Robbed? Read this.


The insurance agent sells you a policy. Years go by and it gets renewed. If you’re like me, you don’t really pay much attention to it. It’s not exciting reading. Not much plot. No interesting characters. It only becomes relevant when something goes wrong. In my case, that something was my car window being smashed and my beloved camera (SonyA33 plus a new zoom lens) were stolen. It was a smash and grab in an area in which I felt my car and belongings were safe. I lived in Winnipeg for a number of years and worked there sporadically for two years recently. I knew the area around Portage and Main was dangerous even though it is politically incorrect to say so. I didn’t know that that danger had spread all along Portage west until it reached past my alma mater, University of Winnipeg. When I worked as editor of the Icelandic paper, Logberg-Heimskringla, which has offices at Smith and Portage, I was told that, under no circumstances was I to stay in the office past 5:30. There was physical danger in doing so. That risk has now spread the length of Portage, past the Hudson Bay which is where I parked.

When I returned to my car at 10:00 p.m., the window was broken and my photography equipment stolen. I’ve never had anything like this happen before. There is shock. Disbelief. It seems impossible. It takes a while to sink in. I had to decide what to do. I thought I should report to the police but didn’t know where the closest police station was or whether, with a broken window, it was safe to park on the street. Luckily, although it was chilly, it wasn’t raining. I had no way of sealing the broken window. One doesn’t carry duct tape and plastic just in case one’s car has a window smashed.

I drove sixty miles to Gimli, Manitoba, because that is where I am staying for the summer. The next morning, I asked if I could make a report to the local RCMP. They would not make out a report on a crime committed outside their jurisdiction. I checked on line and discovered I could make a report via the internet. Except that the website didn’t work. I wrote down the phone number from non-emergency numbers. I called and waited and waited and waited. Property theft is so prevalent that after an hour I still hadn’t been able to talk to anyone. I called again. The same thing happened. Later in the day I called again. This time I reached a woman who said their lines for reporting non-emergency crimes are so busy that I had to stay on the line no matter how long it took. I was on for over an hour.

I finally contacted a constable. He took down my information but I didn’t have the serial numbers for the camera body and the lens that was in the camera. I had the serial number for the zoom lens because I had just bought it. I did have the serial numbers but they were back home in Victoria, BC. After some cogitating, I thought to call The Camera Store in Calgary. That’s where I had bought the camera three years earlier. Sure enough, they had the serial numbers and sent them to me by email. I called the Winnipeg police and gave them the numbers.

I called my insurance agent in Victoria. HUB. Discovered, to my chagrin that I didn’t understand my coverage. I thought that I was covered by ICBC for theft from my car. Nope. Theft is covered by my house insurance with its $500.00 deductible. That was a surprise. My ICBC deductible was $300.00. That insurance covered replacing the damaged window.

I called the local Ford dealership because I have a Ford Escape. They were pleasant and helpful but they refuse to deal with Manitoba car insurance, AutoPac. They sent me to Geisbrecht’s garage. I made an appointment with Geisbrecht’s.

In the meantime I’d talked to a couple of people regarding the theft insurance. At one point I got a call from a man with a thick East Indian accent. I could not understand what he was saying. He tried. I tried. Finally, I realized, he just wanted me to confirm that I was the person who had his photography equipment stolen. Normally, this would not bother me but when a person has been involved in a smash and grab, lost something that really matters to them, is feeling violated, is angry and upset, having to deal with anyone other than a Canadian is unnecessarily stressful. I finally got an adjuster in Naniamo, BC. He is Canadian. He spoke English clearly. It was a great relief.

I was told to start checking Kijijji, something I knew nothing about. I checked for two nights in a row and, sure enough, there was my camera bag, camera and zoom lens still in its box. The seller wanted $300.00. I phoned Winnipeg. After waiting some time, I got to speak to a constable. He explained that just because I thought the equipment was mine, they could not kick down the person’s door and demand to see the equipment. Nor would he try to buy the equipment back for me. I said that I’d try to buy back the equipment. He didn’t think that would be a good idea. He said I should come into Winnipeg and talk to a detective who might be willing to do something to get a look at the serial numbers.

I had got the car back with the window replaced. I drove to Winnipeg the next morning. I waited (they’re really busy with property crime reporting) but got to see a constable at the desk. He went on Kijijji and found the items I claimed were mine. He printed out pictures of them. In one, the hand holding the box with the lens had a clear tattoo on the inner wrist. I expect that person is known to the police and easily identifiable. The constable said there was a chance I’d get my equipment back.

I’ve had no call from the Winnipeg police. I expect that even though I provided serial numbers that they just filed a report and forgot about it. Property crimes are so low on their list, I’ve been told, that all they do is take reports and file them. They are more concerned with crimes where people get hurt. They leave the settling of property crimes to the insurance companies. People have said that when they’ve had equipment stolen from a vehicle, nothing was done beyond providing a number for an insurance claim. It’s like this is a low level business that involves, petty thieves, the police, the insurance company, and the victim. The thieves steal, the police write reports, the insurance companies pay out claims above deductible, and the victim is hapless and forgotten. Nobody represents the victim.

Given that no one is going to try to solve a crime, no one is going to try to retrieve stolen goods, I think that insurance policy holders should get a list that the selling agent should go over with the policy buyer.

  1. It is your house policy that covers theft from your vehicle. A deductible that seems reasonable for your house may not be reasonable for theft from your vehicle. Think about what might be stolen from your vehicle and set your deductible on that basis.
  2. Do not leave items in your vehicle where they can be seen. A thief doesn’t care if it costs you five hundred dollars to replace a window so he can steal an item that is worth fifty dollars on the street. It cost him nothing. The amount he gets is all profit.
  3. Try to find out what the crime rate is like in an area where you going. I knew that the area around Portage and Main were high crime areas. I did not know that this high crime rate had extended to areas much further south along Portage Avenue.
  4. Do not park on parking lots that do not have attendants. Place emphasis for parking on security rather than convenience. If you are going to be in an area try to find out local knowledge about when it is safe and not safe to park. Often, parking is safe during the day but not once the working day is over.
  5. If your vehicle is broken into, you must make a report to the police. Non emergency crime events are so common that some police departments accept reports over the internet. They will give you a report number to give to your insurance company.
  6. You can report a crime by telephone. Get a report number, you will need it.
  7. Police, RCMP, will not make out reports for areas outside their jurisdiction.
  8. Have the your insurance company’s name and phone numbers with you. Call them.
  9. Your agent will help direct your next phone calls. Damage to your car goes to your provincial insurer. In BC that is ICBC. Theft goes to the provider of your home insurance.
  10. You will not be dealing with the person who sold you the insurance. He works for the agent that represents a number of insurance companies. You will end up dealing with a number of people before you are assigned an adjuster who is working for the insurance company that actually insured you. When you get to this stage is when you’ll want to have receipts that show what you paid for the items stolen. When you buy things, keep receipts.
  11. The adjuster will make an offer based on the original cost, the discount because of age, etc.
  12. Don’t waste your time worrying about whether the police will get your belongings back. They won’t. They’re busy with crimes against people. Robbery, home invasion, assault, rape, murder, arson, etc. You’re losing a bunch of items, even if they are important to you, isn’t at the top of their list. In the time that my camera was stolen and I was reporting and hoping I might get it back, there were a number of people attacked in violent crimes.
  13. Items are stolen to be sold. My equipment appeared on Kijijii. I might have got it back for the three hundred dollar asking price if I’d moved quickly enough. I needed to know someone I could pay to buy back the equipment. In Victoria, my home city, I’d have known who to call. In Winnipeg, I didn’t. By the time I figured out who to ask to make a phone call and arrange a buy, the equipment had disappeared from the site.
  14. The thief’s job. Steal your belongings. The police’s job. Make a report. The insurance company’s job. Pay for the stolen equipment. It’s nobody’s job to try to catch the thief or to get back your belongings. You are on your own.

Dumb and Dumber

I had my camera and new zoom lens stolen, my car window smashed but at least I didn’t have three dimwitted teenagers pump me full of bullets like the armored car employee in Toronto. There is not a large gap between breaking into cars and stealing or knocking over the local corner store or going for a big score with an armored car. These actions don’t usually come without a history, although the police say the three alleged culprits had no previous record. That may simply be that one of them was just smart enough to observe the obvious.

As a teacher of forty years, high school, college, university, I don’t like to diss the dolts but dolts there are. Dolts are people who can’t make connections between acts and consequences. You know, the Victoria police are taking down a street corner drug dealer and half a block away another dealer is collecting money and handing over drugs and standing on tip toe to watch what is going down. I’ve heard of people like this as having a flat line learning curve. The words “likely consequences” simply don’t mean anything. Questions such as “What do you think might happen if you do that?”, that being taking a rifle stolen in a B&E and holding up a local bakery, gets a shrug of the shoulders. The shrug of the shoulders is because the person being questioned is thinking, “I’ve got a rifle, I want some money to go partying, buy booze, drugs, the bakery has money, I’ll hold them up, they’ll give me their money, and I’ll go out and have a good time.”

“You will probably get caught,” comes as a suggestion that seems quite impossible and can be mitigated with a paper bag with eye holes pulled over the perp’s head. The linear thinking doesn’t allow for analyzing past experiences of bakery-holder-uppers. Doesn’t mean researching the fate of bank-holder-uppers as being caught within fifteen minutes of a robbery. Doesn’t mean finding out how much money is in a bakery till on a Friday night and matching the proceeds against the consequences of armed robbery, or attempted murder if the baker decides to fight back.

I use the example of the bakery hold up because many years ago, the bright lights in one of my classes decided they were going to finance a hot weekend this way.

Knocking over an armored car is a step up. There’s a lot of money. The guards are armed. They can communicate with the police. Frankly, the risks are so great that I can only vaguely remember an armored car being knocked over somewhere in the distant past. It’s more the stuff of movies from the nineteen thirtees and forties. Maybe the alleged perps watched a lot of black and white movies and said, “Yeah, that’s the way to go.” I wonder if they searched through thrift shops to find old fashioned felt hats, had cigarettes in the corner of their mouths as they lurked about. Obviously, they must have cased the joint, does anyone say “cased the joint” anymore?

A defense lawyer may plead desperation, the overwhelming need for a pair of three hundred dollar running shoes, the psychological devastation wrought by not being able to shop for name brands, the need for status driving away common sense. Don’t believe a word of it. It’s simply the inability to connect cause and effect. You know: if I try to hold up an armored car, the guard is armed and will likely shoot at me, I’ll shoot back, the moment I do, I’ll be guilty of attempted murder, or worse, murder, I’m eighteen, I’m facing a life sentence, I’ll spend from eighteen to forty-three years in prison with a bunch of people who aren’t socially desirable companions. Nope. The armored car guys have bags of money, I want bags of money, they, the selfish bastards won’t give me the bags of money, I’ve got a pistol, I’ll make them give me the bags of money and then I’ll have lots of money and can shop all I want. I remember wanting to shout into the ears of dolts like this, “There isn’t much classy shopping done in prison.”

Of the three alleged perps, one must have been smarter than the other two. That’s usually how it works. The smarter guy (I didn’t say smart) will have concocted a plan, explained how it would work, the bountiful rewards, will be the leader. If the guard hadn’t been shot, if the charges weren’t so serious, if the likely sentence wasn’t so long and the brains behind the operation was back out on the street, I know exactly what he’d be telling his potential gang. Bad luck, it was all bad luck in an unreasonable world. We’ll do it again and we’ll be luckier this time. The ability to think cause and effect won’t have been improved.

They would have been better to stick to property crimes. There are so many of them, that trying to report one to the Winnipeg police on the phone means waiting for an hour or so to get one’s turn. There are so many property crimes that the police force has resorted to having victims report on line. The police do their best but they’re like King Canute trying to drive back the ocean waves by beating them with a chain. Manitobans need to pay more taxes, need to hire more police, give them more equipment and while they do their best to hold back the tsunami of lower level criminality, pay yet more taxes to remedy the social ills that foster crime.

Of course, this is theft at its most basic level. Maybe I am being unfair. Maybe the perps are well read. Maybe they’ve read of all the theft at the top of the financial chain, millions and millions, if not billions, with no consequences, white collar crime, and thought they should get some of the loot before it all disappears.