dana Lohnes, Bell Aliant’s director of field operations for Atlantic Canada, said levels have certainly increased since “late summer [2022], heading into the fall.”

Copper wire thefts in Nova Scotia are estimated to have resulted in $1.4 million in losses to businesses, homes and government departments, according to police.

But far more can be lost in a copper wire theft–interfering with electrical units housing the metal can be extremely dangerous. A recent theft in Spryfield, N.S. resulted in a brief power outage for more than 11,000 hydro customers, while another local theft had a far more tragic outcome after police discovered a body near a Nova Scotia Power substation. The medical examiner concluded the man died of electrocution.

“We’re investigating the attempted theft of copper wire,” police said on Feb. 7, following the discovery.

In New Brunswick, Codiac Regional RCMP says reports of copper wire theft come in almost weekly. Bell reported 50 thefts in the province between October and December, which prompted the company to hire private security.

In Ontario, provincial police are seeking information after copper wire was cut directly from a Belleville telecommunications line, resulting in nearly $10,000 worth of damage. In August 2022, Leduc, Alta., police reported that nearly $500,000 worth of copper wire was stolen from a trucking business in the hamlet of Lac La Biche.

Given the intricacy and danger of dealing with copper wire, some experts suggest thieves have some knowledge of working with metal.

“We find these thieves are generally people who’ve worked in some type of industry where they understand metal,” said Ben Stickle, associate professor in criminal justice at Middle Tennessee State University. He went on to list occupations in roofing and HVAC as examples.

Last year, Stats Canada reported that metal thefts in 2021 in Canada were at the highest levels recorded since 2013.

Stickle told the CBC that he doesn’t expect the cross-country problem to disappear anytime soon, especially with electrification on the horizon.

 

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