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Liberal MPP pushes for pay upfront legislation in wake of 'gas-and-dash' thefts

Mike Colle, MPP Eglinton-Lawrence, has proposed a private member’s bill which will require drivers in Ontario to pay for their gas up front in the wake of a recent string of gas-and-dash thefts.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

Ontario should require drivers to pay upfront before buying gasoline to stop so-called "gas and dash" thefts that have claimed the lives of gas station attendants, Liberal backbencher Mike Colle said Tuesday.

His private member's bill also calls for suspending the drivers' licences of those convicted of gas thefts and fines for employers who force attendants to pay for the stolen gas out of their wages — a practice Colle called a "dirty little secret."

If passed, the measures could better protect gas station attendants who feel compelled to go after the thieves, he said.

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"There is no way in God's earth that someone making $10 an hour should have to go to work every day wondering if they're going to encounter one of these gas thieves and wondering whether their lives are going to be at risk," Colle said.

He re-introduced the bill Tuesday, which was initially put forward last year after 44-year-old gas attendant Jayesh Prajapati was killed when he tried to stop a man from driving away without paying his $112.85 bill.

His widow, Vaishali, and 12-year-old son Rishabh, joined Colle at the legislature to support the bill.

"I lost Jayesh, who was everything to me, and I pray that no one else is put through the situation I went through," Vaishali Prajapati said, wiping away tears after reading the statement.

A warrant has been issued for Max Edwin Tutiven in connection with Prajapati's death and other gas-and-dash thefts, but he's still at large, Colle said.

"I just think we need to start somewhere with this legislation," he said.

"Right now, the GTA is basically a free-for-all for these criminals and they know there are no consequences."

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There were about 5,000 gas-and-dash thefts reported last year in the Greater Toronto Area, but police believe thousands more aren't reported, he said. They tend to spike when gas prices go up.

The measures proposed in his bill could also cut down on the amount of time police spend investigating such thefts, Colle said.

Identifying thieves can be difficult because many of them use stolen plates and security cameras don't always provide clear images, he said. If a case actually gets to court, the charges are often dropped due to insufficient evidence, or the sentences are light.

"As the police have said very categorically, it is a huge waste of police resources," Colle said.

York Region Police plan to launch online reporting of gas thefts on Monday, said Staff Sgt. Edmond Villamere.

"If we had the 'pay before you pump' — which is the key to all this — it's a completely preventable crime and we could reduce all these instances to near zero," he said.

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In British Columbia, prepayment has significantly cut down on gas-and-dash thefts, Colle said. Prepayment can be made with a debit card, credit card or cash.

Colle said he's changed the bill slightly to allow municipalities to opt out of mandatory prepayment in response to opposition from some rural communities.

Private member's bills rarely become law without the backing of the government. But Colle said he's received a lot of support from the Liberal caucus, as well as some New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives.

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