Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you, colleagues, for allowing me a few moments of the committee's valuable time to come and speak about my private member's bill and hopefully answer any questions you might have.
I thought this would be a very high-profile bill, and when I walked outside I thought it would have a whole lot of media interest, but unfortunately, they're somewhere else. I thought if maybe I showed up in handcuffs, we might be able to draw some of them in here to pay attention to this.
I won't repeat everything I said at second reading, because I think members have either already heard the speech or have access in Hansard to the full spiel that I gave in the House. But I do want to cover a couple of points, and then of course I look forward to a cordial and meaningful discussion with my colleagues regarding any specific points they may raise with me.
I should first thank the Insurance Bureau of Canada. I believe they're testifying later today. They've done a tremendous amount of work, analyzing and tracking statistics, analyzing trends, and really providing a lot of background information to both lawmakers and law enforcement to come up with new ways of reducing auto theft in Canada.
My private member's bill would do a few important things that many stakeholders for years have been calling for. First, the bill would create a separate and specific criminal offence for stealing a motor vehicle—a car or truck. Currently, the most likely charge arising from someone stealing a car is being charged with theft over $5,000. If the vehicle is worth less than that, of course, the lesser charge, along with a lesser sentence, is applied.
That raises a good point that many law enforcement people and the insurance bureau have brought up in the past—that is, why should it matter if you steal a motor vehicle worth more than $5,000 or less than $5,000? The impact of the theft is the same on the family that has suffered the loss. Whether it's a brand-new Nissan Altima or a 1993 Ford Windstar, it's still a theft. It's a theft of a motor vehicle, and the impact on the family that relies on that vehicle is the same. Why should there be a higher penalty for stealing from the rich than stealing from the poor or the working class who can't afford the luxury vehicles?
There are also several requests from law enforcement, and I believe you've been given a few documents, one of which was the resolution passed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, calling on the Government of Canada to enact legislation creating a separate offence under the Criminal Code of Canada with respect to theft of motor vehicles. The reasoning behind that is similar to the reasoning behind the difference between the Criminal Code conviction for break and enter and the Criminal Code conviction for theft. There's an explanation in your package in regard to why they're calling for that particular part of the bill.
The second major thing my bill would do, if passed, is establish minimum sentences for a first, second, and subsequent offence. As currently written, on the first offence a conviction will result in a fine of not less $1,000 or imprisonment for a term of not less than three months. It then escalates on the second offence. On the third offence, there would be the mandatory minimum sentence of a term of not less than two years and a fine of not less than $10,000. I didn't arrive at these numbers purely in a vacuum. Le Groupement des assureurs automobiles, the Quebec group of automobile insurers, talk in their documents about the problem with fines as currently stipulated not being enough to discourage organized crime. If you're engaged in motor vehicle theft for the purposes of gang activity or organized crime, when you get caught, some of the fines that are being handed out are just not enough to discourage this. It just becomes a cost of doing business and not a real deterrent.
There are a considerable number of stakeholders calling for these kinds of measures, calling for tougher penalties and separate offences for theft of motor vehicles. The Premier of Manitoba has been very vocal. He led a delegation from Manitoba here just recently, calling for many of the things that are contained in my bill. In addition, you'll find mayors of towns like Regina and Windsor also very much interested in getting the assistance they need to combat car theft.
Many police forces around Canada are trying innovative things at the local level, such as using bait cars, and different kinds of strategies to reduce auto theft, such as working in different communities with outreach programs to try to get people, especially young people, away from turning to crime to finance their activities. They've also expressed a need for help at the federal level, specifically with the Criminal Code. They can do a lot at their end, but they need help at the national level.
I've also included some statistics in your kits that look at the way the theft of motor vehicles has exploded in the last 10 years. It's becoming a major problem. The Insurance Bureau of Canada will tell you later today that more and more it's being linked to organized crime. It's no longer the idea of younger people being out for a joy ride or addicts stealing your car for cash for their next fix. Especially in eastern Canada, along the Quebec-Windsor corridor, it's becoming theft for export. You'll see that the recovery rate in Quebec is down significantly--56% of cars stolen are recovered. That compares with the recovery rate in the Toronto area in 2002, which was 75%. The inference there is that more and more of these cars aren't being found because they're being chopped and shipped. They're being sent overseas.
I have a statistic that I used at second reading. In 1996 Polish police reported the seizure of 11,000 vehicles from North America, 70% of which were Canadian. That's just one country in the European Union. That's a pretty significant number of stolen vehicles they're recovering, and 70% of them are from Canada.
We're seeing a lot of exports in stolen vehicles. I think what this bill would do is really make it tougher for organized crime to rely on people to go out and steal cars for them because these people would be in jail longer.
I'm not sure how much time I have left, Mr. Chair, so I'll try to wrap up relatively quickly.
I know there's a lot of talk these days about mandatory minimums. I know there are some concerns that the opposition has expressed, and I would certainly love to have a further discussion on that today.
I think one of the biggest things this bill would do is especially target the repeat offender, the depiction of a young person who is maybe at the entry level, so to speak, of an organized gang or crime group. This would have a significant impact on individual deterrence. I truly believe that. He or she would no longer be able to count on doing what they do, and then if they get picked up, it might be a few days out of their crime cycle and then they're right back out to it.
Le Groupement des assureurs automobiles has also said that in Quebec it takes several convictions before any jail time is realized. As I said, it's just the cost of doing business. The low fines and lack of jail time make it relatively easy for these people to continue to engage in these kinds of activities.
That's why I feel there are two major prongs of this bill. Establishing a separate offence is something the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have been calling for to help in their crime tracking and analysis. It also helps down the line for further prosecutions if you can look at someone's rap sheet and see not just a generic conviction of theft of over/under $5,000, but actually a specific offence for theft of a motor vehicle, establishing tougher penalties, and indeed mandatory minimums on the third offence.
I think it targets the habitual reoffender while allowing the judge discretion on the first- and second-time offenders. There's a lot more leeway there. If there are young people, first-time offenders, who through youthful exuberance are out joyriding or trying to impress their friends, the judge would have the ability to look at the facts and determine what sentence would be appropriate, but nonetheless a clear message would be sent to habitual reoffenders that consistently breaking the law, consistently stealing cars, will result in real jail time.
I think the time for my statement is up. I'd be happy to have a further discussion with my colleagues.
Now, may I start with my time?
Mr. Scheer, I congratulate you on focusing on theft of an automobile. We focus on theft of cattle; there's no harm in focusing on theft of automobiles. So that part of the bill I'm very comfortable with.
But I do have difficulty with the sentencing. I have two questions, really. You said you focused on the sentencing. You haven't just pulled it in out of the air. I'm pretty sure you're not an expert on sentencing, and you've seen the need here to create a sentencing regime that is distinct, separate from all the rest of the Criminal Code sentencing. It's distinct and separate from the part of the Criminal Code that deals with the organized crime sentencing. It's not clear to me why you have felt the need to create a separate sentencing regime for automobiles, particularly when you have indicated to the committee that it's your belief that organized crime lies behind this, behind so much of the current auto theft problem that exists across the country.
I'm inferring from this that you believe that by increasing a fine this will deter organized crime, that if we increase the fine to $1,000, somehow organized crime will back off and decide to steal something else. Do you really believe this, that by putting in a minimum fine, organized crime is going to forget about the $72,000 Porsche?
Oh, yes they are. I have one in a file.
In any event, if you haven't made provision for that, that's okay.
In my last question, I'm simply trying to resolve a possible ambiguity here. In proposed paragraph 334.1(1) the words say, “Every one who commits theft of a motor vehicle is guilty of an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction”, and then it goes on to state the sentence.
Then in proposed paragraph 334.1(2), on the next page, it says, “Every one who commits theft of a motor vehicle is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable”, blah, blah, blah, after conviction to a certain sentence.
So you have an ambiguity here. The first sentence says you're guilty of an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction, and then in the next section, proposed paragraph 334.1(2), you say, “Every one who commits theft of a motor vehicle is guilty of an indictable offence”. I think I understand the intent, but you have an ambiguity on the face of it that may give rise to difficulty.
Congratulations. I know that when a bill is presented and it is our turn to consider it, we really hope that our colleagues will be in favour of the bill.
You have chosen a problem that is significant in a number of communities in Canada, there is no doubt. I am receptive—and I think that my caucus could be too—to 50% of your bill. The idea that there should be a specific offence of motor vehicle theft is certainly tenable.
But in return, would you be receptive to the idea that there should not be minimum penalties, but maximum penalties? On several occasions, this committee has heard from people who have studied this question that mandatory minimum penalties have no deterrent effect.
The deterrents are the presence of police on the streets, the ability to conduct investigations and the ability to lay charges. You yourself started your presentation by saying that, at the end of the day, few vehicles were recovered and so there were fewer convictions than you would like. We can certainly understand that.
If we support the idea of having a class of offences specifically for the theft of motor vehicles, including cars, would you in turn be open to the idea of maximum, not minimum sentences? My view is that it is always desirable to leave a little judicial discretion to judges.
The Bloc Québécois is not comfortable with the idea of minimum sentences.
Well, I understand there is some difference of opinion with mandatory minimums. I don't think I'm going to change your mind on the merits of mandatory minimums at this point. I can only tell you what I've heard from police officers, police organizations, and insurance underwriters, that the current penalty system does not seem to be effective for this kind of activity.
In speaking to police in Regina, they will anecdotally talk about the people they know who have been convicted of multiple, sometimes well over 12, motor vehicle thefts and have not to that point been sentenced to any time in custody. Sometimes there are sentences related to time served, but very rarely additional jail time, from what I can tell from the conversations I've had.
I think you're right to talk about local efforts. I'll by no means pretend that you can change the Criminal Code and have a magical effect all the way down the line. I think a multi-pronged approach is necessary. You need some investments at the local level. You need police forces to try innovative things.
As I've mentioned, I believe the City of Vancouver is using bait cars to go after offenders. The Regina police have had a multi-faceted approach and it's had some positive results.
I think there's also a lot of work that needs to be done in relation to drug addicts, addictions and things like that, because in many cases--
Good morning, Mr. Andrew Scheer.
Something very unusual has already happened in the province of Quebec. There have been a large number of thefts of luxury vehicles in the province, vehicles worth more than $50,000 or $60,000. Someone on a trip to Lebanon went to the port in the capital Beirut. Suddenly, the person saw cars being unloaded from a ship. They were large black Jeeps. The Quebec licence plates were still on the vehicles. They had not even taken the Quebec plates off and they were unloading them from the ship.
When you prepared Bill on motor vehicle theft, did you look at the financial impact that it can have on Canadians? My car is insured, and all my colleagues have vehicle insurance too.
There are 33 million Canadians. We have, what, 4 or 5 million vehicles, perhaps? I do not know. We pay our premiums. Clearly, the fewer thefts, the less I pay in premiums. What is the cost to Canadians? What caused you to think about this? It is not all about identifying the criminals; we must also help the victims. I am a victim of automobile theft. We all are because our insurance premiums go up each year because of car theft. Even if my car has not been stolen, I have to pay the premiums.
Did you look at it from that point of view?
Mr. Scheer, the subject of what are called mandatory minimum sentences has already come up. You know how the system works. In your bill, one section is repeated, with more or less the same words. Your proposed sub-paragraph 334.1(1)(a)(i) reads as follows:
(i) for a first offence, to a fine of not less than one thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term of not less than three months, [...]
If I understand correctly, your proposal is for two mandatory minimum sentences, a fine and a prison term. If you do not pay the fine, you are going to jail for a minimum of three months. Do you see any difference in the fact that there is a minimum fine which is not necessarily a minimum prison term? When we talk about mandatory minimum sentences, we are usually talking about prison, not about fines. When a judge has to apply the two sub-paragraphs, he has two choices, a minimum fine, or a minimum prison term. What difference do you see between the two?
The Bloc Québécois is not in favour of the prison term, but it is perhaps not opposed to the minimum fine. Do you understand the difference between the two?
I can't speak for the Bloc on what kinds of minimums they'd be in favour of.
The way it's written for both subparagraph (i) and subparagraph (ii) is that the word “or” is there, so it does give the sentencing judge some flexibility if he wants to pursue just the fine or the jail time.
Just talking about mandatory minimums, I would challenge every member of this committee to pick five names at random from their riding out of their phone book and call up those people and ask, “On a third conviction, do you think it's too much to send somebody to jail for two years?”
I'd be very interested to hear your results, because, I tell you, I talk to people in my riding and to people in Ottawa and various places, and I don't think this is out of whack with what the Canadian people are feeling these days.
I think it's our right, as legislators, to give some direction to the courts regarding sentencing. There are lots of examples of mandatory minimums in the Criminal Code on various types of offences. We're not going to run the court system for the judges, of course, but there are lots of examples in the Criminal Code where there are sentencing guidelines and of course mandatory minimums.
I just feel that for this kind of an offence, when you think about the impact that having their car stolen has on families, whether it's their primary mode of transportation to get to work, to get to school, to get their kids to doctors' appointments....
I have, on my insurance policy, what's called “loss of use”, so if somebody steals my car, I can go and get a rental car and I won't miss a beat, but that's an expensive provision on a policy. Lots of Canadians don't have that, and they can find themselves not able to show up for work, missing shifts, missing classes in some cases. It's a tremendous interruption in someone's life.
When someone steals a car for the third time, surely to goodness we can agree that they should start to face some serious consequences.
Mr. Scheer, thanks for coming forward with this private member's bill and for your work on it. And congratulations on getting to this point, because not many people do with private member's bills.
A couple of things you said made an impression on me, and I'd just like you to expand on them a bit.
I hadn't thought before about the issue of theft over $5,000. I have a good number of constituents whose vehicles are probably not worth $5,000, so, in a sense, the way they would be treated under the current law would be different from how someone who might be wealthier and have a more expensive vehicle that's worth $6,000 or $60,000 would be.
I'm wondering if you could expand a bit on how the impact of the new charge in your bill, for a theft of a motor vehicle, would provide some equity to the system. As you've said, the impact is probably even greater on a lower-income family that has maybe one car. Could you expand a bit on that?
Also, this figure you cited is absolutely staggering. Was it $600 million a year?
You're absolutely right to phrase it that way, that we are all victims. When you deal with things like theft of a motor vehicle, where it's mandatory to carry insurance in every province, then we all bear the costs of theft. I think Monsieur Petit was bringing that up as well, that we can't just look at someone who gets assaulted and say it's too bad for him, I wasn't assaulted, I wasn't affected by that crime. In matters like this, property crimes do affect a much larger percentage of the population. Arson affects all homeowners who pay house insurance premiums, things like that.
On the issue of the different types of theft over $5,000 or under $5,000, I want to thank you for this because it allows me to bring up a different kind of offence that's related to motor vehicle theft. A lot of times, higher-end cars, the luxury vehicles, will be stolen for export. But there is a significant amount of evidence compiled by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Insurance Bureau of Canada about the issue of stealing a motor vehicle to commit another crime. In this case it would be something like a pickup truck to break into someone's home or a fast car to take someone away from the scene of a crime, whether they're robbing a store or committing an assault or something like that.
What this provision would allow, too, with the tougher penalties but the separate offence, would be that if the police weren't able to catch the thief or might not be able to prove this particular offender went on to commit the break and enter or the vandalism or whatever, if they could get them on the theft of a motor vehicle, that gives them something they can catch them on.
Just further on the point, you could have someone even more dependent on a car worth less than $5,000 than on a car worth over $20,000. In my riding I would be willing to venture that almost half my constituents probably own vehicles worth less than $5,000. You take a minivan used for taking kids to appointments, to school. It might be seven, eight, nine, or ten years old. Those tend to depreciate to the point where, if they were assessed, the family might only get $4,500 from the insurance provider. But they are no less dependent on that vehicle than someone who has a brand-new $25,000 car. I believe the impact on the family is the same.
I would go further to argue that the families who rely on less expensive vehicles probably only have one or two. Families who are able to afford some higher-end ones might have more options: it might not be their family's only vehicle, or they might have extra coverage on their insurance to allow for rental cars. So I would venture to say that the impact of theft of a vehicle that's worth less than $5,000 could be more disruptive than even on some of the higher-end luxury vehicles. Obviously, I don't have hard data to back that up, but I think it's an excellent point.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Mr. Scheer.
When I look at mandatory minimums and at the question of judges needing guidelines, I think back to something I was involved with in the justice area. A lady had two daughters, five and six years old, and a judge made the decision to force them to visit their pedophile father in jail.
That has always been a major factor in how I think of the justice system. As a result of it, I had 84 other people from across the country in whose cases judges had made the same decision to force children to visit a father who had sexually attacked them. The judge said, “Parliament has not given us guidance, and that's why I had to make that decision.”
I think this is somewhat the same, in that a judge might say, “Really, Parliament hasn't given us clear guidelines.” I guess I see this bill as being clear guidelines: when a third-time offender commits the same crime, they have a definite guideline, in terms of a mandatory minimum.
I think we should really look at that. Judges today I think are asking for those kinds of guidelines.
But my real question is this. When I talk to the police in my community, they tell me over and over again: “We're getting really tired of dealing with the same offenders. We pick them up, we take them into court, they get a minor sentence, or because something wasn't quite right, away they go again. Three weeks later, the same person is before the judge, and again there's some reason why they get off. It happens over and over again.”
Do you think this will help the police in doing their job of getting that second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-, tenth-time offender? Is this going to do the job for them in terms of car theft?
I certainly believe this will be a big step towards doing that.
I've heard the same types of commentary. I've gone on ride-alongs with the Regina Police Service, and they will tell you the person they're on their way to pick up or the person whose home we just went into is a guy they've seen 12 times this year already for various types of offences, and especially for stealing vehicles. As I mentioned, it is a phenomenon in which people are doing it for a living—stealing them to deliver to organized crime or to commit other crimes. They steal an awful lot of them, they get caught an awful lot of times, and they get put right back out on the street, where the police are rearresting the same people. That's a large underlying theme that I've heard from police, not just on auto theft but on a lot of things.
On the providing of guidelines to the courts, I couldn't agree with you more. We've all read stories. For example—this has to do with young offenders—there was a murder, I believe in Winnipeg, by a young offender who killed someone with a pool ball in a sock and was sentenced to one day in jail. The sentencing judge said, “There's no provision in the Criminal Code for general deterrence with young offenders, so I can't take into account what kind of message this sends to the community at large, because Parliament hasn't put that into the Criminal Code.”
The justice minister has, I believe, tabled legislation to address that point, but you're right, in a lot of different areas of the Criminal Code, judges have been asking for the guidelines, for direction from Parliament. As you mentioned, there are some situations where there tend to be some sentences handed out that a lot of Canadians scratch their heads at. If we can provide clear parameters to sentencing judges, we would go a long way toward ameliorating that.
I certainly appreciate your being here, Mr. Scheer.
The bill is great, a great first step. I have a couple of questions.
My overall feeling is that it deals with the act of somebody stealing a car, but it doesn't deal specifically with the thing that's probably easier to prove, which is the possession of stolen property and the possession of a stolen motor vehicle or its parts. I'm wondering what you foresee this bill doing in terms of that, because I think it is an easier one to prove and would certainly include a lot more people of the organized crime element, rather than people who are simply asked to go out to do one-time thefts to pay off or settle a debt, or whatever the case may be.
I'd like to get your comment on why you didn't deal with possession of stolen motor vehicles.
The other question is, in determining subsequent offences, if you go back to any court, they have to prove theft of over $5,000 or under $5,000. Everything has to be laid out and itemized and given a price value to determine the right sentence. Certainly, in all of those court proceedings or court documents on previous offences, we would be able to determine whether somebody had previously stolen a motor vehicle. The way I read this, somebody who has stolen ten cars up to today, if this were to become law tomorrow, could then steal three cars again before they were charged with the maximum offence here.
Did I read or interpret that correctly?
Let me address your first point first.
I received some correspondence on the wording of the bill, and as I mentioned to Mr. Lee, there may be some technical changes that need to be made for greater clarity. One of the suggestions I got from an RCMP officer was to include wording for possession of a vehicle that is stolen, because often it is easier to prove than that somebody was actually the one who stole it.
Of course, I'm open to discussion on that kind of stuff, and I would certainly encourage committee members to consider it and, if there are discussions around amendments, to have a discussion about whether or not including a provision for being in possession of the vehicle could be included in this wording.
I'll have to be honest. I don't know how this would be interpreted in the case of somebody who had stolen a car ten previous times when this is enacted. Do they get three more before they start facing mandatory minimums? I don't know. I can say that if somebody does have ten previous convictions for this kind of theft, these are just minimums, and the judges are obviously free. Even if it is a first offence under this proposed change to the Criminal Code, the sentencing judge could look and say that there are ten previous convictions. This doesn't tie their hands on going over and above what's in here.
That might help to answer your point.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As president and chief executive officer of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, it is my great opportunity to be able to address this committee. With me today is Rick Dubin, our vice-president for investigations, who leads our industry's fight against auto theft here in Canada.
I'm mindful of the time limits we have, so I will get right to the point.
Insurance Bureau of Canada is the national trade association representing Canada's home, car and business insurers. Quite simply, we applaud Bill , are fully supportive of it, and ask that all members of Parliament approve it in its current form to make it the law of the land.
Mr. Chairman, I could end there, but given that you've so graciously allowed us ten minutes, I'll take a bit more time to tell you why this bill is as good as I think it is.
Home, car, and business insurers often serve the role in our society of being the canary in the coal mine, and by this I mean that we are on the front lines of dealing with the social and economic costs related to disturbing developments long before most other parties take notice, whether it be the rise of more frequent severe weather claims as a result of climate changes, the increasing cost of litigation that makes business and voluntary groups vulnerable to vexatious lawsuits, or the incidence of staged automobile accidents by those who prefer to abuse the insurance system. Insurers have already been grappling with the damages caused by these costly events for some period of time, and so it is with auto theft.
For a number of years we have seen not only the costs associated with auto theft rise, but the increasing implication of organized criminal activity in the stealing of automobiles across this country. Because the current penalties associated with it are so lenient and the profits are so great, auto theft has become a major focus of criminal organizations in Canada. Organized crime steals vehicles, chops them up to sell parts of specious quality, uses the vehicle identification number to change the identity of another stolen car then sold to an unsuspecting consumer, and, on top of that, exports thousands of vehicles through Canada's ports each year to Africa, eastern Europe, and the Middle East, where they can fetch a much higher price than they can at home.
In 2006, a total of 159,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada. The cost to auto insurance policyholders was approximately $600 million, as the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle reminded you this morning. Honest Canadian drivers paid on average about $40 of their auto insurance premium last year to finance the costs incurred by car thieves.
A further $600 million was spent in total by police, the health care system, and our courts to deal with the problems associated with auto theft. Ironically, so many of our resources are being spent precisely because car thieves repeatedly come in and out of the justice system. Under the current Criminal Code provisions, jail time is almost never handed out to a car thief. Indeed, our courts are in the practice of applying a catch-and-release approach to repeat offenders, treating auto theft as a largely victimless transgression.
Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you that auto theft is far from a victimless transgression. Last year we witnessed the deaths of two teenagers in a taxi, struck by a stolen vehicle in Ontario, and just recently a York Regional Police officer was killed trying to stop the theft of an airbag from another vehicle. In 2004 it was the death of Theresa McEvoy in Nova Scotia at the hands of a repeat auto theft offender that prompted citizen outrage. Indeed, an earlier study by the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft concluded that 81 people were killed in Canada due to auto theft between 1999 and 2001 alone.
Premier Doer of Manitoba certainly understood the pressing need to address auto theft when he led a delegation to Ottawa earlier this year to talk about criminal justice issues. He even brought with him a victim of auto theft--a gentleman who had been hit by a stolen vehicle--in order to underline his plea for action.
With the involvement of organized crime so pervasive in the business of auto theft today and the profits so lucrative, you will perhaps not be surprised to hear that Canadian and American intelligence authorities suspect that auto theft is a possible means by which terrorist groups are financing themselves. Indeed, Canada is an attractive place in this regard. Our per capita auto theft rate eclipsed that of the United States in the mid-1990s and now stands at 26% higher than our neighbours to the south.
Mr. Chairman, you can understand why more and more citizens and governments in this country are asking for action to deal with auto theft. Fortunately, your committee has Bill C-343 before it. This bill addresses the auto theft reoffender involved in organized crime, which engages in this dangerous activity for profit. It recognizes auto theft as a separate and serious offence under the Criminal Code, a vital step in recognizing the often violent nature of this crime. While it proposes mandatory minimum sentences, it does so only for the third offence.
I have to tell you, as an aside, that I was talking to someone over the weekend and I explained what our proposition was in support of C-343. They said, “You mean you're only going to propose minimum mandatory sentences after the third offence?” I said, “Yes, that's how reasonable the bill is.”
Indeed, this is a reasonable step to deal with the reality of repeat offenders.
Mr. Chairman, Canadians have the right to feel safe in their own communities. On that we can all agree. The growth of auto theft, however, and its increasingly violent nature, are compromising their safety. The growing presence of organized crime in auto theft is an even more troubling development and further threatens the safety and security of Canadians.
Canadians count on their parliamentarians to take action on issues that matter to them and to stay on top of changes in the world that have an impact on their lives. When money laundering by organized crime became a problem, Parliament acted. When issues surrounding privacy and identity theft became a concern for Canadians, parliamentarians took action again.
Now that the nature of auto theft has changed and is threatening the safety and security of Canadians, parliamentarians, I'm proud to say, are again taking action, and that action is before you in the form of Bill C-343.
On behalf of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, our member companies, and the millions of policyholders we serve, I urge you to vote in favour of this bill and to send it to the House of Commons for its third reading and approval.
Mr. Dubin and I would be happy to take your questions after this presentation.
Thank you very much. Thanks for inviting me here.
What am I doing here? My name is Ken Haywood. I was in the automobile business for a long time. Since I retired from the automobile business, I've been trying to do something about auto theft.
In 2005 I attended the IAATI, International Association of Auto Theft Investigators, training conference in New Orleans, just prior to Hurricane Katrina. Following that I attended a two-day session with NCRAT, the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft, for which I prepared a position paper for presentation to a forum on auto theft made by Barry Ward, the president of NCRAT. Also in 2005, I attended a CCMTA, Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, auto theft session, followed by a session with North American Export Committee members.
Why am I telling you this? Because when I heard about this bill, Bill , coming up, I thought I would use my resources and get the person who I felt was most informed about this, and that's Sergeant Tim Shields of IMPACT.
We've talked about the number of vehicles stolen. You're going to get this coming around to you. It shows the diversity of this. We've said that the material cost of auto theft is in the neighbourhood of $1 billion per year. The number of fatalities due to the theft of autos is hard to determine, but figures range from 20 to 40 per year. How does one put a dollar figure to that equation in auto theft? The cost of a death caused by stolen autos cannot be calculated.
Transport Canada considered the fatalities due to auto theft of significant meaning when they decided to make it mandatory that all new vehicles have immobilizers installed as of September 1, 2007. I believe that Bill C-343 is a start to reducing auto theft, as was Transport Canada's immobilizer ruling.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, with the support of Project 6116 and the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft, calls upon the Government of Canada, through the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General, to enact legislation creating a separate offence under the Criminal Code of Canada with respect to theft of a motor vehicle.
I heard from Staff Sergeant Jim Peebles of the Edmonton Police Service auto theft unit that their chief supports Bill C-343. I understand that other parties will be forwarding their expressions to the clerk.
The reason I chose Tim Shields is because he just finished a video called Stolen Lives, the story of how drugs and car thefts steal people's lives. We're going to try to get that out to members of the committee. In the meantime, I asked Tim, who spent I think four or five years in Surrey, and who has a knowledge of drugs....
He wrote me this:
I recently completed producing the documentary film Stolen Lives which examines the addiction of auto theft, and the tragedies in human loss that result. After interviewing dozens of car thieves and being involved in about 100 auto theft investigations in BC, I have learned the following:
1. The number of deaths resulting from stolen car crashes is much higher than reported. In British Columbia alone in 2005, 15 people were killed in stolen car related crashes. I obtained this number by manually reviewing every RCMP news release for the year.
2. Over 90% of auto thefts in BC do not involve organized crime groups. These vehicles are being stolen to help drug addicts commit other crimes or for joy riding.
3. Auto theft is an addiction. Many prolific offenders describe their addiction to auto theft as being even more powerful than their addiction to crystal meth or crack cocaine.The only way to stop this addiction is a long-jail term where treatment can be obtained.
4. Prolific offenders will do anything, including running innocent people down, in order to avoid arrest. They are usually prohibited drivers, high on crack cocaine, and they are behind the wheel of a 4000 pound speeding bullet. Auto theft poses a very real threat to public safety. Auto theft is a violent crime.
5. The charge of “theft of motor vehicle” is very difficult to prove. If an offender is arrested behind the wheel of a car that was stolen one day previously, he can only be charged with possession of stolen property. The charge of theft cannot be proven. If the wording of the proposed bill C-343 is used, the offender could not be charged with theft of a motor vehicle. Can the wording of the bill be changed to include “theft or possession of a stolen motor vehicle”?
I highly recommend that all committee members watch the 34-minute documentary Stolen Lives. This video highlights all the points that were just made. The auto theft issue is not just about stolen cars, it is about stolen lives.
I applaud the work that you are doing and I thank you for your efforts in making Canadians safer by moving forward with this bill.
Sergeant Tim Shields is now with the Kelowna RCMP. He is the executive director of Stolen Lives.
Thank you very much.
Welcome to our witnesses.
I have one question and one comment. First, please understand that I share your concern about how serious the problem of auto theft is. I know that it is very serious in Manitoba, but it is a phenomenon that is also widespread in all our communities. You are right to describe it as troubling.
As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to address it. But I must tell you that we see a difficulty. I am open to the idea of establishing auto theft as a specific class of offences. I am well aware that in some communities, the car is essential, given that ways of getting around and public transportation are difficult when you are a worker living in outlying areas. I have no difficulty understanding that cars are essential.
However, I do not know if we have to solve this problem with mandatory minimum sentences. This committee has very often had to grapple with the idea of mandatory minimum sentences as a matter of criminal law. A number of good studies show that, in a legal system, in a Criminal Code, mandatory minimum sentences are not a very significant factor. The significant factors are the police on the streets, the number of charges laid and the effective nature of the investigations.
Mr. Yakabuski, when you say a minimum sentence happens on the first offence, I...
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I certainly appreciate the testimony I've heard here today.
I get the feeling from your presentation that the major thrust of this is to tackle the gang-oriented or the organized crime element of this. This bill will not discriminate against organized crime in any way, shape, or form, any differently than it would against somebody who, for whatever reason, wants to steal cars.
While I am certainly supportive of this, I'm curious. I asked this question of the sponsor of the bill earlier today. It would seem to me that if you want to strike at the heart of the criminal element or the organized crime element, you need to do more than take out the pawns that are out on the battlefield. This bill will certainly take out some of the pawns on the battlefield. But the question I have for you is, what other changes, what other additions, what other complementary legislation, what amendments to perhaps this legislation, would you like to see? In your testimony you said clearly that you want it in its current form.
There isn't anything in the Criminal Code that deals with possession of it. There's nothing that deals specifically with the example where you commit a break and enter or if you even have tools in your car that suggest you're about to commit a break and enter. Are there any provisions in the Criminal Code that you would like to see changed, such as having the tools to perform these kinds of activities in a chop shop, these kinds of things, where we can actually get at the organization or maybe get a little closer to the root?
Thank you very much. I think that is a very, very good question.
Politics, as you would know better than I, is partly the art of the possible. You have to be able to start somewhere and attack what is a very large problem that has, frankly, been going on for a long period of time. We are of the belief that this change to the Criminal Code will be of real benefit in allowing, essentially, the penalities associated with auto theft for repeat offenders to be substantially higher than they are currently. I believe that will send a very potent message to people who are inclined to steal cars in this country. They're going to think twice.
By making it an indictable offence after the third offence, I think what we really have in our sights are people who are repeatedly stealing cars. And if they're repeatedly stealing cars, there is an increasing likelihood that they are doing it in concert with some kind of organized crime. So I believe it will be effective in that respect.
As I've said in response to some other questions, there are other things that could be done and that need to be done in order to attack auto theft. We have identified, for example, VIN tampering. Tampering with a vehicle identification number is something that should perhaps be recognized as an indictable offence, because that is something that organized crime does, day in and day out, to steal the value from Canadians. That could be an addition that you would want to look at or that the government may wish to address in its own right, and we would be quite prepared to work either with this committee or with anyone else in the government to bring that about.
Some parallel amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act may also be necessary in order to reinforce the fact that, unfortunately, youths who get caught up in auto theft often become chronic criminals. That's not a destiny that I think anyone wants them to enjoy, and maybe we can do something on that front as well.
My other area of questioning is related to the mandatory minimums. Of course, you probably notice we have a difference of opinion on this point in committee.
Generally, most of the witnesses who came before us as experts working with criminals and victims on the ground said they don't work, that in fact they could increase crime. By putting it in this way, we could actually be increasing auto thefts in Canada, which none of the opposition parties, at least, would want, and we also have a majority of the votes on the committee.
What we want is for the judge to have access to stiff penalties, but when you get these repeat offenders, people who are incorrigible, or people who don't undergo the treatment, we're lobbying to have more treatment in the prisons. Obviously that would be a much better way of stopping them. When they come out, they don't reoffend--but everyone comes out, and if you have someone in there for longer than they should be through a mandatory minimum and they learn how to be a better car thief, that's no help.
If the bill had to go through basically as it is, with steep penalties--and they're high-end penalties, so the judge can put them away for a long time--but there wasn't a minimum for those cases in which there are other and better ways of stopping the person from stealing more cars, would that compromise at least be better than nothing?
Thank you, Chair, and thank you, witnesses, for appearing.
Certainly, I think if all of us were to talk to our constituents and ask them if sending a deterring message to those who would be repeat offenders would have an impact on crime, most people would suggest that the answer would be yes. It's completely counterintuitive to think otherwise, for some of the reasons you mentioned. We've heard over and over that because of a lax system, people have been encouraged to stay in a life of crime. Obviously the inference is that if the system were a little tougher on those early offences, then perhaps they would have taken a different path. So thank you for your testimony in that regard.
Mr. Scheer sponsored the bill. He mentioned, and I think you also mentioned in your submission, the $600 million a year, and that would be just in insurance costs, right? There are all the other costs.
I mentioned to Mr. Scheer that the way I see it, it makes all of us who own cars and pay insurance victims of auto theft in a way, because we're all paying for the auto theft. I wonder if you can expand a bit on what, in your industry, this $600 million a year means to consumers, and perhaps on some of the other associated costs, which aren't included in that figure, when it comes to combatting auto theft.