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The Metal Dealer and Recyclers act, which took effect on July 23, requires metal dealers and recyclers to record details about sellers and descriptions of metal they buy.

Konstantin Inozemtsev/iStockphoto

A Richmond metal dealer is the first company to be fined under B.C.'s almost half-year-old Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act.

On Dec. 10, the scrap dealer received a $575 ticket for a November purchase of municipal storm drain covers that were stolen from the City of Vancouver, B.C. Ministry of Justice spokeswoman Tasha Schollen said.

The provincial act, which took effect on July 23, requires metal dealers and recyclers to record details about sellers and descriptions of metal they buy. The buyers must also report their purchases to police on the day of the sale. A person cannot sell regulated metal without showing a driver's licence or B.C. Identification Card to the buyer.

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Since September, 19 cast-iron drain covers have disappeared from the streets of Vancouver; 92 were lifted between January and September of 2012.

Local municipalities are not the only ones benefiting from the new laws. In recent months they have put a big dent in copper theft from hard-hit Telus Corp.

In 2011, Telus recorded 380 metal thefts throughout B.C., mostly live copper cable. Each incident costs about $50,000 (replacing cable and infrastructure, crew and security costs), according to Telus spokesman Shawn Hall, representing a $19-million loss in 2011.

Since late July, when the new laws came into effect, Telus has had about 30 burglaries.

"We noticed almost immediately, a marked decrease in theft," Mr. Hall said. "Clearly thieves are having a much more difficult time unloading material."

At B.C. Hydro, losses related to the theft of metal, primarily copper wire, totalled just over $1-million in 2011, said the company's chief security officer, Bob Harriman. Sites targeted were in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and northern B.C.

Before the act, there were 30 to 40 incidents of theft each month. The worst was April, 2012, with 42. Since the act, metal thefts average about 18 a month, Mr. Harriman said.

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"The act is definitely good news for us," he said. Beyond the dollar loss, stealing copper is a huge safety risk for the criminals, B.C. Hydro crews and the public, Mr. Harriman said.

Surrey had to spend $2.8-million last year to repair streetlight wiring after poaching, compared with $15,000 in 2005. The $3-million loss forecast for 2012 likely will not reach that high.

"Has the act helped? Absolutely," said Rick Bamford, Surrey's senior bylaw enforcement officer. "There's been a reduction in the amount of material stolen."

Even smaller organizations have seen metal theft nosedive over the past few months.

"In the past, we'd be hit four to five times a week," said Graham Trafford, general manager of Burnaby-based Mott Electric. "We still get the odd night owl coming in, taking metal out of the yard, but there's fewer thefts now."

In Langley, the RCMP detachment recorded one metal theft in November and one more up to Dec. 18, Corporal Holly Marks said. Telus copper wire is almost always the metal of choice, she said.

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Metal buyers pay $2.60 to $3.10 a pound for copper.

But Cpl. Marks stresses that the act's mettle will be tested in the spring, when a couple of prolific metal thieves are released from jail. When they are back on Vancouver-area streets, metal theft could rebound, she said.

The province, meanwhile, says it is too soon to measure the efficacy of the act, according to Ms. Schollen.

Of B.C.'s 76 identified metal dealers and recyclers, 64 had registered by mid-December, Ms. Schollen said. The registration deadline is Jan. 23, 2013.

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