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Metal thieves plunder Nova Scotia veterans' graves

The graves of veterans buried in central Nova Scotia once got crosses and small flags to stand alongside the headstones.

Members of the local Legion branch used to go out twice a year to the graves, checking that the memorials they'd erected were still in good shape. The painted metal crosses, standing about 30 centimetres tall, were simple marks of respect to lost comrades.

But then the crosses started disappearing - apparent victims of the soaring price of base metals. It's a problem around the world, wherever there is wire, plaques, bells, statues and any other metals that thieves can pick up and take away.

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Tatamagouche Legion member Gordon Hillier said they have had to replace an increasing number of crosses over the past few years and that the problem has steadily worsened.

"It's very distressing," he said. "I think you can imagine the reaction of the men."

There were crosses to replace every time they checked the cemeteries and the mounting costs ultimately ended the decades-old tradition, Mr. Hillier said yesterday. The local veterans have removed all the remaining crosses and are planning instead to mount personalized plaques in the Legion hall for each comrade.

"They'll be there as long as there's a Legion hall here," Mr. Hillier said.

The stripping of those cemeteries is one of a series of recent metal-theft stories in this province, each more unbelievable than the last.

Some time in the past few weeks, brazen thieves in the Annapolis Valley got away with more than 100 tonnes of metal pipe, spending the night ripping up a hiking path to get it and leaving behind a trail of destruction.

The thieves made off with 110 sections of 60-centimetre pipe, each of them approximately 13 metres long. An old municipal water pipe, now used for redundancy, was partly buried and partly shielded from frost by a wooden housing.

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The pipe was gone by the time Rick Jacques, co-ordinator for the Annapolis Valley Trails Coalition, arrived on the scene in the morning. But he found heavy equipment nearby and spotted men trying to retrieve it.

"You could follow the excavator tracks right to where they were parked," he said yesterday. "I don't understand how someone could take that much of a chance. Your excavator is worth money and so is your truck. And I would think both might now be seized."

Others have taken even greater risks. Thieves recently stripped the copper wiring out of the lighting systems of three baseball fields in the Halifax area, at an estimated cost to the city of $70,000.

"These aren't run-of-the-mill punks," said John O'Brien, spokesman for the Halifax Regional Municipality. "The wires were hot and someone had to know about electricity to disable it."

There have been other incidents around Halifax. More than three kilometres of copper wiring was stolen last fall from an industrial park near the airport, and plaques marking the 1917 explosion were taken from a commemorative spot in the city's north end.

Earlier this month, the provincial government tabled legislation that would force scrap dealers to record the photo identification of those who come in to sell metals.

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The effects of the pending law are hard to predict, with some concerned that thieves will simply take their ill-gotten goods elsewhere.

"Nova Scotia is the first province in the country to have it," Mr. O'Brien noted. "Hopefully, other provinces will pick up on this, instead of them driving to New Brunswick or PEI or Quebec and selling it there."

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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