Fishing for can people in Prince Rupert

Two white and two pink garbage bags full of cans and bottles sat on the edge of the sidewalk as bait.

Two white and two pink garbage bags full of cans and bottles sat on the edge of the sidewalk as bait.

Confident I had the right bait, in the perfect spot and at the right time, I sat back watching through my front window and waited.

Ever since returning to the Pacific shoreline from the flatlands of Manitoba, I’ve been itching to get fishing.

While not the heart-thumping run of a Tyee or dogged fight of a halibut, still, I readied myself for the first strike.

Before first light, early-risers can see Prince Rupert’s Can Crew scouring the streets, backlanes, dumpsters and garbage cans for their treasure.

While most likely a sight unremarkable to most in Prince Rupert, the sheer number of Can People in this city piqued my curiousity.

Last month, I wandered up to one of the can people and attempted to engage the can scrounger in conversation.

No sooner that the salutation was cast in the scrounger’s direction, he spooked and took off.

My second attempt near a recycling place went a bit better, but he shook the hook and also took off.

I made the novice angling mistake of not understanding my quarry. You see, I thought this was a homeless guy looking to scrape up a few bucks for a hot meal.

Nope, this guy was an entrepreneur.

“If you’re looking for a job, I can get you one,” I said to the can man.

“What kinda job,” he said as he looked around furtively.

“I need a relief paper carrier,” I said.

“How much does it pay?,” he asked.

I told him and he spat the hook out back in my face.

“I make [collecting cans] about a $100 a day,” he said and scooted away before I could ask any other stupid questions.

A couple of weeks ago in this space I penned a story about how a grandmother and another guy were caught in the social safety net.

After several conversations on the topic, I got to wondering about the Can People.

Are they also caught in the net? But how to get one on the hook long enough to find out the story?

Sounded like a fishing trip to me.

Cue the pink and white bait.

Less than five minutes later, I again looked out the window and one of the white bags was gone. I had a nibble and didn’t even know it.

And then… crossing the street, yup, there he was. He paused, dropped the big black garbage bag he was carrying and opened up the white bag, then over to the pink bags.

Can Man On!

I walked out front to set the hook.

“Hi, hey, you can have [the cans] just answer one question for me.”

He looked straight at me and said, “What?”

“Is this how you make a living. Do you have another job?”

“Nah, I’m on assistance,” he said candidly.

I know I said one question, but I pushed my luck.

“Make good money doing this?” I asked.

“It’s all right,” he said in monotone. “Maybe a hundred in a day.”

He looked at me then the cans. I nodded and he packed away the untraceable revenue-generating cans. A good catch and release.

But moreover, I netted theĀ  second source.

Social assistance plus $100 tax-free a day. Simple math on a five-day work week plus, even the most basic social assistance, adds up to more than $32,000 clear each year. That equates roughly to a $45,000-a-year job in the above-the-table, income-taxable world.

It does pay to recycle.

This fishing trip left only one question, who’s really caught in the social safety net?

In the end, It’s the taxpayer left on the hook.