B.C. city proposes fining grocers as part of plan to deal with problem of abandoned carts

Penticton is proposing measures that would include a fine against retailers who fail to take reasonable theft-prevention measures
grocery carts

Shopping carts stolen and then abandoned in parks and streets are an eyesore in Canadian cities, not to mention a safety hazard for drivers. 

The City of Penticton, a lakeside community of about 35,000 in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, is the latest municipality wanting grocers to accept some responsibility for the problem. 

Penticton is proposing measures that would include a fine against retailers who fail to take reasonable theft-prevention measures, such as having coin-operated carts or wheels that automatically lock if the cart is removed too far from a store. 

The fine could be as high as $500, the limit for a bylaw offence notice in Penticton. The proposed measures – which also include requiring businesses to label carts with store information – are set to be heard at a city council meeting on Oct. 3.  

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Blake Laven, director of development services at the City of Penticton and author of a report into the issue for the city, says the municipality had 588 calls in 2022 about abandoned items. A large majority of those were shopping carts taken by people experiencing homelessness. 

“Bylaw officers and other city staff deal with this issue on a daily basis, often multiple times a day,” he says, from collection of the carts to impounding them at its City Works Yard. 

Major grocers in Penticton include Walmart, Safeway, Save-on-Foods and Nature’s Fare Markets

“We’re proud to serve the Penticton community,” said Felicia Fefer, manager, corporate affairs at Walmart Canada, in an email to Canadian Grocer. “We regularly corral shopping carts in and beyond our parking lots. We know that some shopping carts are taken off store property, which is unfortunate and frustrating because it reduces the number of carts for our customers and causes issues in the community.”

“To address this, we provide coin-operated carts to prevent our carts from being removed from our property and contract a cart collection service to collect stray carts in the neighbourhood,” she added. 

READ: Canadians divided over retailers' anti theft measures, poll finds

Canadian Grocer reached out to a number of other grocery chains in Penticton, most of which declined to comment. However, we confirmed at least one other major grocery chain in Penticton uses coin deposit technology for their carts. But not all have a cart management system in place. 

Sanchit Sukhija, who manages Penticton Global Grocers, says he notices “a lot of carts left around the community.” 

However, he says theft isn’t a problem at Global Grocers, being a small family-owned operation and the fact that carts are kept inside the store, as opposed to cart corrals in the parking lot. But he believes grocers have a role to play in reducing the proliferation of stray carts. 

On the odd occasion carts get left outside, he says their employees are quick to retrieve them. “We keep an eye out, and that helps our cause.” 

Numerous municipalities across Canada already have shopping cart bylaws. Kitchener, Ont. allows a shopping cart to be abandoned for no more than 24 hours, at which point it's tagged and the retailer instructed to pick it up. If they don’t, they could be issued a summons to appear in court and be fined. 

More recently, in 2021, Thunder Bay required stores to come up with a theft-prevention and cart recovery plan. Walmart, No Frills, Superstore and Safeway outside Thunder Bay metro have all since adopted coin-released carts. 

The case the retail industry has made in the past about fines is that they punish the victims of theft. 

READ: Grocery shoplifting on the rise in Canada amid inflation, industry insiders say 

“I fully agree with this sentiment,” Laven tells Canadian Grocer. But he explains that the fine would be a measure of last resort.

“Our hope is that we will never have to issue a fine, and that stores are able to implement systems that do a better job of managing carts on site,” he says. Laven hopes retailers will also “engage with our processes to have carts that are removed returned in a reasonable time period.” 

“Our goal is always to get voluntary compliance and not take a punitive approach,” he adds. 

The City of Penticton is also in discussions with groups that provide services to people experiencing homelessness with a solution that would manage their belongings. That could mean the purchase of a fleet of carts or other conveyances. 

“If we had carts dedicated to these individuals and we had a system to return the carts to an organization,” says Laven, “much of the problems around this issue would be resolved.”

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