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The Globe and Mail

As gas theft rises, B.C.'s model of paying upfront generates interest

At her Shell Canada gas station in Victoria, Julie Kines hasn't had someone steal gasoline in the past five months. That's because the province made it mandatory starting in February for consumers to pay for their gasoline before they start pumping.

"It took a little bit to catch on," Ms. Kines said of the new law, created largely in response to the death of Grant De Patie, a 24-year-old gas-station attendant killed in 2005 while trying to prevent a fuel theft at a station in Maple Ridge, B.C. A 16-year-old boy pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case.

"I think it makes it a lot safer for [my workers]... and it's protecting the business as well because you're not getting the gas-and-dash," said Ms. Kines, who used to have at least one consumer every week leave the station without paying.

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With a recent rise in gas thefts across the country this summer - some of which have led to injuries as a result of an attendant, or police, giving chase - others are eyeing the B.C. model.

And some police forces, including the Calgary Police Service, are touting the benefits of the prepay method.

"If I was a businessman and I was losing bottom-line money out of my pocketbook, for the little bit of inconvenience ... to come in and pay in advance, I would be implementing that certainly," said Kevin Brookwell, Calgary police spokesman.

But Dave Collins, a director of the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, said that if gas stations were to adopt the policy, it would have to be provincewide.

Should it remain a voluntary decision to introduce prepayments, he says. It could destroy a gas station's business in some cases because a consumer who doesn't want the inconvenience of buying $40 worth of gas in advance will simply go elsewhere.

"The economic downside of doing that on your own is just devastating," he said.

Despite interest from the industry, other provinces show little sign of following B.C.

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Earlier this summer, after a 33-year-old gas station attendant was run over by a car as its driver allegedly sped away without paying, Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald told local media, "I don't want to be in a situation where we are legislating everything that happens in business. It's not my government's philosophy."

Last week, an Ontario government spokeswoman said it is also not considering any legislation similar to B.C.'s. Neither is Alberta.

"We certainly empower any gas station - if they want to go 'pay before' then they have that right," said Barrie Harrison, spokesman for Alberta's Ministry of Employment and Immigration, adding that employers should also educate their employees about how to safely respond to gas theft.

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