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New Brunswick police no longer investigating most thefts of fuel from gas stations

WOODSTOCK, N.B. — Police officers across New Brunswick are no longer investigating thefts of fuel from service stations unless there is a threat to public safety.
Police officers across New Brunswick are no longer being dispatched to investigate thefts of fuel from service stations unless there is a threat to public safety. New Brunswick's provincial flag flies in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

WOODSTOCK, N.B. — Police officers across New Brunswick are no longer investigating thefts of fuel from service stations unless there is a threat to public safety.

Earlier this month, the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police sent a letter to petroleum retailers across the province, saying the change was needed because there are more effective ways of dealing with the steady increase in fuel thefts. The change took effect April 15.

Between 2020 and 2023, the province's police agencies, including the RCMP, received 5,200 complaints about people stealing gas from fuel pumps, said Woodstock police Chief Gary Forward, who is also president of the chiefs' association.

Forward said this type of crime could be prevented if the province introduced legislation requiring customers to pay before they fill up, as is already the case in Alberta and British Columbia. Fuel thefts at gas stations have been virtually eliminated in the two western provinces, he said.

"They've all but eliminated this type of theft by being proactive," Forward said in an interview Monday. "We should expect similar results if we were to implement that methodology. ... Employing a prepayment methodology eliminates the opportunity (for theft)." 

The law in B.C. took effect in 2008, almost three years after 24-year-old gas attendant Grant De Patie was dragged to his death while trying to stop a gas-and-dash theft in Maple Ridge, B.C.

Forward said New Brunswick's police chiefs and the RCMP have spent the past year trying to persuade Premier Blaine Higgs's government to introduce "pay-before-you-pump" legislation. "Government is aware of the request," the senior police officer said.

New Brunswick Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said the province's Progressive Conservative government has no plans to legislate prepayment for gas.

"I'm disappointed that local police and RCMP would take this approach and will be following up with them for further discussion," the minister said in a statement released Monday.

"We know that theft of gas is a preventable crime. Retailers in many North American jurisdictions have decided to require prepayment before gas can be pumped. I've expressly encouraged gas retailers here to do the same."

Meanwhile, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police is urging Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government to support a pay-before-you-pump bill recently introduced by a backbench member of the governing party.

Deepak Anand, the Tory member for Mississauga-Milton, says the proposed law could save lives. He has cited the deaths of attendants Jayesh Prajapati in Toronto in September 2012 and Atifeh Rad in Mississauga in May 2011. Both were killed when they tried to stop fuel thefts.

In New Brunswick, traditional policing methods are not working, Forward said. When police investigate a gas theft, charges are rarely laid because attendants are often reluctant to file a written statement and testify in court.

As well, officers often find themselves acting as collection agents when those accused of stealing gas insist they simply forgot to pay and are quick to return and pay what they owe.

Forward said police in New Brunswick want to take steps now to prevent further deaths.

"If something like that did happen (in New Brunswick), I think the public would be right to say, 'What did you know? When did you know? And what did you do about it?'" Forward said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2024.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the first name of Grant De Patie.