Thieves struck a major community mailbox hub in Abbotsford twice last week and have hit more than two dozen locations in Mission over the past two months.
But Canada Post won’t reveal the full scope of the theft problem.
Last Wednesday, Janay Froese arrived at her local community mailbox (CMB) at McMillan and Old Yale roads to find more than a dozen boxes opened.
Two days later, she returned to find even more boxes had been entered at the site, which hosts more than 500 such units.
“None of these were ripped off,” she said Friday, as she surveyed the damage. “This is all new.”
The doors of some boxes were sheared off, while others had the locks ripped out. Unopened mail remained behind in at least two of the opened boxes.
A contractor for Canada Post arrived just after Froese. He had been called to repair 13 boxes, and was surprised that more had been breached. A quick count showed a total of 31 boxes had been opened.
Earlier this year, Abbotsford Police reported the region had 23 separate incidents in January and February.
Const. Ian MacDonald did not have data on mail crime trends since then, but he said thefts seem to be down from two years ago, when the Lower Mainland was found to have the most mail crime in the nation.
“That said, the magnitude of the theft is enormous,” he said, noting that stolen mail frequently turns up in the homes and vehicles of those arrested for other crimes.
Mission has averaged close to one mailbox break-in every two days.
“From June 1 to July 27, 2015 we had 26 incidents of theft from Canada Post mailboxes,” said Mission RCMP Sgt. Shaun Wright.
He called it a “spike” in activity, but also noted that the thefts come in clusters.
“Typically, people who do that are very prolific so they’ll hit a large number, five or 10, mailboxes at one time.”
Not all incidents are reported to police, with some citizens opting to go directly to Canada Post. A spokesperson for the Crown corporation would not reveal the number of incidents it has dealt with this year.
Asked if things had changed since the winter, Canada Post media relations director Anick Losier wrote in an email: “I’m not going to get into specifics because it would only benefit those who have little regard for law-abiding citizens but I can confirm we are working closely with police.”
Asked if matters had improved, Losier wrote: “for us (and the victims), one is too many … Should anyone see any suspicious activities around our equipment, we ask that they contact police immediately.”
An informal News survey of the surrounding area revealed two other CMBs in a McMillan neighbourhood had been targeted. Commenters on The News’ Facebook site reported thefts at locations across the city, from Bradner to Sumas Prairie.
In recent years, Canada Post has begun to install more secure boxes that are tougher for thieves to enter. Those generally have short, wide slots, while the older, more vulnerable boxes have square openings.
The News did not receive an answer from Canada Post about how many old-style boxes had been replaced.
On Monday, Abbotsford city council received a letter from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) that included a study conducted by the CUPW on the implications of home mail delivery.
The authors wrote that “Canada Post does its best to suppress news stories.”
CUPW cites a report of 4,800 incidents over a five-year period in B.C.
“The absence of national reporting of CMB break-ins and the refusal of Canada Post to release timely figures on the number of thefts from CMBs serves to undermine the ability of the public to evaluate Canada Post’s claims concerning the safety and security of community mailbox delivery.”
The report included a poll that found 7.6 per cent of respondents had mail stolen and 16.3 per cent had their CMB vandalized.
While some boxes are repaired quickly, other residents have been told it will take five to six weeks for their CMB to be repaired. In the meantime, residents are usually directed to Canada Post’s Marshall Road depot, which is open between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Canada Post has been trying to persuade customers that a move away from door-to-door service will not have a major impact on residents.
Last December, Canada Post announced all door-to-door service in Abbotsford would stop by this fall, with mail to the 12,000 residents in the city’s core diverted to CMBs. Thousands already received mail in such boxes. In Mission, the move was slated to affect 6,100 addresses. When the conversion in completed later this year, close to 99 per cent of residents will be served by CMBs.
At Monday’s meeting of Abbotsford council, Coun. Brenda Falk asked about costs to the city due to the CMBs, such as vandalism reports to police, following correspondence from the CUPW about their concerns.
She asked whether there are permit fees to install the mailboxes and help cover the costs to the city.
According to city communication staff, the city will receive a $50 permit fee for each site – which will allow up to three multi-unit mailboxes – with an additional $50 fee for more boxes.
There are about 385 proposed location sites for community mailboxes in Abbotsford.
At a Mission council meeting in April, a large crowd of people came out to protest the change, with some accusing Canada Post of destroying a public service.
Mission council had also voiced concerns over a lack of consultation regarding where CMBs will be located.
– with files from Alex Butler, Kevin Mills and Jeff Nagel