Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Tom Donnelly, and I am the chairman of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, also known as CADA. I'm accompanied today by Mr. Huw Williams, who is our public and government affairs director with CADA.
CADA is a national trade association that represents franchised dealerships of new cars and trucks. We have over 3,000 members and we are a presence in virtually every community in Canada. We employ approximately 140,000 people nationwide.
I'm especially pleased to be here today to talk about the important issue of vehicle theft, a problem too often forgotten until it directly affects you. In addition to my role as chairman of CADA, I also operate a medium-sized, family-run GM dealership here in Ottawa. Most dealerships in Canada are much like mine, family owned and operated, independent small businesses, not, as some may think, creatures of the manufacturers.
As you can imagine, when an expensive vehicle worth $30,000 or more is stolen from my lot, it has a real and direct effect on my business's bottom line. Most of my remarks will emphasize that by driving up the cost of purchasing and insuring a vehicle, such theft is a problem to more than just a person whose car has disappeared.
Additionally, too often such crimes are the results of organized crime networks and bring with them all the associated negatives of such organizations. This is especially true when looking at thefts from dealerships like those I represent.
It's important to talk a little bit about vehicle theft in Canada and take a quick look at some of the statistics. As Canadians, we often assume our peaceable kingdom has less crime than the United States. Usually this is a safe assumption, but when it comes to vehicle theft, we actually have the dubious distinction of beating our American neighbours' per capita vehicle theft rate by 26%.
Moreover, there are 56% more vehicle thefts in Canada than there were two decades ago. From 1991-2001 alone, we saw vehicle theft increase by 10%, despite a 38% decline in the rate of all other property crimes. Of those cars that are stolen, about 30% are never recovered and only 13% of the cases are ever solved by the police. Clearly, there's room for improvement.
On a personal note, I'll give you an example that happened to us in south Ottawa about 18 months ago. At about 4:30 on a Sunday morning our fences were cut, and four $60,000 diesel extended-cab pickup trucks were stolen in less than three or four minutes. When we discovered this on the Monday when we returned to our premises, we phoned to make a police report, and the police gave us our file number to contact our insurance company.
It's become a real issue with some of the police departments because it's not something they seem to be winning a war on. That's not a slight against police, it's just a problem with respect to the way things are today.
It's easy to think of a vehicle theft as an insurance problem, a hassle for those whose car or truck is stolen, with damages largely offset by the victim's insurance policy, yet with little direct effect on the population at large. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it is certainly true that the victim of a car theft is most directly harmed, society at large is certainly affected as well.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates the cost to Canadian insurers, and by extension its policyholders, is more than $600 million a year, and that's just the cost to the insurance companies. According to studies, the number doubles to $1.2 billion when health care costs, policing, and out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles are added. These costs drive up the price of insurance for all policyholders, not just those unlucky enough to wake up to find their car is no longer in the driveway.
Costs to consumers from vehicle theft are not limited to insurance policyholders but are also found in the sticker prices of new vehicles. Theft of merchandise is an issue for all retailers, be they selling groceries, general merchandise, or cars, and as such theft hurts retailers' bottom lines, it ultimately only serves to increase the costs to the paying customer.
Unlike us, other retailers are rarely targeted with specific shopping lists of goods to be stolen. In separate studies, Statistics Canada and the RCMP found an increasing involvement from organized crime groups in the theft of specific vehicles. Specific makes, models, and years are targeted. They're stolen and in less than 48 hours they're in a shipping container bound from ports like Halifax, Vancouver, and Montreal for eastern Europe, China, and elsewhere. Other models are often stolen to be chopped for parts, often sold back to unsuspecting consumers as genuine merchandise.
This sort of theft is a large reason why 41% of the vehicles stolen from dealerships are never recovered, which is almost three times higher than that of thefts from parking lots and four times higher than that for thefts from the street.
Numbers like these are part of the reason why auto theft and auto-related claims are, with the exception of the odd catastrophic loss, the highest loss experienced for insurers. This has also meant that fewer and fewer companies are willing to offer the sorts of garage policies that dealerships need. This has left little in the way of competition, leaving dealers to pay exorbitant premiums, beyond even what could be expected because of what the risk is.
Dealers are trying to do their part. We've tried to reduce thefts in a number of different ways, such as adding floodlights, fencing, hiring night-time security guards, but such measures are still imperfect. The nature of a dealership is that millions of dollars of assets sit in a parking lot on display exposed to potential thieves. As thorough as we are with security, we are still dealing with a complex criminal network that reaps substantial financial benefits from stealing cars. Even if we could turn every dealership into the urban equivalent of Fort Knox, the tenacity of organized crime knows no bounds in circumventing our precautions.
It is imperative that the government act to curtail such thefts. Certainly they harm business and consumers through added security and insurance costs, but also the profits of the stolen car networks finance additional criminal activities in organized crime--things like the trade of drugs, prostitution, murder-for-hire, etc. While business dealerships across Canada would benefit if thefts from car dealerships were stopped tomorrow, it would even be of greater benefit to Canadians by hindering such criminal activities.
One of the strongest parts of this legislation is that it creates a separate crime for the theft of a vehicle. As I am sure the committee is familiar, the status quo is that if someone is charged with stealing a car they're actually charged with theft over or under, as appropriate, $5,000.
On every practical level a stolen car is not the same as other stolen property. Unlike televisions, china, jewellery, etc., cars are essential to individuals for mobility and independence. Cars allow a family to take their kids to school, the doctor, and the hockey rink. It is a car that gets people to work, or to the ski hill or beach on the weekend. These functions aren't dependent on the cost of the vehicle and are taken away just as much when a $30,000 car is stolen as when a $3,000 car is stolen. That's why vehicle theft can't be measured by the value of the asset, as the nature of the harm is not really dependent on the value in the same way that other property is.
Some parts of government already treat vehicle theft differently. Statistics Canada keeps a separate record for cars stolen, and the average person on the street would likely feel the same. It would seem that for the last instance of a stolen car being treated as just a property crime in the Criminal Code, this legislation would fix that.
The legislation brings important focus on the issue of vehicle theft, a problem that adds cost to consumers and business and fuels organized crime in addition to the individual effects on those who actually have their cars stolen. Importantly, it makes stealing a car its own offence and better reflects the function of a car, which often belies its strict monetary value as property.
While I'm sure that there will be some discussion about the length of the proposed sentences as well as the inclusion of so-called mandatory minimums, I think it is important to stress that this legislation offers real improvements over existing legislation and can only serve as an added deterrent for a problem that has only gotten larger as other crimes have declined.
Thank you very much.
Good morning, and thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm attending today representing the Ontario Provincial Police as a designate for Commissioner Julian Fantino. In addition, I'm attending as a unit commander of the OPP provincial auto theft team, which is under our organized crime section of the investigation bureau.
The mission of the provincial auto theft team is to provide leadership, expertise, and coordination to dedicated investigations targeting organized crime in the enterprise crime of auto theft. The provincial auto theft team with the OPP as a lead agency is mandated to investigate organized crime as it relates to enterprise vehicle theft by gathering intelligence, identifying the persons and groups involved, and taking appropriate action. Most of our investigations are multi-jurisdictional, multidisciplinary, interprovincial and international, which mirrors the organized crime sophistication involved in this type of theft.
The provincial auto theft team is partnered with most major Ontario police agencies, various government regulatory bodies, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada. The provincial auto theft team welcomes this opportunity to appear before this committee on Bill Our goal is to work with elected officials to bring about reforms that enhance the public safety and security of our communities.
The safety and security of our communities requires our dedication and determination, and I am dedicated and determined to enlighten all those who will listen to the fact that auto theft is not merely a property crime, but that auto theft and the possession of a stolen vehicle in the hands of a fleeing criminal or an inexperienced driver-offender presents a grave danger to the public. This year alone, personally, my provincial auto theft unit has experienced the death of a 15-year-old youth who fled the police and died behind the wheel of a stolen car. We've had three instances of when desperate auto thieves have attacked or driven directly at police officers, resulting in the officers discharging their firearms, and there have been countless accidents as a result of fleeing stolen vehicles. The danger of this death and violence spilling out onto the innocent public is a reality.
I'm just going to review some national statistics. In 2006 approximately 160,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada, at a cost of well over $1 billion. I'll mirror an earlier statement that the theft rate in Canada is 26% higher per capita than in the United States. The national vehicle theft rate has remained relatively stable in Ontario, but the recovery rate has steadily declined in Ontario. Saskatchewan and British Columbia have the highest theft rates per capita in the country, and the average person arrested in British Columbia and Saskatchewan for auto theft is 14 years of age.
Approximately 54,000 vehicles are stolen annually in Ontario, ranking us fourth overall in North America behind California, with a population of 30 million; Texas, with a population of 21 million; and Florida, with a population of 19 million. In 1990, 90% of all vehicles that were stolen in Ontario were recovered. Today only 60% of the vehicles stolen are recovered. The recovery rates in Ontario are influenced by a number of factors, the largest of which is organized crime involvement.
Vehicles that are not recovered do not simply disappear. Vehicles not recovered are exported to another jurisdiction, where they're no longer sought by the police. They are assigned a fraudulent identity, or what we call “revinning”, and then sold to the unsuspecting public, or they are what we call chopped in a chop shop and the parts are sold on the grey market as legitimate.
Organized enterprise auto theft by professional auto thieves represents millions of dollars in profits for organized crime groups in Ontario. The average person arrested by the provincial auto theft team, which is my unit focused on organized crime, is 34 years of age. Ontario, where the recovery rate has fallen to 60%, is now faced with organized crime groups employing professional thieves who are heavily involved in auto theft as a means to generate revenue. B.C. and Saskatchewan are primarily faced with amateur thieves involved in transportation thefts, or joy riding, and still enjoy a 90% and 94% recovery rate.
Both the professional and the amateur thief present a clear and present danger to the community, leading police on high-speed pursuits, often committing these crimes while high on drugs.
The experience of the provincial auto theft team reveals that presently the penalties in Ontario range from probation to light fines. Repeat offenders face primarily 30 days in custody. We've had occasion to talk to very prolific auto thieves in Ontario, members of organized crime, and they've boasted about not only stealing thousands of vehicles annually, but also that they've been arrested and convicted numerous times and are still active and receiving light penalties.
The provincial auto theft team has conducted surveillance during recent projects. One project, Project Eagle, was concluded in 2006, and we watched thieves exit the courtroom after being convicted for stealing a vehicle and steal another vehicle within an hour.
The provincial auto theft team and the Ontario Provincial Police support this initiative to deter auto theft and make our communities safer. The provincial auto theft team and the Ontario Provincial Police would welcome further changes to the Criminal Code of Canada, similar to those in Bill C-343, that would include possession of a stolen vehicle as a separate offence. The provincial auto theft team would also support legislation that would see any vehicle whose vehicle identification number or any vessel whose hull identification number has been obliterated or removed to be forfeit to the crown.
The provincial auto theft team's focus is on combatting organized crime and those who profit from this enterprise auto theft trade. The provincial auto theft team would support legislation that targets organized crime and creates specific offences for those who engage in the auto theft trade by trafficking in stolen vehicles or parts.
I'd like to quote from Commissioner Julian Fantino in a letter he wrote to the clerk of this committee:
This legislation would make auto theft a separate offence under the Criminal Code and would ensure mandatory minimum jail sentences, particularly for third or subsequent offences. As you're aware, motor vehicle theft costs Canadians in excess of $1 billion annually and continues to threaten the safety and security of our communities and law enforcement personnel. Auto theft is not a victimless crime. It involves home invasions, break and enters, and other crimes that support organized crime. This past summer auto theft resulted in the on-duty death of Constable Robert Plunkett of the York Regional Police.
Auto theft is not a victimless crime. Auto theft must be treated as a serious threat to public safety and viewed as such. The proposals in Bill C-343 represent proactive measures to protect the public. The stand-alone offence of auto theft more accurately represents the seriousness and the sophistication of the auto theft situation than the simple offence of possession of stolen property.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to address this committee.
I am a director for the North American Export Committee, which is made up of various persons from law enforcement and the private sector in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The mission of the North American Export Committee is to bring together those entities that share a common goal of combatting the exportation of stolen vehicles.
In addition to being a director with the North American Export Committee, I'm an investigator with the Insurance Bureau of Canada in the auto theft services and I'm also seconded to the provincial auto theft team in Toronto, working under Scott Mills. The team is headed up by the Ontario Provincial Police. I am also a retired member of the RCMP and served for 31 years.
As part of my work investigating exported stolen vehicles, I have spent a great deal of time overseas in the repatriation of stolen vehicles. As a matter of fact, in June of this year I presented to the FBI training seminar in Accra, Ghana, about North American stolen vehicles being exported to the west coast of Africa.
The North American Export Committee fully supports Bill and asks that all members of Parliament approve it in its current form.
More and more, auto theft in Canada is being committed by organized, for-profit crime rings. This is evidenced, in part, by the significant reduction in the recovery of stolen vehicles. The criminals involved in these rings are dangerous repeat offenders. Bill addresses the increased severity of the problem by making auto theft a separate offence under the Criminal Code, rather than treating it as a simple property crime.
Also, Bill proposes mandatory minimum sentences, but does so only for third and subsequent offences. The export committee views this as a very reasonable use of mandatory minimum sentencing, as it targets only repeat offenders.
Auto theft is a very expensive crime. As we heard, it's costing Canadians $1.2 billion a year, and in 2006 there were 159,000 vehicles stolen in Canada. Even more troubling, though, is the human cost of auto theft. A study by the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft found that between 1999 and 2001, 81 Canadians were killed and 127 were seriously injured because of auto theft. There is no question that auto theft is a threat to the safety and security of all Canadians.
I would like to share with you a few cases that I am involved in that demonstrate the scope and magnitude of organized crime in auto theft in Canada.
First is Project Ghana, part two. ln January and February of this year, the Ontario provincial auto theft team recovered 50 high-end stolen vehicles that were destined for West Africa. These vehicles were valued at more than $2 million. While those cars were recovered before they left Canada, many others still made it out. Approximately 65 vehicles were found to be stolen from Canada and illegally shipped to Ghana. Most of the vehicles shipped to Ghana had originally been shipped from the ports of Halifax and Montreal.
Ghana and Nigeria in western Africa are major importers of Canadian stolen vehicles, second only to the United States. Organized West African car theft rings are increasing in number, and so is the volume of vehicles stolen by them. It is important to note that the Canada Border Services Agency claims they lack the jurisdiction to identify and seize stolen vehicles at the ports, so they are not doing this job of seizing vehicles at the export levels in Canada.
Next is Project X5. ln August of this year, police arrested 19 individuals involved in operating five auto theft rings in various parts of Ontario. They recovered 14 high-end stolen vehicles worth $1.5 million, as well as $55,000 in cash and more than $800,000 in drugs. The suspects also had false Ontario driver's licences, false Canadian citizenship cards, and a host of bogus social insurance numbers. The cars and the SUVs in this case were destined for West Africa and the Middle East.
Next is Project Eastbound, which was an interprovincial auto theft ring. In October 2006 law enforcement from Ontario arrested and charged 14 individuals relating to the fraudulent registration and sale of stolen vehicles to unsuspecting consumers in Quebec and New Brunswick.
This was a 14-month investigation targeting a group that was involved in the cloning and revinning of stolen vehicles.
In July 2006, members of the New Brunswick RCMP, in conjunction with the Ontario provincial auto theft team, located and seized 24 more stolen vehicles that had been identified as cloned or with false vehicle identification numbers.
In August 2006, 33 search warrants were executed in Quebec by the Ontario provincial auto theft team, with the assistance of members of the Sûreté du Québec, the Montreal Police Service, and various police agencies in the province of Quebec. At this time, a total of 26 vehicles identified as cloned or with false vehicle identification numbers were located and seized. The seized vehicles were all reported stolen between 2005 and 2006, with a value of over $6 million.
In Toronto we had a major crime task force labelled “Project Globe”. This was started in 2005 by the Toronto Police Service. Initially they had identified 75 vehicles that were unlawfully obtained by a Middle Eastern crime group. They had been stolen from various financial institutions through the use of deceptive financing. Once obtained, these vehicles were placed into containers and shipped to the Middle East, namely to Dubai, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Some of these vehicles were later reported stolen here in Canada, and there was an investigation; this is called “theft by conversion”. The total value of these vehicles was over $5 million.
The problem is escalating, and we are currently seeking approximately 100 high-end vehicles that have been shipped to the Middle East from Canada within the last six to eight months.
Organizations involved are known to be involved in other criminal activity, including terrorism, drug trafficking, robbery, carjacking, identity theft and fraud, and other criminal offences.
In July 2007 we were notified by the Hong Kong police that a number of luxury stolen vehicles from Canada, including a Ferrari, four Hummers, a BMW, and Cadillac Escalades, worth over $500,000, had been seized and recovered. They arrested two Indian males carrying Indian passports in Hong Kong, and they had connections leading back to individuals in Canada.
In August 2006 I was contacted by Interpol from Lyon, France, who advised that Cambodian customs had just seized 12 luxury vehicles that had all been stolen from Canada, most of which came from the province of Quebec. These vehicles were packed in shipping containers labelled to contain aluminum doors and windows, along with clothing. These vehicles were seized at a port in Cambodia.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that various investigations have strongly suggested that auto theft is a source of funds for terrorist groups. This has also been supported by informants and was noted in an RCMP criminal intelligence report from November 2001. The same RCMP report went on to say that high-ranking Hezbollah leaders may be driving around Lebanon in cars stolen in Canada by Middle Eastern organized crime groups.
Thieves are not constrained by political borders. Auto theft has proven to be a very lucrative business operating all across this country, the United States, and overseas as well.
The North American Export Committee is certain that will give law enforcement the tools it needs to properly fight the battle against organized auto theft. As a director with the North American Export Committee, I urge you all to support Bill C-343 in its current form and send it to the House of Commons for third reading and approval.
Thank you for your time, and I'm looking forward to answering any of your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I've been working in the area of sentencing since about 1984, when I worked for the Canadian Sentencing Commission. I think I have appeared nine previous times before this committee on this issue. If you get a mug for your tenth appearance, I'd like to take it home.
It's obviously a serious problem, there's no doubt about that, and these statistics make it clear. But my question would be, what can sentencing do about this problem? In the testimony yesterday there were a number of obviously interesting proposals: immobilizers, better police surveillance, and so on and so forth.
With respect to sentencing, it's a little bit more complicated, and the role of sentencing as a deterrent force is significantly limited. One of the witnesses a couple of days ago said that Canadians count on parliamentarians to take action about the problems that matter to them, but your job's more complicated than that. You need to take action with respect for the legal traditions of this great country, and within the statutory sentencing framework that was created in 1996 by .
Before you create a fairly stiff—and I'll talk about the level of penalty—mandatory minimum sentence, you need to recall that the role of Parliament is to create a statutory framework to identify important statutory aggravating factors and mitigating factors if necessary, to prescribe mandatory sentences where appropriate, but not necessarily to introduce a minimum penalty every time an offence seems to take your attention.
The I refer to in 1996 codified the principle of proportionality in sentencing, section 718.1 of the Criminal Code. That principle, of course, as you well know, articulates a guide to sentencing courts, which is that the severity of the sentence should reflect the seriousness of the crime and the offender's level of culpability for the offence. You can't determine that in advance. You can't know in advance the offender's level of culpability; it's something that has to be determined by a judge. A mandatory minimum sentence takes away that judicial discretion.
I know a lot of people are quite skeptical of judicial discretion, but my submission to you would be you shouldn't be so skeptical or afraid of it.
How does this bill violate proportionality? It also violates restraint, by the way, but I probably won't have time to talk about that. By creating a sentence—and we'll look at the third conviction—of at least two years, it effectively creates a disproportionate punishment. You may say, how can it be disproportionate? It's a very serious crime. It is, but go to the sentencing statistics. I think you should take a good, hard look at those. I don't think you should get your sentencing statistics from what witnesses say or what you've heard from auto thieves; get them from Statistics Canada.
I'll give you one statistic here that is quite compelling: 95% of sentences of custody in this country are provincial terms, two years less one day and below. By the way, clause 5 indicates that the third conviction can be part of the same criminal event. So if a guy grabs three Toyota Corollas in one evening he's subject to this provision and to a penalty of at least two years pen time for stealing three cars that could be quite modest cars, and I think that's a disproportionate sentence.
If you think about it, the 5% of offenders in this country are the offenders who have committed the most serious crimes. I'll just ask you whether you want somebody who's stolen three cars—serious though that is—to be among the top 5%. We're talking about aggravated sexual assault, manslaughter, and so on. I think it's disproportionate.
The second thing is of course it's a three strikes law. It's baseball sentencing. What that means is you're promoting the use of previous convictions. The reason why the guy gets pen time, at least two years, two years or more, for stealing those three Toyota Corollas is not because the third Corolla is such a serious theft; it's because it's his third infraction. That's promoting the use of previous convictions way above the seriousness of the incident crime.
So he's stolen a car and he goes to the penitentiary for that because he has had two previous convictions for stealing cars. What you're doing there, of course, is promoting the offender's criminal record way above the seriousness of the crime, and that's a violation of proportionality.
I'll just say a couple of last words and then conclude, because I'm running a little late.
If having these mandatory sentences were to create a great crime prevention effect; if you had all these potential offenders thinking “My God, there's a mandatory penalty now, so let's think about robbing convenience stores instead”, there might be more support for it. But if you're talking about an average age of 14—and we just heard the statistic—for people stealing cars, you have a lot of young people stealing cars, and they're not the most reflective individuals, not the most forward-thinking individuals. They're going to steal cars.
Particularly, by the way, if they're high on drugs they're going to do it without contemplating whether it's six months or eighteen months. You could probably have a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for the third conviction; it's not going to stop those guys, because they're not going to think about it.
They may be more concerned if they think they're going to get caught. So if there's a police presence around, or immobilizers and alarms, that will deter them, because then it's clear to them that there are some consequences. But they don't think rationally, the way we do. I think there'll be little or no crime-preventive effect.
You may say it's not going to have a great impact upon the number of vehicles stolen, but what's the matter with it? What is the matter with it is, as I say, that it's an unwelcome parliamentary intrusion into the exercise of discretion by a sentencing court, and I think that's regrettable.
I would encourage you to go back to the drawing board to take a look at the sentencing statistics. If they show, by the way, that a car thief with ten previous convictions was getting probation, I'd be a little bit more concerned and would want to do something about the sentencing regime. But I'd need to see the statistics.
The last point I'd make is just that we should of course recall to our minds that committing a crime in conjunction with an organized crime organization is a statutory aggravating factor and will or should result in a harsher penalty anyway. I would encourage you to have a little more faith in the judiciary.
I'm not very favourable to the sentencing proposals in this bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll be splitting my time with the honourable member for .
When we talk about what I guess you could almost say is an epidemic, it would seem to me that society sees it going on. In spite of awareness campaigns and police publicity and all these types of things, though, there is some measure of individual responsibility that seems to be lacking, whether people leave their doors unlocked, whether they keep their keys in the car, or whether they leave their air conditioning going in hot times or their engines running in the winter. In this neck of the woods, people go out, start their cars, or do it some other way. We're almost luring people to say, “Take me”.
From my experience on the police services board, when we decided that we would try to do something in our community about this, there was a huge outcry. People felt we were being unnecessarily stringent, that we were putting undue pressure on them. They felt it was a right for them to be able to leave their cars running, or that if they parked at a convenience store and ran in, they shouldn't be assigned a penalty for doing that because that's how people live, as opposed to shutting the car off and locking the door so that they wouldn't make it so susceptible.
That's my first question, and perhaps a couple of you may want to respond to that. And then try to identify that aspect of individual responsibility, versus the hitting of the car lots and putting the cars on trailers. Wouldn't you say those are two different categories of theft?
It's to know the various stages of what happens here. For the local freight forwarders, there are no regulations, and they're not governed by any laws. You can run a freight forwarding business from the basement of your house. You can order up a container, and it could be dropped off in your back yard or in some parking lot or behind your local church. What you'll do is get your cars, put them in the container, close the doors, call up the shipping line or a freight forward or a trucking company to pick up your container, and it will take it to a shipping yard. Next thing you know, it's on the rail up at CN in Brampton and is shipped to Montreal by train or to the port of Halifax. It's then manifested and shipped overseas. Doing all of this is a very simple procedure.
We're seeing that the export of stolen vehicles is growing. A lot are going out, for the most part in Canada, through the ports of Montreal and Halifax. We're seeing a lot of Canadian vehicles also going across U.S. borders, in through New Jersey, all along the east coast of the United States, and being shipped off to the Caribbean.
A couple of years ago I went down to Panama in Central America. I worked with the assistant attorney in charge of auto theft there. He had a huge case of Canadian vehicles hitting his shores in Panama. It was controlled by an eastern European crime group, and they were heavily involved in all kinds of drug activities in those countries, too.
He asked the same question: how are these cars getting through our borders? We're saying they're not being checked by any border agency in Canada prior to the export; that's part of the problem.
It was the same when I was recently in Ghana. The deputy commissioner in charge of CEPS, which is the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service.... I gave a presentation to the national police, with customs and their national security people, and the same thing was brought up: what's Canada doing about the export of stolen vehicles? I said, with customs it's not covered under the Customs Act; therefore, they're not doing the enforcement at the port.
As I say, we are working with the government, working with , working with CBSA, and with the RCMP, trying to find ways and means to prevent these vehicles from going out.
Thanks to all the witnesses. It's really interesting testimony.
I particularly note what has been said about the CBSA. I found it interesting, because to anyone who has ever flown, they certainly have the ability to prevent someone from taking shampoo or bottled water on a plane, or anything over, I think, 100 millilitres. So it seems that is something that has to be addressed, the ability to crack down on those things that are being exported.
Mr. Mills, you mentioned the revinning of vehicles. Number one, I commend the person who brought this bill forward, because I think what's been clear is that in its various forms, whether it is the high-level organized crime and things are being exported to the Middle East, or more local action, car theft is a very serious thing. It's something that we have to combat.
I don't want to get into a big debate about sentencing at this point. Mr. Roberts, your point was noted on the deterrent effect. As a member of Parliament, anecdotally I hear from constituents. I hear from people who have been involved with the law when they were younger. The fact that they knew there would be very little penalty when they got caught certainly was an encouragement to stay involved in the life of crime that they were engaged in. So the opposite, in my view, of “deterrent” is “encouragement”, and I think a system where someone knows they're not going to have a penalty is encouraging them to continue in their ways. But your point is noted on that.
To the question on revinning—because that's where I think someone who's an innocent purchaser, who does some of their due diligence, can get caught with something that has been stolen—can you expand a bit on what that means and how that's done, and how prevalent it is?
I thank you all for coming here. This has been very helpful for me as a member of Parliament.
I basically have two conclusions from the general discussion. One is that this is a very serious problem and we have to find ways to solve it. Secondly, unfortunately this bill isn't going to do a lot of that. It may help a little bit, but we already have a crime for theft. Although the witnesses haven't seen a vast majority of the science, those witnesses show that mandatory minimums don't work in some cases and would in fact lead to more car thefts.
As a member of Parliament, and not related to this committee, I would be very interested if you could write me a letter with some of these alternative suggestions. It could be stronger laws for these different tiers, so that we can get those guys on the upper levels for moving serial numbers, possession, transporting. There must be other ways by which we can get at some of these. If we could invest in technology, put federal government money into the technology, that would help.
My question is for you, Mr. Roberts. You said you wouldn't have time to talk about how this offends restraint. I'm not a lawyer, so could you explain what restraint is and how this bill would offend restraint?
And as the second question, if a person stole three cars in one night, would that be three offences and would they then be subject to the mandatory minimum?
I'm going to ask two brief questions, Mr. Chair.
I'm always pleased to see you, Mr. Roberts. We had stopped expecting you, but, in the end, you're here, and that's good news.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the idea of there being a separate offence in the Criminal Code for motor vehicle theft. It's apparent from the analysis that stealing a motor vehicle is not the same thing as stealing a fur coat, a piece of jewellery or a television set. It isn't the same thing in the life of a citizen.
What makes us reluctant are the mandatory minimum sentences. We've of course looked at the studies done by Mr. Roberts and others on minimum sentences for crimes committed with firearms, and we believe that should also be applied more broadly.
Shouldn't we be preparing to pass the bill with amendments instead? We can create a separate regime of offences for motor vehicle theft, but preserve judicial discretion and increase the maximum sentence. We can go up to a maximum fine of $10,000. If a judge has before him a youth who has reoffended for a third time, he will never think of imposing a $300 fine on him. I believe we have to trust the judiciary somewhat.
That will be the gist of the amendment that we introduce in our second item of business, the clause-by-clause consideration. I'd like to know how all of your view that amendment.
In Winnipeg, youth and those in early adulthood are the ones stealing the cars. They're stealing these cars for excitement and/or to utilize them as a means to an end, that being other criminal behaviour, be it participation in break-and-enters, robberies, or other significant offences.
When I related that the auto theft problem isn't primarily associated with organized crime, that was because we have approximately a 95% recovery rate for our stolen vehicles. Most of these are recovered a short time later, within a few days of being stolen.
This problem is not unique to Winnipeg. It has been and continues to be a problem in many western centres, Regina and Edmonton in particular. It's important to note that no major centre is immune to this type of problem. It's just a matter of which kids start talking to other kids. We're seeing them from the age of 11 right on up through 17, 18, and 19 years old. The arrest rates in Winnipeg so far this year, from January to November, saw 744 people charged. Of those, 424, or 57%, were youths, and 320, or 43%, were adults. Of note, 50% of the level four offenders that we are monitoring—these 104 youths—have self-admitted gang involvement within the city of Winnipeg.
First and foremost in our situation, this is a public safety issue. The crime associated with it, that being the theft of a motor vehicle, certainly deserves a separate Criminal Code section to identify it as such. The significance of it being able to be identified as an indictable offence is due to the often violent crimes or incidents that are associated with it, which I'll illustrate here.
Most offenders flee from the police when initially detected. Police do have the option to pursue, of course, but this is one option that isn't followed in most cases, because of the ultimate risk to public safety when these kids, being 11 years old or of similar ages, are pushed with their inexperience at operating a vehicle such as a Ford F-350 pickup truck or some similar vehicle. This happens at all times of the day. This isn't something that occurs late at night while our families or our friends are asleep.
I have a couple of anecdotes here, just within the last week alone in Winnipeg.
On a Winnipeg afternoon at a shopping mall, a stolen vehicle arrived and its occupants attempted to steal a second vehicle. This was in the summer of this year in Winnipeg. The group was confronted by police and fled. The manner of driving was noted by an aerial surveillance unit, with no police pursuing. The command was given not to pursue these kids. They continued on a rampage through certain areas of the city and into another completely different sector, over about 15 minutes. Ultimately, we were able to call other police units into the area once they fled from the vehicle, and they were arrested. They were observed travelling at a high rate of speed through a number of these areas, in a very reckless manner.
Just last Wednesday, a break-and-enter was in progress in the city at 8:30 in the morning, in rush hour traffic. A vehicle was spotted leaving the break-and-enter and the description was broadcast, along with the licence plate. It was in fact a stolen vehicle. Within moments, responding police arrived and spotted the vehicle, and a pursuit began at that time. It was aborted by the officers pursuing due to the fact that it was snowing at the time. The vehicle fled through two red lights within approximately 30 seconds, fishtailing through traffic.
The day before, two significant incidents occurred in Winnipeg. A robbery suspect in a stolen vehicle was confronted by police. He rammed the police cruisers and shots were fired by police. That was at 2:30 in the afternoon. Later that night, at 10:30 p.m., the stolen vehicle was located by our stolen auto unit. We set up on it, an occupant came back to it, and police attended to the vehicle, at which time they were immediately rammed by this vehicle. It was an F-350 Ford pickup, and again shots were fired.
This illustrates the two extreme examples where officers' lives were put in jeopardy at the time. Officers obviously have great concern in the use of their weapon, and it's a deadly force encounter when they feel that they have to use it.
To give some other case studies from Winnipeg, in this last year alone, there was a jogger struck while jogging on one of Winnipeg's residential streets, on purpose. A number of arrests were made in that case, but ultimately the main accused was released and acquitted.
A young offender who is a bit of a ring leader—this is a significant case study from 2004—and who was initially arrested at the age of 12 years has become a level four offender, and back in March of 2006 was leading another group of youth: three level four and one level three offender. Over the course of 12 days prior to their arrest as a group, 39 thefts of Chevy Avalanches and Trail Blazers were noted, in which he was teaching these kids how to defeat the factory-installed immobilizers. In the 12 days post-arrest, only four vehicles of that type were noted to be stolen.
This male ultimately was arrested 11 different times from July 2004 until a tragic incident occurred on July 24 of this year, when this youth was wanted on a warrant. A warrant was issued for several breaches of his conditions of release on July 20. On July 24, police encountered him, but did not pursue. Ultimately, he struck a cyclist on a Winnipeg street and killed him. Mr. James Duane is the deceased.
Here are a couple of other significant incidents. A two-vehicle motor vehicle collision took the life of a mother, I believe of two, this summer while she was on her way to work; she was struck by an adult offender in a stolen vehicle.
We've had youth in another circumstance steal the vehicle and then, for lack of a better term, launch it across Main Street in Winnipeg at mid-afternoon on a Sunday, I believe it was, unattended but with a brick on the gas pedal. This is just what they do and what we've seen in Winnipeg itself.
Within moments of that occurring, our stolen auto members were in the area. They followed some suspects they felt were responsible and were rammed in a surveillance car by another group of youths in a second stolen vehicle—all part of the same group that had launched the van across the street.
This just illustrates, I hope, the significance and the escalating violence we're seeing associated with these types of crimes. Thus far in 2007, we've seen at least 2,000 fewer stolen vehicles than last year, so we're down about 27% from 2006. Those 2,000 vehicles are associated with an approximate cost in repairs alone to the Manitoba Public Insurance Agency of $3,600 per vehicle; that adds up to approximately $7.2 million.
These figures are strictly numbers associated with repairs of the vehicles and in no way account for the fact that there are 2,000 fewer opportunities for auto thieves to cause carnage on the streets of Winnipeg. The human factor has to be considered when focusing on this crime. Lives can be changed, altered, or ended in a split second as a result of those who take part in this form of criminal activity.
These people must be held accountable. This is no longer just a property crime.
The acceptance of this bill is important to law enforcement, and more importantly to public safety. It's imperative that consideration be given to having mandatory minimum sentences transcend the boundaries of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This is crucial. If not, the majority of offenders will be overlooked in our circumstances, and these are the offenders causing the greatest risk to public safety.
First of all, on behalf of our stakeholders and committee members of the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft, I wish to express our appreciation to you for providing us the opportunity to have some input regarding this significant bill being proposed by a member of Parliament, Andrew Scheer.
The National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft was formed as a result of Rick McDonald's death. He was a constable in Sudbury, Ontario, who was in the process of trying to arrest an individual he'd already arrested six months earlier. He was hit by a Dodge Caravan at 160 kilometres an hour, resulting in his death. His sister took the lead and formed the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft, and as a result, we're here.
First and foremost, auto theft to us is a big public safety issue in our community, and your realizing that maintaining the status quo is not acceptable is very encouraging to us.
We heard the OPP officer speak about Constable Plunkett, who was killed this summer. Again, we should point out that the offender involved in that one was a chronic repeat offender, and again a youth.
Auto theft is a complex social issue. It's not limited to one category of offender or one set of circumstances. Reducing auto theft in a substantial manner requires the implementation of a multifaceted approach, including the passing of Mr. Scheer's bill. At one end, the focus should be on reducing the situational opportunities--in other words, immobilization of vehicles, which we've done through Transport Canada--and at the other, it should be imposing the appropriate punitive measures, as prescribed in Mr. Scheer's bill. In between are a number of different approaches, such as education, training, enforcement, and sentencing measures that can be used to address the public safety issues.
Five years ago this whole issue of auto theft became very significant. As a result, ministers met at the federal-provincial-territorial first ministers meeting in Moncton, New Brunswick, to address the issue of opportunistic auto theft. A presentation was delivered by Minister Mackintosh from Manitoba and a representative of our committee. Following the presentation there was a proposed resolution for immobilization of vehicles, which was presented to the Minister of Transportation, Minister Collenette. Delegates at the federal-provincial-territorial meeting passed a strongly worded resolution calling for a federal coordinated strategy to address the issue of preventing auto theft through a national approach of regulating immobilizers. This was one of the first steps of looking at a national initiative.
Following the passing of the federal-provincial-territorial ministers' resolution, members and stakeholders of the national committee passed a resolution in June 2002, requesting that the automobile manufacturers work with Transport Canada to equip all new vehicles sold in Canada with immobilizers. This resolution encouraged Transport Canada to adopt a standard established in 1998, a standard established by the Underwriters' Laboratories of Canada and the industry. The regulation that was passed was built to deal with the problems we experience here in Canada and built to remain abreast of technology and the evolution of modern-day vehicles.
The reason I bring this up is that it's been a significant issue before many bodies of government, and additional support was given from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which represents municipal governments. At its March 2003 meeting held in Regina, the national board of directors of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities endorsed a similar resolution for vehicle immobilization. They argued that motor vehicle theft is linked to organized crime and dangerous criminal activities and that it was a serious public safety issue to the community. The resolution urged that all new motor vehicles registered in Canada after 2005 be equipped with an immobilizer. As we know, that took place in September 2007.
Over the past several years motor vehicle theft has increasingly become well organized. As we heard this morning, it has an international scope of operation, influence, and impact. Highly organized rings have created an illicit economy that controls specific aspects of motor vehicle theft in Canada, easily moving vehicles across Canada at will with little resistance, with movement of vehicles in and out of the United States and abroad. The illicit economy has provided an international marketplace for stolen vehicles, and the worldwide demand is driving down the recovery rates, as we heard, in several Canadian cities.
Organized crime often utilizes auto theft as a tool, with vehicles being used to distribute illicit drugs and vehicles often being used in many other forms of criminal activity in many parts of Canada, in some cases funding terrorist activities.
With our recent regulation of immobilization, we must ensure the appropriate penalties are there to discourage chronic repeat offenders from stealing vehicles by means of home invasions, carjackings, robberies, break and enters, and discourage them from fleeing from the police. Without meaningful penalties, we are at risk of an escalation of these types of criminal activities, with our immobilization program now in place. Mr. Scheer's proposed bill will certainly provide discouragement to many chronic repeat offenders, and certainly it will be the substance of a new section for the Criminal Code.
Let me refer to a member of Parliament, Mr. Cadman from Surrey North. He had read into Parliament proposed amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada. Mr. Cadman's bill was directed at stopping the end user market, targeting jurisdictions in Canada plagued by organized theft rings where the recruitment of youth to steal vehicles was prolific, as it provides protection for the upper echelon.
Let me also refer to Minister Michael Baker, who stated that the federal Criminal Code must be amended to make motor vehicle theft a separate indictable offence punishable by more jail time. Minister Baker stated: “In my view, car theft is not a property theft defined simply by whether the value is under or over $5,000. It is a potentially violent offence with more capacity for destruction than a single bullet fired from a firearm.”
With that, I encourage the acceptance of this bill, as it is crucial to the citizens of our communities for the protection of our neighbours and the discouragement of youth involvement in auto theft.
The previous “theft over $5,000” and “theft under $5,000” clauses also exist. This is simply an addition or an augmentation that specifically lays out theft of motor vehicles.
A lot has been said here. If I go back to a comment that was made by Professor Roberts while he was here, he said that basically the addition of this amendment into the Criminal Code levels a shotgun at everybody. I don't necessarily agree with that comment, and I'm looking for some comment from you.
When we still have the joyriding clause, when we still have the “theft over” and “theft under” clauses, would it be reasonable to assume that police investigators and crown prosecutors wouldn't have the knowledge? It's clear from the testimony that you've given here. When you've categorized repeat offenders as level four and level three, is it realistic to think that law enforcement agencies and crown prosecutors are simply going to throw the maximum charge at everybody who is in a car that doesn't belong to them?
I'm just wondering. There seems to be a little bit of fearmongering around the committee that everybody who takes a car, whether they're 14 years old, 18 years old, or 28 years old, is going to somehow be locked up for two years. I just don't think that's what's going to happen.
Can you elaborate on what currently happens as far as your cooperation with the crown prosecutors is concerned, on determining how some of these young people are dealt with especially? This charge would only apply to somebody over 18, because the Youth Criminal Justice Act would kick in. What effect would this law, if passed in its current form, actually have on the young people who take cars, especially when 95% of them turn back up again? Does that not constitute joyriding, in the sense that it's not a permanent attempt to deprive people of their property?
What I'm trying to get at here is that not everybody—and certainly when you're dealing with a young person who's in the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with some of their friends—is going to go to jail for two years if they happen to go out on a night when they're riding around in a car that one of their buddies took because he found an opportunity. The window was down, the keys were in the ignition, and they thought they'd go have some fun. As wrong as that is and as dangerous as it is—I'm not trying to minimize it—there is certainly a different approach.
The intent of this bill is that of a start to tackle the more serious problem, which is organized crime and the theft of motor vehicles, the shipping of motor vehicles overseas, the creation of all of these black markets and so on, and the huge costs to society in all forms, whether it be the cost of human lives in various events, the cost of insurance, and so on.
As the bill sits in its current form, I've heard some testimony that leads me to believe there's some fear or some uncertainty that everybody who takes a car is going to end up in jail. I don't see that being the case, but I just wanted to get your perspective on that. I certainly think it provides an opportunity to lock up the people who are the repeat offenders and those who are the most dangerous elements involved in car theft. I just wanted to get some clarification, from your perspective on the law enforcement side, of how you work with the crown prosecutors in determining that.
I was very concerned with the testimony that was given by the previous witnesses in the previous round. They basically said this is going to level a shotgun at everybody across the board. I see this as being just a further tool in a bag of some already lesser tools that are already there, and I'm wondering if that's your assessment.
I think we heard a lot of testimony about the need for improvements in this area. I think the bill that's been brought forward is a good one. I will not be supporting the Liberal amendment. We believe there is a place, certainly on a third offence, where there should be some kind of minimum sentence in place.
I've sent around two amendments that I think represent a compromise, based on some of the questioning that we heard from the opposition. We're not gutting the bill, which I'm opposed to, but leaving it in place. I would like to let members know what the government amendments would do.
Number one, it would remove the mandatory minimum penalty for the first and second offence. So I think that's certainly meeting Mr. Ménard over half way.
On the third offence there would be a mandatory minimum penalty of not two years, but six months. That's what the amendment I've introduced would do. It would lower the maximum term of imprisonment for summary conviction from two years to eighteen months. That is consistent with the existing penalty scheme in the Criminal Code and it would also make all the necessary consequential amendments.
One other thing: it would increase the maximum term of imprisonment on a first and second offence from five years to ten years. That is actually consistent with what the maximum is already under theft over $5,000. So it would make the bill consistent with what's in the code.
What it would leave in place from the bill is having auto theft, which I think we're pretty much in agreement on, and it would leave in place the six-month minimum on a third offence. Acknowledging that this is a minority Parliament, we're trying to meet opposition members over half way. So I hope that members are agreeable with this. There are just two amendments there, and I think that would do almost everything that we hope to accomplish.