Paying for gas before you pump could become mandatory in parts of Ontario under new legislation proposed by a Progressive Conservative backbencher.
The bill aims not only to prevent so-called "gas and dash" thefts but also to reduce the risk of gas station attendants being hurt or killed, says the MPP who tabled the legislation this week.
"My focus is on saving lives," said Deepak Anand, MPP for Mississauga-Milton. "My focus is on making sure of better use of police resources."
Gas theft has long been a common occurrence, but last year's spike in gas prices brought with it a fresh surge in thefts, according to figures from police and the industry in Ontario.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association estimates $3.75 million in losses from fuel thefts at service stations across the province in 2022, triple the amount from 2020.
York Regional Police reported a 66 per cent jump in gas and dash incidents in 2022 over the previous year, while Peel Regional Police said gas thefts rose by 44 per cent.
Anand says his prime motivation with the bill is safety. He cites the deaths of gas station attendants Jayesh Prajapati in Toronto and Atifeh Rad in Mississauga, both killed in fuel theft incidents little more than a year apart.
The bill would require pre-payment at gas stations in the Greater Toronto Area, and would empower municipalities elsewhere in the province to adopt the law by a resolution of council.
"If there are other cities who want to opt in, if they feel there is a problem (with gas thefts) and they want to solve this issue by prepayment, we are giving them the choice," Anand said.
The mandatory pre-payment rules would be phased in, applying only between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. for the first year, then around the clock.
If the bill passes, Ontario would become the third province with pay-before-pumping rules. It's been the law in British Columbia since 2008 and in Alberta since 2018.
Alberta saw five deaths in gas-and-dash thefts in a stretch of just three years, triggering the then-NDP government of Rachel Notley to bring in the legislation.
WATCH | Gas theft on the rise as prices continue to increase: As prices continue to increase, gas stations in Ontario are reporting a rise in fuel theft.
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) is urging the Doug Ford government to support Anand's bill.
"We're very concerned in particular for the resources that police services need to dedicate to [gas thefts], and primarily for the safety of the workers that work in these gas stations," said Joe Couto, the OACP's director of government relations and communications.
38,000 gas thefts last year in Ontario: MPP
"We simply can't recover the cost that we put into investigating these thefts in a lot of cases, which is problematic when we're trying to control our police budgets," Couto said in an interview. "It basically takes our officers away from dealing with other crimes."
Couto says some convenience store owners oppose a mandatory 24/7 pay-in-advance law, because they believe it would reduce the number of customers buying items inside the store.
"We don't think that's a valid excuse," he said. "Community safety is primary here."
Anand says based on his research in preparing the bill, some 38,000 gas thefts were reported in Ontario last year. That works out to an average of more than 100 per day across the province.
"Whenever you go to Tim Horton's, you pay for your coffee, and then you get your coffee," he said. "All we're trying to do is make sure we follow the same mindset when you go to the gas station."
Dave Bryans, chief executive of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, says the bill is a step forward but he wants pre-pay to be the law across the province.
"It shouldn't just be the GTA, gas thefts are everywhere," Bryans said in an interview. "Gas-and-dash has grown year over year, it is a huge issue."
The bill, introduced Thursday, is called the Protecting Ontarians by Enhancing Gas Station Safety to Prevent Gas and Dash Act, or Bill 88.
It's Anand's second attempt at making pre-payment mandatory in Ontario. A bill he introduced in 2020 would have applied across the province and was endorsed by the associations representing police chiefs and convenience stores. But after the government chose not to push it through the process at Queen's Park, it died when that legislative session ended.
Private member's bills (coming from any MPP who is not in cabinet) only rarely become law in Ontario. However, such a bill tabled by a member of the governing party stands a better chance of passing than one from an opposition MPP.
The bill would amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act, putting the onus on gas station owners to comply as part of Ontario labour law.
"Every worker in our province deserves to come home safely after their shift, said Labour Minister Monte McNaughton in a statement provided to CBC News. He congratulated Anand "for highlighting this important issue" but did not indicate whether the government will get behind the PC MPP's legislation.