Local big-rig recoveries expose Canada’s major freight thefts

Police are investigating and looking for suspects after several trailers carrying more than $1.5 million worth of products stolen in Aylmer were recently recovered in St. Thomas.

They went looking for four hijacked transport truck trailers, a steel cargo heist worth a combined $1.6 million.

They found them at the site of Ford’s former St. Thomas assembly plant, but that’s not all.

Two more trailers — reported stolen from Aylmer like the other four — turned up nearby in St. Thomas, one loaded with General Motors auto parts and the other with shipping racks.

One person is charged so far in the investigation involving police in Aylmer and St. Thomas and the OPP in Elgin County.

Freight ripoffs are a huge issue nationwide, including in Southwestern Ontario, and finding six transport truck trailers reported stolen in short order opens a window into a crime that costs tens of millions of dollars a year.

“It’s a common occurrence,” said Elgin OPP Const. Troy Carlson, who didn’t have specific regional figures for such heists in Southwestern Ontario.

Often, stolen cargo trailers are towed away by other rigs from busy loading zones or freight yards and transfer points.

Aylmer police say a tractor-trailer was used to haul four loaded trailers away from a Chipchase Court business in the Elgin town on Jan. 31.

While sometimes a crime of opportunity, in most cases the cargo thieves target merchandise, Carlson said.

“More often than not, they’re probably aware of what’s in the trailer, whether it be electronics or other products that, obviously, can be easily sold and not easily identifiable,” he said.

Household items, including food, are the most common type of stolen cargo, and most of it can’t be traced with serial numbers. Latest figures from the Insurance Bureau of Canada for 2019 put the reported loss from cargo thefts at $35 million that year, up from $2.1 million five years earlier.

In 2014, when the bureau started crunching the numbers, $270,000 in stolen cargo was recovered. By 2019, that figure had risen to $14 million. Those figures, however, only include losses reported to the board.

Between January 2017 and mid-2018, more than half of all thefts in Canada, 54 per cent, took place in Ontario, one insurer, Northbridge Insurance, has reported.

In the Aylmer case, two of the trailers reported stolen each contained about $750,000 worth of structural steel for bridge floor beams and two others each contained close to $50,000 worth of steel.

The trailers were recovered with the help of Elgin OPP and St. Thomas police at the site of Ford’s former St. Thomas plant off Sunset Drive, police said.

Two more trailers, loaded with shipping racks and auto parts, also reported stolen in Aylmer on Jan. 31, were found in the area of South Edgeware Road and Progress Drive in St. Thomas, about 14 kilometres from the now-demolished Ford plant.

The cases are believed to be linked, said Aylmer police Chief Zvonko Horvat.

“The target was very similar in nature, same type of equipment and same type of product on all these trailers,” he said.

Aylmer police have investigated similar cases before, but this is the largest in property value, Horvat said.

“It is a multi-jurisdictional type of theft,” he said. “We’re not the only agency investigating them.”

A St. Thomas man, 41, is charged with nine counts of theft valued at more than $5,000. He’s also charged with arson after Aylmer police responded to a semi-tractor fire on Feb. 1.

The investigation continues, Horvat said.

“In terms of where the product was going, we do not have that information,” he said. “We haven’t made any links between that particular individual and any other potential suspects.”

Anyone with information is asked to call Aylmer police at 519-773-3146.