11/10/2011 11:53 EST | Updated 01/10/2012 05:12 EST

Nova Scotia proposes law to deter theft of copper wire and metals

HALIFAX - A law aimed at curbing the theft of copper and other metals from such things as oil tanks and power substations is being proposed by the Nova Scotia government.

Justice Minister Ross Landry said legislation introduced Thursday would require dealers and recyclers of scrap metal to keep a record of all transactions and the identity of the seller.

Landry said the penalty for not following the law would be a fine of up to $5,000 or one year in jail.

He said regulations were still being worked on through consultations with scrap dealers, police and the opposition parties.

Recyclers and scrap dealers have been vocal in their opposition to the legislation, saying the fines would target the wrong people and would swamp them with paperwork.

Landry said that's not the government's intent.

"The last thing we really want to do is to put forth legislation for the sake of legislation that has a negative impact and didn't achieve the goals that we are trying to achieve," said Landry.

The minister said it could take up to a year before the regulations are in place under the Safe Collection of Scrap Metal Act.

No other province has a law dealing with metal theft, although British Columbia also has proposed legislation.

Liberal critic Michel Samson questioned why the legislation is coming forward at this point without regulations.

"What the government is trying to do here is send out a message that something is being done when in essence it will have little or no impact on the reprehensible theft of copper, or from lines of oil tanks," said Samson.

Conservative critic Allan MacMaster said he wants to see specific provisions that would prohibit the sale of used oil lines and fittings.

"Specifically, anybody who goes to sell copper line that is not a registered installer of oil tanks, they should not be allowed to show up at a scrap metal dealer's yard trying to sell that kind of copper."

The Tories have already tabled a bill calling for scrap dealers to record and keep the identities of sellers for one year following a transaction.

The dealers would also be required to call police within 24 hours if they receive utility grade scrap metal.

The province says police investigate more than 300 cases of copper and metal theft each year.

One victim was Greg Fong, a Dartmouth rental property owner, who was hit with vandalism in February that resulted in 400 litres of oil saturating ground near his building after a line was cut from a furnace tank.

Fong said his insurance wouldn't pay for the two-month-long cleanup which cost him $120,000.

He called the legislation a starting point.

"This type of material (oil lines) should actually not be in circulation and should be viewed essentially as hazardous waste," he said.