The burglars are expanding their quests for the metal to vital installations, pilfering from live electrical substations and airport runways.
Recently, Det. Const. Ewen Crook of Halton Regional Police expressed his concern that some illegal scavenger of copper will soon get killed while removing wire from live transformers. Crook said that thieves so far have narrowly avoided electrocution by removing only the inactive grounding wire.
Risky thefts of the scrap metal are becoming increasingly common across the GTA and beyond.
On Nov. 7, employees at Stephenville International Airport in Newfoundland tried to turn on runway lights for a plane about to land only to find that the copper wiring controlling the lights had been stolen.
Three men were arrested four days later and are facing several charges, including endangering life and damaging a navigation facility.
The motivation, Crook says, is financial, with the world price of copper at $3.10 (US) a pound, compared to 80 cents in 2003.
But Brook Casha, co-owner of Skraps Metal Recycling in Markham, says the thieves are taking risks that simply aren't worth it.
"They risk their lives or going to jail for a couple of hundred dollars," Casha said.
Casha says that he's required by law to take down the names, licence plates and driver's licence numbers of any individual who sells him scrap copper. The municipal bylaw also requires scrap metal dealers to record the price paid for the copper and a description of the seller.
"The police come by every couple of weeks and pick (the list) up," Casha said. "I don't really see how it's worth it."
Recently, $6,000 worth of copper wire was stolen from a construction site in Norfolk County in southwestern Ontario.
In early October, four men were arrested after four 7,000-pound spools of copper wire were stolen from an Oshawa warehouse.
David Anonychuk of the Toronto office of Xstrata Copper says his company has run into problems shipping copper. "Trucks just disappear. They never show up."