The business of collecting clothes for charity is taking an ugly turn. A registered charity in Ottawa has video of bins being broken into and the contents emptied.  The city of Ottawa, fed up with the fighting, is trying to take control with a new bylaw that takes effect two weeks from today.

The video was shot about three weeks ago.  An employee with a newly-registered charity told CTV Ottawa that he staked out three clothing donation bins in the city’s west end that he claims belong to them.  Just before midnight on the second day, the video shows a yellow truck pulling up.  A man gets out, cuts off all three signs, put up different signs, then cuts the locks and takes the clothes.

The man who did the videotaping agreed to speak providing he remained anonymous.

“We don't want any confrontations or problems,” he says, “We just want to be left alone.”

 The signs now in place belong to a for-profit business that claims it owns the clothing donation bins.  The store manager with Canadian Tire says he did have a verbal agreement for the bins to be placed on his property but the agreement wasn’t with either group.    

The stakes are high in this industry.  Clothing donation bins bring in an estimated $100 million dollars every year in Ontario alone.  Most of the clothes collected by for-profit companies are shipped overseas for use in third world countries or get sold for rags.   

The clothes sell for about 25 cents a pound.  According to those in the business, it is easy to fill a 53 foot trailer every week with the clothes we donate.  Companies say they are doing a service to the environment; ensuring clothes that were destined for the landfill are now going somewhere else. 

“A lot of the clothes go overseas,” says the man who provided the videotape, “so we provide affordable clothes to third world countries. There are people all over the world who'd be thrilled to have second hand clothes.”

With money to be made, bins are popping up all over the city, dumped there often without permission of the property owner. At the Rexall pharmacy on Wellington Street, the store manager says the bin popped up overnight a few weeks ago and efforts to have it removed have failed. So the onus, and the cost, falls on the store, she says, to get rid of it.   

Ottawa Councillor Allan Hubley hopes a new bylaw he proposed will help both charities and private property owners.  The bylaw that comes into effect June 3rd would require owners of clothing donation bins to explain whether they are for profit or for charity, include the name of the charity and the charitable status number from Revenue Canada and provide a working phone number for people to contact.

“Revenue Canada registers names to all legitimate charities,” says Councillor Hubley, “They will have that number now on their signs. That helps weed out the pretend charities from the real ones.”

Charities, like Ottawa Neighbourhood Services that rely on donations to their bins are counting on that, saying enforcement will be toughest part.

 Dave Smith is the Honorary Chair of Ottawa Neighbourhood Services. "When these people from Toronto take away our clothing,” says Smith, “we have to cut back on the amount of people we help in this city and it's not fair.”

Patricia Lemieux, the president of Ottawa Neighbourhood Services says people need to do a little research before they dump their donations into the bins.  Lemieux recommends people lookon the bin for the name of a charity they recognize, look for the charitable number that will be required on the bins starting in June.  She says if people are not sure, phone the number on the bin and ask questions.