Gap in metal recycling law allows criminals to sell catalytic converters without ID as reports of thefts surge

As police agencies across British Columbia report a spike in stolen catalytic converters, there are new calls to strengthen laws that could further deter would-be thieves from going after the hunks of metal for their re-sale value.

Data from Vancouver police shows that between January and June of 2021, there were 195 reports of catalytic converters being stolen, more than double (92) the number reported in the same period last year.

Police call the surge in thefts a “huge problem.”

“Catalytic converters are completely unregulated,” said Sgt. Steve Addison. “There’s no way to trace it back and identify whether it’s been stolen.”

Unlike with regulated metals, such as copper wire, scrap metal yards aren’t required under B.C.’s Metal Dealers and Recycling Act, passed in 2011, to require identification from sellers of catalytic converters, and to report those sales by end of day to law enforcement.

It’s a loophole that Alberta closed in its own law last year.

“It just seems obvious that we should do that,” said Sterling Arndt, the owner of OK Tire’s East Vancouver location.

Arndt explained that thieves with a saw see an opportunity to make “quick dollars” because of the precious metals found inside the parts, which help clean vehicle emissions.

Dov Dimant, the longtime owner of Vancouver’s Capital Salvage Metal Recycling, called the thefts “acts of desperation” driven by the potential of earning up to four figures for high-value converters.

Dimant said his business’ longtime practice has been to ask for and record ID from customers selling catalytic converters, even though the law doesn’t require him to do so.

“Generally, people that make the rules aren’t quite in touch with industry,” Dimant said.

He added that there’s “no reason,” given the current spike in thefts, why the loophole shouldn’t be closed.

Both Vancouver police and Port Coquitlam city council agree.

Earlier this year, the Vancouver Police Board, citing 2,154 thefts across the Lower Mainland in 2020, passed a resolution asking the provincial government to amend the law to make catalytic converters a regulated item, requiring reporting.

And Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West told CTV News council has had discussions with Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, who’s also the local MLA, about addressing the gap.

“It’s an issue that requires their urgent attention and nothing should be off the table,” West said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said it would “continue to work with police and assess the responsiveness of current legislative, enforcement and program tools to deal with emergent criminal trends.”

Vancouver police also questioned whether closing the gap would be sufficient to deter would-be criminals.

Addison said police, along with other cities and organizations, are exploring whether converters could be marked or tagged with a number to help further deter theft and to trace them if and when they’re stolen.

“We’ve got to stay ahead of the criminals. We can’t be slow to react,” West added.

The Vancouver Police Department recommends vehicle owners try to avoid becoming a target for catalytic converter theft by parking in a secured lot, if possible, or alternatively, in a well lit area.

And Addison advised people shouldn’t hesitate to call 911 if they hear or see something unusual: “If it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and you hear the sound of metal grinding, that’s probably a clue,” he said.