By Jordan W. Charness

Talk about sticker shock! I went to put gas in the car the other day and found that prices had soared since the previous week to over $1.30 per litre! And that was just for regular gas; what we used to call super gas, and my parents called hi-test, was pushing the $1.40 per litre mark. I looked at the price of gas and thought about my 75-litre gas tank and decided that a fill-up was out of the question. I figured I would just put in $20 and hope that gas prices would go down.

I wasn’t the only one. I looked at a bank of 10 gas pumps and each and every one of them had $20 indicated as the last amount of gas that was purchased. I went inside and spoke to the gas station attendant. I asked him if anyone had bought more than $20 gas all day and he said absolutely not. Everyone shared the feeling that these prices were outrageous and that they better not last.

We discussed the fact that in the same time period gasoline in the United States had gone up by about seven cents per gallon whereas our gas prices had gone up about 45 cents a gallon in the same time frame. While we were talking, he looked out the window and exclaimed, “There goes another one!”

The “other one” that he was talking about was someone who had decided to fill up his gas tank and leave without paying. According to the gas station attendant, this was happening more and more often as the price of gas continued to rise. That was the main reason that they had installed so many closed-circuit cameras focused on not only the gas pumps but also the rear of cars so that the license plates could be read as well.

He said that he was surprised to note that it was not only people with great big cars and great big gas tanks that were filling up and leaving; even drivers small compact cars were filling up and going without paying for the gas.

Since this was not a 911 emergency and it was unlikely that the perpetrators could be caught immediately by the police, the attendant called a special number that he had been given to report gas thefts. The police will then arrange to view the videos and store them to be used as evidence in order to arrest and convict the people who decided not to pay for the gas.

Things are starting to get so bad that many self-serve gasoline stations are now resorting to requiring that people pay for their gas before they fill up. This, of course, is an extra level of annoyance for the already disgruntled consumer who feels that he or she is paying through the nose for the gas he or she absolutely needs. Now he or she is forced to go in and estimate the amount of gas that he or she will need and then go and pump the gas. More often than not the guesstimate will be wrong requiring a second or third trip back inside to either get change or buy some more.

In some provinces in Canada, such as British Columbia, it is now the law to pre-pay for your gas, but the task is made easier by the fact that most pumps will take credit cards.

In areas where pre-paying is not required, gas pumps are sporting warning signs from the local police departments reminding people that stealing gas, no matter what the amount, is a criminal code offence.

In fact, most of these people are caught in due course. The conviction is relatively easy since the recordings often make it digitally clear who perpetrated the offence. If you are convicted of this crime you can look forward to having a criminal record that could last for life and pay a fat fine that will be considerably larger than the amount of gas you stole, and even face a jail term, particularly if this is not your first offence.

One more thing: saying that you feel that you are being ripped off by the big oil companies is not considered a valid legal defence.

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