Bikes are mine 'unless you have a police
BY ANTHONY REINHART
Globe and Mail, July. 28, 2008
Wearing a wan, weary expression, the accused face of bicycle theft in
Toronto let out a deep breath and stepped forward to give his name in a
“Kenk, K-E-N-K,” he said, spelling out what most everyone in the room
already knew: He was Igor Kenk, the long-time used-bicycle dealer
facing a raft of charges in a sweeping probe that has so far uncovered
nearly 2,500 stashed bicycles, many believed stolen.
Since the July 18 arrest of Mr. Kenk, 49, and Jean Laveau, 47, in the
theft of one bike and an attempt to steal another, city dwellers have
looked on with growing bewilderment at each new turn in the
investigation, which began at Mr. Kenk's ramshackle bike shop on Queen
It has since led to eight rented buildings crammed with bikes,
including the cluttered home Mr. Kenk shares with his wife, Jeanie
Chung, an accomplished classical pianist. She too has been charged, in
connection with drugs and a computer, allegedly stolen, found in the
With still more seizures expected, Mr. Kenk's scheduled bail hearing
yesterday was postponed until Wednesday and he remains in custody.
As he appeared briefly in an Old City Hall courtroom, dozens of
erstwhile bicycle owners lined up a few kilometres away to search for
their long-lost wheels at a pair of warehouses, donated after police
ran out of storage room.
Shocking as each new discovery sounds, the city had grown accustomed
to, if not accepting of, Mr. Kenk as a fixture in the murky world of
second-hand bicycle dealing, in which even a stolen bike can be sold
legally as long as no one steps forward to claim it within a set time,
and the dealer records its serial number and the name of whoever sold
it to him.
Police say Mr. Kenk routinely satisfied those requirements and often
returned bikes to rightful owners who had kept pertinent records and
had reported them stolen. It was only when officers placed a “bait
bike” across from his shop, and allegedly saw him instruct someone to
steal it, that they moved in to arrest him, setting off the snowballing
series of raids on bike-stuffed garages around the city's west end.
The fact that most people don't bother registering their bikes or
reporting them stolen means they often land in licensed second-hand
shops, where they are held for three weeks, then resold, stripped for
parts or sold as scrap.
Mr. Kenk admitted as much in a series of audio interviews this month,
recorded by documentarian Lewis Farrell, 23, of Toronto, just days
before the shop owner's arrest, and obtained this week by The Globe and
Mail. Mr. Farrell, who has had several bikes stolen, wanted to know
where they end up, and his street-level inquiries led him to Mr. Kenk.
By turns profane and articulate, sarcastic and sympathetic, the
Slovenian immigrant presented himself as a former police officer who is
now a lowly custodian of castoffs in a “fat, frivolous” city whose
authorities are too lazy or corrupt to put an end to bike theft.
“We're living in the wealthiest, most … affluent city on the planet,”
Mr. Kenk told Mr. Farrell, “but this is going down because nobody does
anything.” He said he has long advocated a licensing system for bikes,
similar to that for cars, to stop the resale of stolen bikes, but “the
business community does not want it” because it profits from selling
So, he collects bicycles, some through salvaging, others through
purchases from “providers,” some of whom he called “defective,”
“emotional cripples” or “losers.”
As for the bikes he buys, he referred to them repeatedly as “pieces of
shit,” though at other times personified them as having a “life force”
and lamented people's willingness to discard them. “I've invested my
blood, my money, my … time into salvaging because it's immoral to throw
out,” he said. “All of these bikes belong on the streets, not in the
When Mr. Farrell raised the notion of off-site storage sheds,
suggesting that Mr. Kenk was unlawfully hiding bikes from public view
during the three-week cooling-off period,
Mr. Kenk acknowledged he is “hoarding” bikes, but insisted all of them
cool off in his shop as required.
“I just told you, I get the bike, I put it in the book, I throw it in
the shop. They have three weeks of time as far as law goes; after that,
it's my goodwill” that determines whether he will return a bike to an
Mr. Kenk even admitted he alters the bikes he buys – changes the
pedals, say, or the seat – as a kind of test to would-be claimants who
come looking after the three weeks are up. “If you know which details I
changed, you are welcome to my bike,” he said.
After Mr. Farrell suggested this was “dastardly” and “sneaky,” Mr. Kenk
said: “You have no force, you have no right, you have nothing. … I
agree that it's … wrong, but that's what it is. The bike is mine unless
you have a police report.”
Gary Duke, owner of Duke's Cycle, a respected Queen Street fixture that
his family ran for 94 years before a fire in February forced its
relocation, recalled his first sighting of Mr. Kenk in the 1990s.
“He used to go through our garbage when we put it out in front of the
store,” looking to salvage discarded parts, Mr. Duke said.
Since then, it has become a joke in the cycling community that when a
bike is stolen, “your best bet is to go to Igor's within two to four
hours,” he said.
Several bike-theft victims interviewed this week said they had done
exactly that, with mixed success.
Regardless of the results, Mr. Duke said there's something wrong with a
city that would, through lax regulations or weary indifference, sustain
a situation that effectively legitimizes theft.
“There's so much complacency and life is so busy that you don't have
time,” he said. “I think it's time for people in Toronto to stop
turning a blind eye and start to get upset again.”