COLUMN: We’re on our own with mail theft

Community mail boxes are being broken into, or in some cases, removed entirely, from neighbourhoods in Surrey and other communities.

Mail theft is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in Surrey and other South Fraser communities.

Community mail boxes are being broken into, or in some cases, removed entirely. People whose boxes are damaged  then have to go to mail-distribution centres to pick up their mail. Sometimes this lasts for weeks.

In addition to ignoring what is clearly a growing problem, Canada Post and the federal government want to make it worse. The government plans to eliminate all home delivery of mail over the next few years, ensuring that everyone will have an equal opportunity to have their mail stolen.

The newer community mailboxes were supposed to be more thief-resistant. That didn’t last long.

Several weeks ago, a family member’s community mailbox, one of three placed together on a rural street, was taken right off its stand.

Last week, Surrey RCMP arrested a young woman near a convenience store in South Surrey. Inside her vehicle were 150 pieces of mail, numerous cellphones and “evidence of other criminal activities relating to credit cards and bank cards,” according to Surrey RCMP Cpl. Bert Paquet.

Police suggested the contents of her vehicle indicate an entire community mailbox was emptied – either at the scene, or as a result of the entire box being stolen.

Mail was scattered down my own street last weekend. Some of it was notices from Canada Post about parcels being held at the nearest community post office, and dated the previous day.

The mail was returned to those for whom it was intended, but on Monday police were talking to a man who has been wandering up and down the street virtually every day last week. He may be innocent, but there are no shortage of people cruising by and trying to clean out mailboxes.

What are the solutions? Canada Post is all but hopeless. While individual employees are helpful enough, they are restricted by the corporation’s basic policy of poor communication  and blind obedience to rules cast in stone in Ottawa.

It is obvious the mail-theft issue is more significant here than in other parts of Canada, but you’d never know it if you paid attention to Canada Post’s messaging. It seems focused on delivering parcels ordered over the Internet, and reluctant to improve the way it delivers mail.

Local governments could raise a fuss, as they did when community mailboxes were first introduced. They seem to have long ago given up even trying to ensure that residents get the mail service we pay for.

While bills and other mail can come by email, the target of many thieves seems to be credit and debit cards and other mail with valuable personal information. This allows thieves to steal identity and do a host of damages.

Perhaps banks and credit unions need to hold the cards at local branches and have people pick them up. However, that won’t work if the issuer has no local presence.

The various arms of the federal government are no more helpful. A friend is waiting right now for an important piece of mail from the citizenship office. Notices about citizenship tests are sent via regular mail and are frequently not delivered. Then the poor applicants have to go back to the bottom of the list.

Registered mail doesn’t seem to have even entered the consciousness of these government departments, whose mail is frequently life-altering for many.

It seems that all people can do is be vigilant. Have a good idea what time the mail is delivered and arrange to get it right away. If that isn’t possible, co-operate with a neighbour so that someone can pick it up quickly. Report any suspicious activity as well.

Otherwise, you may end up being the next in a long list of mail-theft victims.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.