A growing number of catalytic converter thefts in Calgary has prompted several city councillors to try and find ways to deter the thieves.
A motion from Ward 14 councillor Peter Demong and co-signed by several others was introduced at Wednesday’s executive committee meeting at city hall.
It asks city administration to bring forward changes to the city’s business licence bylaw that would regulate the possession of an unattached catalytic converter, including establishing heftier fines that are “proportionate to the severity of the problem of a stolen catalytic converter.”
“Increasing the fine to over $1,000, because that will actually mandate a court appearance as opposed to just paying a yellow ticket,” Demong told Global News. “That is one of the most one of the more important aspects of it.”
The motion also asks for administration to bring forward any other strategies, programs or options to reduce the theft of catalytic converters.
The motion’s introduction came after the City of Leduc changed its bylaw to fine anybody in possession of unattached catalytic converters except for those with a valid business licence for automotive repair or auto parts supply, or those who have a permit from the City of Leduc.
“We were lucky enough to have Leduc show us the way in that they decided to adjust their business licensing practices,” Demong said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to be doing.”
According to the Calgary Police Service, reports of catalytic converter thefts have increased this year compared to last year, although the number of reports have started to decline since the summer months.
Between January and the end of October, there were 2,754 catalytic converter thefts. There were 1,560 reported thefts in 2021.
The increase is also being attributed to the rising price of precious metals that catalytic converters are made out of: platinum, palladium, and rhodium.
Police officials said the incidents can be difficult to investigate if the theft is discovered after the fact, which leaves the victim to pay for repairs out of pocket.
Other challenges, police said, include proving the catalytic converter was stolen and later sold to a buyer who was also aware the converter may be stolen.
“The source is not the recyclers, but they are the ones to whom most of these are going to,” Demong said. “So that is where you need to actually stop the problem where the problem exists.”
The provincial government introduced tighter regulations of the industry in 2020, which includes the purchase and sale of catalytic converters.
It requires recyclers to obtain proof of identification from a seller, keep a record of the transaction, including specific information about the sale like the date and time of the sale, a description of the metal, as well as the make, model and licence plate number of the vehicle in which the vehicle was delivered.
Big House Converters, a metal and catalytic converter recycler in Calgary, has been screening its customers since its inception in 2011.
According to Eric Grand-Maison, president and founder of Big House Converters, the regulations make it tougher to sell catalytic converters, whether they’re legal or not.
“We’ve seen about a 50 per cent reduction in our door traffic because of it,” he said.
“Those converters are still going somewhere, and they’re being transacted for cash or they’re being shipped out. So it’s turned the industry more underground.”
Grand-Maison said the solution is to be able to identify stolen catalytic converters by engraving a VIN number on them. His company started the practice through what is called Secure Mark; which includes the creation of a database to help victims of catalytic converter theft.
“We need to be able to trace the converter to the vehicle that it came from,” he said. “If we’re able to do that, it’s the only way law enforcement can incriminate the thief to the actual crime.”
Grand-Maison said there is an environmental impact to the thefts as well, as the catalytic converter controls a vehicle’s emissions.
“Once a vehicle has its catalytic converter stolen, it’s now going to be a polluter — if it’s replaced with an aftermarket converter — for the rest of its life,” he said. “The aftermarket converter will only last a year, maybe two years.”
According to Demong, the city is looking to gather information from the industry to help form options if the motion is approved by council.