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facts & arguments

BEN CLARKSON/The Globe and Mail

At first, I wasn't going to bother Toronto's finest with the case of my second stolen bike, a shiny new replacement for one stolen just three days before. Curiosity changed my mind; I wanted to see if the way they'd handled my previous cry for justice was an exception, the rule, or part of a clandestine counter-insurgency against the War on the Car, which conservative politicians apparently regard as a lefty-bourgeoisie conspiracy.

My first bike was stolen from the secure underground garage of my boutique condo building in the heart of trendy, upscale Yorkville. It all started when the concierge phoned me to say the security cameras had caught some suspicious activity the previous night (to pre-empt any schadenfreude, I should say that I'm a low-income renter, and my condo is about the same size as my former bike's pannier rack).

Sure enough, when I went down to my parking space, my bike was gone. The surveillance camera caught the entire caper, as a hoodie on a bike got through the secure garage doors by tailgating a resident's car. The concierge called the police and reported a break-in, and soon a cruiser pulled up. Two constables emerged, their demeanour changing from curiosity to a less-veneered, resigned indifference as they realized they'd responded to a bike theft, not a jewellery heist from my penthouse safe.

I might have expected the first question: "Was the bike locked securely?"

"Yes," I replied. What I would have liked to say – but didn't – was: "Why does this really matter? The garage was locked, too. The bike wasn't his. Anyway, the police bikes stacked outside the local Tim Horton's are never locked."

To spark some investigative zeal, I announced we had the whole thing on DVD, and so we gathered around the screen. "There he is," I said, helpfully pointing out the hooded marauder.

"That's a Ford Explorer," said PC1 knowingly.

"No, it's the guy behind him on the bike," I repeated. We watched as the hoodie pulled into my parking stall, broke my bike lock, and rode my bike back out, leaving his junk bike. I pointed out that the hoodie wasn't wearing gloves, and suggested that since he'd left his bike behind, perhaps there might be fingerprints.

To which PC2 replied, "You've been watching too much CSI Miami. It's almost impossible to get fingerprints off a metallic surface." (C'mon guys, was that really necessary? It's not like I was asking you to look for a trace DNA sample on the bike seat. But you're right about three things: In CSI Miami they give the vic lots of time and sympathy; they solve the crime in less than an hour; and, neither of you look remotely like Calleigh.)

After taking down my contact information, the officers reluctantly loaded the hoodie's old bike into the trunk, and as they drove off I had a sinking feeling that I had about the same likelihood of seeing them again as I did the bike thief. So, to cheer myself up – and to be able to commute to work – I went out and splurged on a new bike. A big mistake, apparently, in Toronto.

A few days later, my new bike (securely locked, see note above) was stolen from the street in front of my office, which is in the less-upscale Annex neighbourhood, home to lots of student rentals and not far from the Brunswick House tavern. I dialled the now-familiar number. Maybe it was my location – or just a bit of paranoia – but this time they didn't send a car. I didn't even get to talk to dispatch, just a switchboard operator who assured me an officer would call me back – which one dutifully did – about three hours later.

The constable took down my information with a kind of easy nonchalance, dispelling any hope I had that I'd see my new bike again. It was only when I half-jokingly suggested that I was going to place a bait bike outside my office and lay in wait with a baseball bat that his tone changed. "Don't ever do that," he said. "We take that sort of action very seriously and you could be charged."

At least he didn't say I'd been watching too much Law and Order.

Several weeks have now passed, and I'm still waiting for the phone to ring. Not that I'm expecting a call from a detective saying that they've issued an APB describing the hoodie, or sent undercover operators to used bike stores with descriptions of my wheels. After all, this isn't CSI Miami.

And yes, I know all about the notorious bike thief Igor Kenk, who was arrested in a sting operation a few years ago by the Toronto police. Described in Wikipedia as "the most infamous and prolific bike thief in Canada," Kenk had about 3,000 stolen bikes in a warehouse when he was arrested. Which means that I'll probably have to wait until I have 2,998 more bikes stolen to expect similar action.

But all Kenk got was 30 months (he served just over half that) and the sentence included time for drug possession, thanks to the War on Drugs, whose failure seems like a complete victory compared to the Skirmish over Bike Theft.

Recently, The Globe ran a story noting that just 1.3 per cent of us commute to work by bike. Why such a low number? If you think it's because the Jane Jacobites have lost the War on the Car, or that people are too enamoured of their sedentary driving culture, you'd be wrong: It's more likely because most of us have just had our bikes stolen and so are: walking, driving or taking the bus to a bike store; calling the police; or, keeping a lonely vigil by the phone waiting to hear back from them.