Canadian Security Magazine

Feds unveil national plan to tackle auto theft, including Criminal Code changes

The Canadian Press   

News car theft

By Alessia Passafiume

Ramped-up intelligence sharing among police forces and a working group involving all levels of government are among the measures Ottawa unveiled Monday as part of a broader national strategy to combat auto theft.

A slue of senior federal cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, released details of the National Action Plan at a rare holiday Monday news conference in Brampton, Ont. The joint announcement came months after Ottawa convened a summit to address what government and law enforcement officials both describe as a complex and growing international concern.

“We need everybody to come to the table and work together with practical solutions,” LeBlanc said at the news conference. “And that’s exactly what’s happening.”

The federal government estimates 90,000 cars are stolen each year in Canada, and says many of the thefts involve connections to organized crime.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada paid out around $1.5 billion in claims in 2023, a record high. That year, vehicle thefts rose by 50 per cent in Quebec and almost as much in Ontario.

Insurers have said the majority of vehicles are being stolen from Ontario and Quebec and exported through the busy Port of Montreal. Around 1.7 million containers moved through the port last year, including 70 per cent of Canada’s legal vehicle exports, according to port authorities.

Several of the measures touted in the new strategy were previously announced either around the time of the February summit or in this year’s federal budget. That included $28 million meant to help prevent cars from being shipped abroad by giving the Canada Border Services Agency more capacity to detect and search containers.

The budget included details on amendments the Liberals propose to make to the country’s criminal code, which stemmed from feedback received at the summit.

The government has proposed new charges for the use of violence while stealing a vehicle and for links to organized crime, as well as laundering money for the benefit of a criminal organization.

They’re also planning to make it illegal to own or sell the electronic and digital devices police say are being commonly used to steal cars. A new aggravating factor will be created for thieves who involve a youth in their operation.

“This is about taking the tools away from people who are committing these crimes, making us unsafe,” said Freeland.

The new strategy calls for shipment container inspections to expand even further, including deploying scanning and detection technology beyond ports in places like rail yards.

It suggests the RCMP will be asked to teach courses on auto theft techniques at the Canadian Police College, while the Mounties, CBSA and local police forces will be required to launch a “GPS tracking protocol” that victims and law enforcement can use to help find missing vehicles.

It also says Public Safety Canada will lead a working group involving all provincial and territorial governments, a move LeBlanc said will ensure everyone remains at the table focused on finding practical solutions to tackle the issue.

The new strategy touts some successes in addressing auto theft since the February summit, including integrating the RCMP’s stolen vehicle database with one kept by Interpol and a 105-per-cent year-over-year increase in the number of vehicles the CBSA recovered as of May 4.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada praised the Liberals’ new plan, saying it captures most of the changes it sought, but said speedy implementation is now key.

“The ultimate success of the plan will be in its ability to reduce auto thefts in Canada,” the bureau said in a statement. “To enable its success, all key stakeholders have a role to play, including insurers, law enforcement and port authorities, as well as auto manufacturers, who are uniquely positioned to make vehicles more difficult to steal in the first instance.”

But Conservative party spokesman Sebastian Skamski referred to the announcement as a “photo op.” He released a statement highlighting leader Pierre Poilievre’s plans to address the issue that include tougher penalties for repeat offenders.

“Common sense Conservatives will stop the crime and put an end to Justin Trudeau’s out of control auto theft crisis by cracking down on criminals and repealing his catch-and-release laws and equipping our ports with state-of-the-art X-ray equipment to allow for rapid scanning of containers and interception of stolen vehicles,” Skamski said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2024.

— With files from Jim Bronskill

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