March 7, 2019 8:26 pm
Updated: March 8, 2019 3:51 pm

Alberta gas-and-dashes plummet after pay-before-you-pump law, but not eradicated

WATCH ABOVE: It's been nine months since Alberta's pay-before-you-pump law took effect. But somehow, some gas-and-dash thefts are still happening. Julia Wong investigates.

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Numbers obtained by Global News reveal that the number of gas-and-dash incidents in Alberta have plummeted in the months since it became law to pay before you pump gas, however there are still incidents occurring in the province.

READ MORE: Province releases details on new gas-and-dash legislation

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The law came into effect on June 1, 2018, and statistics from police forces in Alberta, which compare the first six months after the law was implemented with the same period the year prior, show it is having an effect. However, labour experts said more can still be done by the province to eliminate the crime.

“The legislation had its intended impact,” said Cal Schafer, a data analyst with the Edmonton Police Service.

“When you see numbers, that kind of reduction, it’s pretty obvious that comes from a policy decision. This problem has more or less been eliminated.”

The data reveals there were no gas-and-dash incidents in Lethbridge from June 1 to Nov. 30, 2018, compared to 130 during the same period in 2017. Data from Alberta RCMP, which oversees many rural areas in the province, show there were 137 incidents in the six months after the law came into effect versus 1,442 in 2017.

Calgary saw two incidents during the 2018 time frame versus 525 fuel theft cases, which includes gas-and-dash, the year prior. Edmonton noted six gas-and-dash incidents between June 1 and Nov. 30, 2018, compared to 483 fuel theft cases, which includes gas-and-dash, in the same six months in 2017.

“[Those six] cases involved the person going inside the store and, for one reason or another, the staff member did not force them to pay in advance,” said Schafer, who cited inadequate training by staff.

The pay-before-you-pump legislation was announced months after the death of Ki Yun Jo, a Thorsby gas station owner who died on Oct. 6, 2017, after trying to stop someone from stealing fuel.

READ MORE: Spruce Grove man charged in fatal Thorsby gas-and-dash

The law requires drivers to pay before filling up, though if the technology is not available, the law states retailers can require customers to deposit cash or card before filling up. All Husky, Shell and Petro-Canada gas stations in Alberta have pay-at-the-pump technology.

‘Life or death’

“It is literally an issue of life or death,” said Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

“What these numbers show very clearly is the legislation is working.”

Number of gas-and-dashes

June 1 to Nov. 30, 2017

Number of gas-and-dashes

June 1 to Nov. 30, 2018

Calgary525*2
Edmonton483*6
Lethbridge1300
AB RCMP1442137

*incidents encompass theft of gasoline overall, which includes gas-and-dash

Bob Barnetson, a professor of labour relations at Athabasca University, said the numbers suggest most employers are complying with the law but not all are.

“It tells me some employers are not complying, and my guess would be it’s employers who haven’t installed the technology,” he said.

“They’re just using work rules. Anytime you use an administrative control instead of an engineering control, you create greater opportunities for non-compliance.”

Barnetson, who said the law appears to be successful so far, said tightening the law so pre-payment can only be done at the pump would make it impossible for gas-and-dash incidents to occur. However, he said there may not be the political will for that right now.

Calls for greater enforcement

McGowan, who calls the law a “public policy home run,” said now that the big problem of gas-and-dash has been addressed, there can be more focus on the issue of compliance.

“There’s a handful of gas stations that are not following the rules,” he said. “It’s great to have the numbers out. It’s great to have the info out. What that means, the government has to follow up on their legislation and education with compliance efforts with those small number of gas station owners who… are not following the rules.

“They need to take the numbers that are coming from the police services… that information will tell them which gas stations are not compliant. They need to take that information and they need to go to those gas stations where these incidents are still happening, and make sure the companies comply. If these companies continue to ignore the rules, they have to face some kind of penalty. That means fines and enforcement.”

Barnetson said the province has the tools to ensure greater enforcement of the law.

“I’m not sure that additional compliance activity would meaningfully reduce the number of injuries or fatalities because there are so few,” he said. “But if the province wanted to take action, they could inspect gas stations and fine or prosecute those that are not in compliance.

“Ultimately, it’s up to gas station owners to ensure there’s compliance with the rules. If they’re not prepared to put in the technology, they have to ensure the workers follow the rules all the time. If they’re not prepared to do that, then they should be subject to fines and prosecution.”

Minister responds

Labour Minister Christina Gray said she is “pleased” to see the decrease, adding there have been no worker deaths or injuries related to fuel theft since the law came into effect.

READ MORE: Alberta NDP introducing prepaid fuel bill following gas-and-dash deaths

She said OHS would become involved with a fuel theft if a worker is involved, such as an injury or near miss, but said that the cases remain police matters if no workers are involved. OHS does not automatically receive police reports related to gas-and-dashes.

When asked whether the law could become more restrictive in requiring the prepaid technology at the pump, Gray said the province will continue to work with stakeholders.

“But for the initial implementation, we are getting the results we were looking for,” she said.

In response to calls for more enforcement, Gray said the province conducted 293 inspections between Sept. and Nov. 2018. She also said that 149 OHS orders have been given to gas stations since June 1, 2018.

She said penalties and fines come into play after OHS issues an order but so far, none have had to be issued.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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