Theresa Leaver must have felt relief this week when she found her bicycle – one of thousands stolen from the streets of Toronto over the summer. But she was in luck, only because of her last name.
With help from her daughter and Twitter, Leaver tweeted a picture of her bike. As of Sunday, she said, someone had stepped forward and claimed responsibility for the theft.
“I do feel some relief, but I don’t know that I feel like the owner of the bike,” she said. “I just feel this open wound.
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“I’m just glad it was one that was in particular places on the street,” she added. “If it was anywhere other than on the street, someone wouldn’t take it.”
Theft of bicycles and other goods has been an ongoing problem in Toronto for years, prompting public outrage in 2018. But the primary issue, say experts, is more a chain of societal attitudes and structural neglect.
The bigger problem is that Canadians treat the theft of property as a little to a great deal of bother. According to a survey by Home Depot Canada, approximately 95% of Canadians say they don’t feel like they are personally to blame if their property is stolen.
Anna Benesova: ‘Imagine living with this every day. The joy of having a bike when you don’t.’ Photograph: Courtesy of Anna Benesova
“Since we are so private, it feels it’s the owner’s fault,” said Anna Benesova, a 20-year-old student and part-time model who often rides a bike. “What we need to do is to take care of our stuff and protect it.”
On top of this, thieves typically find it more lucrative to sell goods to cities like Toronto, where citizens pay exorbitant property taxes and property taxes frequently compound the loss. For this reason, Benesova said, finding a bike is probably harder in Toronto than in other cities.
“Imagine living with this every day. The joy of having a bike when you don’t,” she said. “It seems like you are not normal if you own a bike.”
Home Depot Canada’s survey also suggested the theft problem is a growth issue for the Canadian economy, with 8.6% of those surveyed in Canada saying their homes or businesses had been the target of theft in the last 12 months. A whopping 53% of Canadians said they have received no help from the police in recovering lost goods, and nearly 75% said they have rarely or never filed a police report to get goods back.
The path to recouping all of that is no less difficult, said Alan Roskin, a forensic bicycle forensics expert and former head of the Minnesota Crime Lab. Crime labs don’t have the forensic equipment and budgets needed to identify bikes by DNA, scratchings or serial numbers.
In fact, in the 2018 Canadian census, about 8% of domestic batteries, skateboards and remote controls were stolen, compared with about 1% of bicycles. The dollar value of those stolen bicycles was about $711m in 2012.
The fact that bicycles are increasingly attractive to thieves – they can be easily concealed with added difficulty – means it may take more than putting the pedal to the metal to recover lost property.
“There is less recovered. The effort and time involved in retrieving property isn’t cheap,” Roskin said. “If they can’t recover the property, they aren’t going to be able to prove ownership.”