Bill C-53 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime)
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Rob Nicholson Conservative
Not active, as of April 14, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to create offences prohibiting the trafficking of property obtained by crime and prohibiting the alteration, removal or obliteration of a vehicle identification number.
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
November 5th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I congratulate my colleague on a fine speech. I have just a quick point.
One of the issues here is to create this auto theft as a separate element to our Criminal Code, and I want to get his comments on that.
Yesterday we had a private member's bill by the hon. member for Red Deer about impersonating a police officer, which I think is a great bill and will be voting for it.
In this particular case, in his experience, could he comment on that? Has he seen that sort of practice before? Does he think this is fundamentally a good idea, to separate the idea of auto theft from it?
Could he also talk about how this bill has been so delayed? We have had Bill C-53 and Bill C-26, time and time again, delay after delay, and we finally get around to doing something, which everybody in this House agrees with.
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
November 5th, 2010 / 12:50 p.m.
Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON
Mr. Speaker, as we all know, joyriding has been going on since the invention of the automobile, but it has taken an extremely long time to pass this bill. It first started out as Bill C-53, then it became Bill C-26 and now it is Bill S-9, a Senate bill.
I have two questions for the hon. member. First, why is it taking so long to pass this bill into law?Second, why does the crime prevention government seem to think that putting everybody in prison is the answer? I would like the hon. member to compare, if possible, incarceration to putting immobilizers in all vehicles.
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
November 5th, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL
Mr. Speaker, I would like to expand on my colleague's thoughts. He said that he had a lot of notes and perhaps he would like to continue that theme.
However, I do have a question. This is the third rendition of this particular type of legislation. It has been a long time coming. The member alluded to the fact that some of the measures are soft on crime and questioned whether they are tough on crime. It seems to me that this tough on crime, if we want to call it that, has been a long delayed process between the earlier versions of this bill, Bill C-53, as well as Bill C-26.
One of the things I do like is that auto theft is now a separate offence, which is certainly a step in the right direction, and many stakeholders have said as much. Insurance bureaus believe in that, as was expected, and I believe the people in his province of Manitoba are also supporters of this bill. In Winnipeg, where this is a big issue, the mayor may have had some comments about this.
Now that we are into third reading, perhaps the member would like to comment on whether he was satisfied with the process by which it went through committee and on whether he would like to see this improved upon.
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
November 5th, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.
Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC
Mr. Speaker, this bill is very late in coming to us for adoption. Parliament has been ready to adopt such a bill for at least six years. It follows Bill C-53, which, if I am not mistaken, was introduced by the Liberals in a parliament long ago. It was followed by Bill C-26, which died on the order paper because of the selfish use of prorogation for political reasons, thus putting an end to all the work done by Parliament up to that point. The auto theft situation has changed, and the law definitely needs to be adapted; more precise measures need to be introduced because this type of crime has evolved.
It should be said from the outset that there are two types of automobile thefts. First there are joyrides, meaning that young people steal automobiles because they enjoy driving them around. Then there are those who steal automobiles to sell them elsewhere or, often, to dismantle them and sell them for parts. That is a very organized form of crime and deserves harsher punishments. However, the law has certain ways of fighting this type of crime.
With respect to young people who steal, anyone who has been through that age, anyone who has kids and talks about this knows that young men are really fascinated by cars. Most of the people involved are young men because young women typically consider cars to be just a way to get around. Young men are really eager to drive. This happens in both wealthy and disadvantaged areas, but in the poorer areas, they have fewer opportunities, so they are tempted when there is peer pressure to take a car for a spin. That is the usual way things happen, as we have come to realize over the years.
There was once a minimum sentence for auto theft, and because it seemed too harsh for joyrides, the government came up with a bizarre-sounding charge: taking a vehicle without the owner's permission with the intent to deprive the owner of it “temporarily or absolutely”. That is the definition of theft. It was bizarre to have this additional offence, but this oddity took into account the fact that, in the case of joyrides, police officers and the Crown found it extreme to charge these young people with auto theft and seek the minimum penalty, which was two years in jail at the time, I believe.
Anyway, that minimum sentence was removed a while ago, in 1985, I gather. I am still checking that, but it does not matter. That kind of opportunistic crime can be headed off with restorative measures and rehabilitation.
Then there is the other kind of theft. Nobody likes thieves of any kind, but some are truly despicable, such as those who belong to organizations that steal cars for parts or ship them abroad to sell and make a profit. The act also deals with trafficking in property obtained by crime.
When an individual is knowingly in possession of property obtained by crime, that is a criminal offence that is punishable by the same maximum penalty that applies to the theft offence.
When I was a young lawyer, it was often said in court that if there was no fence, there would be no thief. But that offence is often committed by people who normally live very honest lives otherwise. They could not be identified as having ties to organized crime, but they might be tempted to buy a television or other stolen property. That is the offence of possession of stolen property. Now I think it is safe to say that those who traffic in property obtained by crime are committing a more serious offence than the individual who takes advantage of a situation and buys stolen property.
We should use the opportunity provided by this proposed legislation to add this new offence of trafficking in, importing or exporting property obtained by crime. The new maximum penalty is 14 years, while the penalty for possession of stolen goods is normally two years.
The other advantage of creating the offence of trafficking in property obtained by crime is that customs officials can intervene by consulting the electronic records of stolen vehicles. As soon as they realize that someone is trying to get a stolen vehicle into or out of the country through customs, they can immediately seize the stolen property. They would thus find someone in possession of stolen property, which would be an offence. This would allow them to take action immediately, which they cannot do under current legislation. So this is another area that this bill improves.
The bill makes another improvement in that it finally creates the new offence of tampering with a vehicle identification number without lawful excuse. But why would someone want to tamper with the vehicle identification number? Obviously, because the vehicle was stolen or for some other illegal purpose. Clearly, by doing that, the individual is committing a crime or intending to commit one. The proposed legislation states that not only is this evidence that the individual intends to commit a crime, but it is evidence that a crime is being committed. Once again, I think the maximum sentence is reasonable under these circumstances. So this is another significant improvement brought about by this bill.
The bill also includes minimum sentences. The majority of parliamentarians in this House know that I have reservations about minimum sentences, but my position has never been cast in stone. We accept minimum sentences for the most serious offences, such as murder. However, we generally do not look favourably on minimum sentences because they serve no purpose, as all the research shows.
The odd thing is that, before the government began manifesting this tendency or compulsion to add minimum sentences everywhere and to multiply the number of minimum sentences in the law, it commissioned a study of other studies. A vast number of studies have been carried out. The government asked Department of Justice officials to look at the research on the effectiveness of minimum sentences in Commonwealth countries.
There is always the temptation to establish minimum sentences.They are popular. That is why the government is imposing them. There is no other reason. When we hear them talking about minimum sentences and getting tough on crime, their clapping and their attitude proves that their goal is not to have measures that will effectively fight crime; they are excited by the thought that this will bring them more votes.
That is what happened in the United States.
Everybody wanted to institute minimum sentences for just about anything. As a result, many people are now being jailed in the United States whereas a generation ago, about 30 years ago, the U.S rate of incarceration was about the same as that in Canada and Europe. Today, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. It is seven times that of Canada, and six to eight or ten times that of European countries. Is anyone prepared to say that the United States is seven times safer? No.
The first reason why minimum sentences do not work is that people ignore them. I could challenge my colleagues in this House to tell me how many minimum sentences there are in the Criminal Code and to name five. Most people cannot.
The second reason is that when criminals commit a crime they are not usually thinking about the sentence they will be given if they are caught. Instead, they focus on not getting caught and they take precautions to that end.
For minimum sentences to be a deterrent, people have to be aware of them. Here we have a minimum sentence, but for a third offence. Judges should warn people when they are sentenced for their first offence that if they commit a second offence a minimum sentence will apply. Judges did not do that as much as I would have liked when I was practising. I did it as a lawyer and they knew it. In this case, since we are talking about the third offence, I do not think it is justified and I do not believe this will really have an impact, but let us just say it is more acceptable. We will not vote against this because overall the bill is beneficial, but I do not really see the need for this aspect.
I hope that during sentencing, judges will warn people, especially young people, because they are the ones who matter here. Whether they have stolen cars for joyrides or they are getting into stealing because they are working for an organization that dismantles cars, they need to know that they risk getting a six-month prison sentence for a third offence. Frankly, if I were the judge and I had a young or not so young person standing before me whom I was sentencing for a third offence, I would consider giving him a sentence of at least six months and perhaps more. In these cases, people are warned.
Car theft in Canada has decreased since 1996, but it is still quite prevalent. There certainly are differences from one province to the next, but that has not really been elaborated on. It is not a bad idea to talk about that. In Quebec, we experience a specific phenomenon. From what I know about crime, I know that in Quebec our big ports have a lot to do with it. Organized crime works mainly in stealing luxury vehicles, and it is organized well enough to quickly load cars onto containers that are being shipped abroad. That is why in Quebec we have a rather high rate of automobile theft, but it is much lower than the rate in Manitoba. I understand why and I will leave it to people from that region to talk about the difficulties they encounter. They have come up with a smart approach to tracking car thieves.
Generally speaking, this bill is long overdue. It is scandalous that it was not brought before us when we were all in favour of passing it. We agree because it is—
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
October 25th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his very interesting and informative speech.
I wonder if he could share his opinion on this kind of bill. This is the third time such a bill has been introduced. First, Bill C-53 was introduced shortly after the 2006 election. Then Bill C-26 was introduced before the 2008 election, when the House was prorogued. Now we are talking about Bill S-9.
Does the member think the Conservatives are simply trying to delay these bills? If the government had really wanted to, we could have passed this bill a long time ago. In his opinion, why has the government not yet addressed this matter?
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
October 25th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, I, too, am pleased to be speaking about Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime). As my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, so clearly stated just moments ago, the Bloc Québécois supports this bill. Bill S-9, just like Bill C-26, which went down the drain because of prorogation, and Bill C-53, which went down the drain because of the election, has the very specific goal of reducing vehicle theft. The bill's main measure, which is to create an offence for tampering with an identification number—which is also known as a serial number, just to clarify—is not new. In fact, it was lifted from Bill C-64, which was introduced by the Liberal government in September 2005.
However, Bill S-9 is broader in scope. It also targets the trafficking, export and import of any property obtained by crime and proposes a minimum six-month sentence for a person convicted of vehicle theft for the third time. My colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, explained the Bloc Québécois' position well. Generally, we are against minimum sentences in justice bills because they tie the judge's hands and mean that no matter what happened and despite any exacerbating or mitigating factors, a minimum sentence of x number of months or years must be handed down to the person who committed the crime. This means that one person could receive the same sentence as another even though the crime they committed was not nearly as serious or they played a smaller role in the crime than the second person. The Bloc Québécois feels that is a problem.
However, it is said that when there is recidivism, organized crime is more likely to be involved. When teenagers steal a car and take it for a joyride, the hope is that there is not too much damage, because accidents can be caused by excessive speed. I imagine a person who commits this type of offence already has the makings of a criminal. However, in that case, there is not necessarily recidivism. Criminal groups make money by stealing cars, altering them, chopping them up to sell the parts, or shipping them overseas. If these people are caught more than once, they could receive a minimum sentence. The Bloc Québécois does not really have a problem with that in this particular case because of the way the legislation is drafted.
Bill S-9 is in all respects the same as Bill C-26 as passed, with support from the Bloc Québécois, by the House of Commons during the last session. Furthermore, Bill C-26, which the Bloc Québécois supported at third reading, was practically identical to the version introduced at first reading, which itself was similar to Bill C-53, introduced previously. We are in favour of sending Bill S-9 to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Unfortunately, as some hon. members have said and as my colleague, the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, said during a speech on the same subject earlier this year, this committee is overwhelmed because the Minister of Justice has piled on the bills.
Although we may be in favour of some of these bills, we must still study them carefully. We cannot pass a bill without having studied it and heard from witnesses. Sometimes everyone in the House will agree on a bill, because it is clear and well written and we know its purpose and all the ins and outs. In this case, the bill may be fast-tracked, or passed very quickly. However, in most cases, we must study bills in much more detail and send them to committee to ensure that there is nothing fishy going on, and that we are on the right track.
The problem is that there is a lot of jostling in committee. There are bills that everyone agrees on, but members would like to hear from the witnesses. Some political parties want further information, and want to propose amendments. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is very busy right now. So it will be difficult for anything to happen with this bill. I do not know whether the House is unanimous on this bill, but based on what I have heard from the various parties, it seems that we will not have any trouble moving it through. The government needs the support of one party, and the Bloc is in favour of this bill.
A little later, I will give some interesting statistics. According to what I have read on this subject, the number of car thefts has been going down since 1996. Nevertheless, now is the time to act, because it still happens too frequently.
The social and economic consequences of these thefts are a heavy burden, both for individuals and society as a whole. Just think about the insurance companies that are faced with this problem. Insurance companies are no different from other businesses. When they incur costs by compensating people who have had their vehicle stolen, it is the consumer who foots the bill at the end of the day. That is the way things work. It is true that vehicle thefts affect everyone.
The cost of automobile insurance varies based on how often you use the vehicle and where you live. Central Quebec is known as a region with high rates of vehicle theft and possession of stolen vehicles. It is possible that insurance there costs a little bit more. Without repeating what was said earlier, I would say that Winnipeg is, unfortunately, Canada's vehicle theft capital. I am sure that people pay much more to insure a vehicle in Winnipeg than in other municipalities in Canada. Montreal and Toronto also have a high number of vehicle thefts because of the large number of vehicles registered there.
Back when I was a local radio reporter in my region, I witnessed several vehicle seizures. Unfortunately, a number of criminal gangs had chosen Victoriaville and the surrounding area as a location for their illegal activities. Even some very modern garages that sold nice cars were raided, and police seized several vehicles. Charges were laid, and people were sentenced to jail for possession of stolen goods. I sometimes covered these events. Today, there are fewer such garages, no doubt because of those seizures. They may have set up shop elsewhere, or they may be more discreet. Still, we cannot bury our heads in the sand. The scourge persists in my region and all across Canada.
The Bloc Québécois agrees with the new trafficking offence set out in Bill S-9. The purpose of this provision is to curb trafficking in cars and car parts. Organized crime groups get rich by quickly dismantling cars and selling the parts. Some stolen cars immediately leave the country for sale elsewhere, but in general, cars are stolen for parts, so vehicles are stripped right away.
Judging by the list of most frequently stolen cars, thieves are not always after very costly or luxurious vehicles. Some groups put in orders for particular makes of vehicles.
I do not need to list those makes, but I can say that the most popular cars are the ones most frequently stolen. Many of them are compact cars that cost between $20,000 and $25,000. There are so many of these cars on the market that parts are in high demand. That is where possession of stolen goods comes into play. Fenders, engine parts, mufflers, wheels, everything goes. Everything gets recycled and sent to shady dealers for resale. Worst of all, these parts are not necessarily resold for a better price. Consumers who have been in accidents or who have defective parts in their cars buy these parts in good faith, not knowing that they are buying stolen parts. This is a very lucrative market for gang members.
This bill also tackles another problem: vehicle theft for the purpose of joyriding. I am not sure what the correct word for that is in French. Most thefts of this type are committed by young people.
For instance, this happens when someone stops their car in front of a convenience store and unfortunately leaves the keys in the ignition, perhaps even leaving the car running. Sometimes in the winter, people might leave their cars running while they run in to buy some milk. They get out of the car without locking the doors. Someone can walk by more or less by chance and steal the vehicle to go for a joyride. A friend of mine was the victim of this kind of theft and the police found his car in a ditch a few kilometres from where it had been stolen. The young people had simply abandoned the vehicle there, unfortunately with some damage, because they had gone for a joyride in a field. Not everyone commits this kind of vehicle theft for the same reason.
I mentioned statistics earlier. According to the most recent statistics from the insurer's organization, Groupement des assureurs automobiles, there were more than 38,800—that is nearly 40,000—vehicle thefts in Quebec in 2006. That is the equivalent of one motor vehicle theft every 14 minutes. That is a lot of theft. Insurance companies had to pay out $300 million, which has a direct impact on all insurance premiums. Despite those high numbers, Quebec is far from the worst. In fact, per capita, the figures are far lower in Quebec than in the western provinces.
Comparing the number of vehicle thefts in 2006, Quebec had 507 per 100,000 inhabitants and Alberta had 725. The worst rate—and I think some of my colleagues have mentioned this—is in Manitoba. Earlier we heard that Winnipeg was the car theft capital of Canada. In fact, Manitoba had 1,376 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. This is rather frightening, especially if we compare it to the average across Canada, which is 487 per 100,000 people. In all of Canada, approximately 160,000 vehicles were stolen in 2006. As I said earlier, the rate has been going down since 1996, but the statistics show that we are still facing a very serious problem.
The situations in Quebec and the western provinces are different. In Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the majority of the cars are stolen for joyrides, simply for the fun of stealing a car and going for a ride. Sometimes cars are used during the commission of another crime. People steal a car to commit a holdup and then abandon the car shortly thereafter. In western Canada, auto thefts are committed by people who are not necessarily seeking monetary gain from this larceny. The purpose is a joyride. These thefts are committed for fun, on a dare, or to get a car to commit another crime.
In Quebec and in Ontario, even though people steal cars for joyriding in those provinces as well, most of the auto thefts are linked to trafficking in and possession of stolen vehicles.
The most commonly stolen vehicles are not the ones we might think. They are not just luxury vehicles with high resale values. The most popular vehicles are stolen for their parts. I have a list from 2006, but most of the media provide a list every year of the 10 most stolen vehicles in Canada. The list is even broken down by most stolen vehicle per province.
For the most part, we are talking about small cars such as the Honda Civic, Subaru Impreza and Acura Integra. The Acura Integra no longer exists, but people modify it. They like that model because it is a high performance vehicle and the parts are traded on the market rather easily. These are highly sought after parts. That kind of car is very popular. There are also the minivans used by small families; we see a lot of them on the road. Vehicles are stolen for their parts and not necessarily for their value.
The Library of Parliament put together a very interesting document for the committee to use during its study of this bill. I remember some of the facts that were in it. The Insurance Bureau of Canada, or IBC, estimates that auto theft creates a financial burden in excess of a billion dollars a year. This estimate includes the theft of uninsured vehicles, costs related to health care, court proceedings, police services and legal services, and personal expenses incurred by owners.
Thus, vehicle theft costs our society about a billion dollars a year. There is a direct financial impact on consumers. Auto insurers figure out how much money they lose because of auto theft, and then they pass the cost on to drivers and vehicle owners. These costs also depend on where the vehicle is located and how it is used. For example, members of Parliament who use their cars a lot for work are more likely to have their cars stolen because they travel a lot and park in many places. Their cars are not sitting in garages. They put a lot of kilometres on their cars and are at greater risk of having their cars stolen.
In Canada, the number of motor vehicle thefts per 1,000 inhabitants dropped 15% in 2008, continuing the general decline we have seen since 1997. This drop is due to the fact that we opened our eyes and adopted certain measures. Since September 2007, Canadian auto manufacturers have had to install electronic immobilizers in new vehicles, which makes them more difficult to steal.
Insurance companies are also trying to reduce theft by offering better deals to owners of vehicles equipped with anti-theft devices. This may not necessarily be an alarm system; it could be a device with an intelligent key, which makes it more difficult for a thief to start the vehicle.
Luxury vehicles stolen and shipped overseas in containers to Russia, Africa and the Middle East, where they are in demand, as my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie mentioned, are often equipped with a GPS, which makes it easy to locate them.
I would be remiss if I did not mention certain municipal bylaws. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of theft in my region. In Victoriaville, there is now a municipal bylaw prohibiting drivers from leaving their cars running if they are not in them. Another bylaw provides for a fine if a vehicle's doors are left unlocked. If a vehicle is parked in the driveway and the doors are not locked, a police officer can give the owner a ticket. People are increasingly being made aware of the problem of auto theft. Studying this bill in committee will allow us to tackle the problem of auto theft.
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
October 25th, 2010 / 11:55 a.m.
Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate on Bill S-9. As we already know, this bill is called An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime), or the tackling auto theft and property crime act. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada moved second reading of this bill, which we have already started debating.
This bill would create offences in connection with the alteration, removal or obliteration of a vehicle identification number and would also create the offences of knowingly selling, giving, transferring, transporting, sending or delivering property that was obtained by crime. The term “knowingly” is very important, because it shows that the individual who sold, transferred or gave property—a vehicle—must know that it was obtained by crime. Lastly, the bill would create the offence of knowingly being in the possession of property that was obtained by crime, for the purpose of trafficking. The Crown would have the burden of proving that the person in possession of the vehicle knew that it had been obtained by crime for the purpose of trafficking.
This bill creates a separate offence for motor vehicle theft, proposes a mandatory minimum prison sentence of six months for a third or subsequent offence and gives the Canada Border Services Agency the authority to identify stolen goods and keep them from leaving the country.
We, the Liberals, are in favour of this bill. We want it to be sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights so that we can hear from witnesses and stakeholders who have thoughts and expertise on the goal of this bill, which we agree with.
We feel that this is a good beginning, even though it is not a comprehensive solution. We believe that some witnesses will also say that it is a step in the right direction and a good start but that it is not a cure-all and it will not fix all of the issues related to vehicle theft and trafficking.
The Liberal Party has always supported legislation that aims to effectively reduce crime and make communities safer. The fact is that vehicle theft rates are going down. The Liberals did not make this up. However, vehicle theft is still a major problem in cities like Montreal and Winnipeg. I am from Montreal, and I have colleagues and family in Winnipeg. So I know what I am talking about. I also had the opportunity, as justice critic in the official-opposition Liberal caucus in 2007-08, to speak with Manitoba's justice minister about this issue as well as youth criminal justice. The minister showed me studies indicating that Winnipeg was close to becoming the vehicle-theft capital of Canada. He told me that this was a serious problem, one that led youth down a criminal path.
Bill S-9 is not perfect, but it is a good start because it updates the Criminal Code, which shows that the government is taking this issue seriously.
That being said, we will see significant reductions in crime rates only if the government invests substantial resources in evidence-based crime prevention programs.
Our party does not play political games with the Criminal Code. Unlike the Conservatives, the Liberals strongly believe that we must fight crime with good laws, not with crude slogans and petty political manoeuvring.
If the government really intended to tackle auto theft and property crimes, the Prime Minister never would have killed Bill C-53, which it did by violating its own fixed election date law in 2008, nor would it have torpedoed Bill C-26 by proroguing Parliament last winter.
This is the third time the Conservative government has introduced the same bill. After the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament in December 2009, it took the government five months to reintroduce exactly the same bill. The Liberals tried to speed it through the House before, and they will do so again this time.
As I said, we are pleased that the government, which torpedoed its own Bill C-26, has introduced Bill S-9, which is an exact replica of its predecessor. We are disappointed that it took the government so long—five months—to reintroduce it. There is no excuse for that.
We are pleased to see that the wording in this bill is harsher than Bill C-53, the first incarnation of this bill. The government has finally decided to add a separate offence for auto theft to the Criminal Code.
As I said, the first auto theft bill introduced by the Conservative government in 2008 did not create a new, separate offence for auto theft. At the time, Liberals, police officers, police corps and provincial governments—the Conservative government's counterparts—criticized this approach. They criticized the government for failing to create a separate Criminal Code offence for auto theft. The government has finally done so in this bill, and we are pleased that it has finally fallen into step with law enforcement in Canada.
Thus, with Bill C-26, the government created a separate offence for theft of a motor vehicle, and this offence is also included in Bill S-9. The mandatory minimum sentence for this offence is six months' incarceration for a third offence or in the case of an indictable offence.
This is important because all studies show that motor vehicle theft in certain cities is quite well organized. The evidence from various police forces, including municipal and provincial forces and our national police force, the RCMP, has clearly indicated that to be the case. When someone is on their third such offence, it becomes quite serious. The criminal justice system must therefore send a clear message that this kind of criminal behaviour is unacceptable.
The new offences provide for a broad definition of trafficking. This would cover selling, giving, transferring, transporting, importing, exporting, sending or delivering property obtained by crime or offering to do any of those things.
Thus, the new legislative provisions would target all the middlemen involved in moving stolen property, from the initial criminal act through to the ultimate consumer. That is very important. Of course it happens in other cities, but we know that in Montreal and Winnipeg in particular, most motor vehicle thefts are committed by organized crime groups. This means there is a network of individuals whose only goal and mission is to steal cars. The orders often come from outside Canada, with requests for x number of certain models, for instance, Lexus vehicles from a given year, Chevrolets from a given year, specific models and colours of BMWs from another year, and so on. The crime of motor vehicle theft is driven by the network.
So, with these offences and this definition, if the proposed Criminal Code amendment successfully passes in both houses of Parliament, this would allow our police forces to pursue not only the person who committed the actual theft, but also all the middlemen who were knowingly involved in the transaction and allowed the sale, transfer or gift of property or a stolen vehicle, when that individual knew the property or vehicle was stolen.
Let us look at the two proposed offences. Both offences carry heavier penalties than the existing offence of possession of property obtained by crime. If the value of the item trafficked exceeds $5,000, anyone convicted of this offence could face up to a maximum of 14 years in prison. If the value does not exceed $5,000, there would be what is called a hybrid offence, which would carry a maximum prison sentence of five years on indictment or six months on summary conviction.
The bill also introduces a prohibition against the importation or exportation of property obtained by crime that would trigger the administrative enforcement powers of the Canada Border Services Agency, allowing the agency to bar the cross-border movement of stolen goods. In the case of auto theft, CBSA officers would be able to investigate, identify and detain imported vehicles or vehicles about to be exported and search databases to determine whether or not the vehicles are stolen.
I would like to add a few words on the statistics and data that we have on stolen vehicles in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, the number of stolen vehicles has decreased almost every year since 1996, by 20% according to 2006 data. Auto theft has major repercussions on car owners, on other victims, on law enforcement and on the insurance industry. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, auto theft costs insurance companies and the general public almost $1 billion a year. That is big bucks.
I do not own a car, but some of my friends and family have been victims of auto theft. I can say that this can be quite disruptive to a person's life by the time they settle things with the insurance company, get a new car and so on.
In 2006, approximately 160, 000 cases of auto theft were reported to the police, or about 438 per day. There tend to be fewer thefts in eastern Canada than in western Canada. According to data from Statistics Canada, Prince Edward Island has the lowest incidence of auto theft, while Manitoba has the highest. The incidence of car theft in Manitoba is almost three times the national average. Montreal, however, was the Canadian city with the highest incidence of auto theft and the lowest number of recovered stolen vehicles in 2007.
I am from Montreal and although I do not own a vehicle, I do know many people who do. Some of them have had their cars stolen. There are criminal networks in Montreal that steal cars for export, filling specific orders. Such car theft is a made-to-measure business.
Here is how a number of stakeholders have responded. The Manitoba Minister of Justice, Dave Chomiak, the mayor of Winnipeg, Sam Katz, and the Winnipeg police, all of whom I have met with, are in favour of this bill. The Insurance Bureau of Canada also supports it.
Mr. Rick Linden, a professor at the University of Manitoba noted that the bill was a good step, but that significant reductions in crime would only occur if we also invest significant resources in evidence-based crime prevention programs.
The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers is against the bill because it believes it will restrict judicial discretion. The Canadian Association of Crown Counsel is also against it because it believes it will increase the workload of an already overburdened justice system. And yet, the government has failed to announce any new money for its implementation. This is a crucial point. The new offences created by this bill have long been awaited by the Liberals. We are in favour of the bill and its desired outcome. However, we realize that once these offences are passed and come into effect and the desired outcome is achieved, the government will have to allocate additional resources and funding to support the initiatives. The measures will ensure that the police and various stakeholders in our justice system can adequately deal in a court of law with those accused of having committed auto theft. Unfortunately, we have not heard the minister state clearly that the government intends to earmark new money in its next budget to cover these additional costs.
I will conclude my speech by saying that this is a good start and a step in the right direction but not the whole solution. We would like to see the government set aside more resources in order to ensure that our law enforcement system can handle these new offences and that our justice system, courts and prosecutors have the means at their disposal to deal with them.
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
October 6th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Madam Speaker, I am pleased once again to speak to the issue of auto theft in this country. I say “once again” because I, quite frankly, do not remember how many times I have been on my feet in the House speaking to bills on auto theft. This is the third incarnation. There was Bill C-53 after the 2006 election; Bill C-26 before the 2008 election because of the prorogation at that time; and now we are on Bill S-9.
There is such a lack of credibility on the part of the government on this issue and on crime bills generally. We have been going at this for over four years. The issue actually preceded that back in the Liberal tenure because there was a bill at that time dealing with the issue of playing with VIN numbers.
With the present government, we had one prorogation and the bill went down, one election and the bill went down and then we had the spectacle of the justice committee not being able to meet because of elections and because the chair of that committee was thwarting the activities of the committee for months at a time. Those things delayed the passage of these bills. In April 2009, it finally went before the committee, which was the first time in a year the justice committee actually dealt with a bill. It sat idle a whole year because of both the actions of the chair thwarting the work of the committee and the election in 2008.
Finally, in 2009 the committee was finally working again and we were dealing with the bill before us today, which, if I have time today, I will actually get to. The committee did a lot of work and extensive evidence was taken. It then went back to the House with all party support and then on to the Senate. When we got to the end of 2009, we all know what happened. We had another prorogation. We had three prorogations, one election and dirty tactics by the chair of the justice committee.
Here we are, four-plus years later, and the bill still has not been passed, a bill that has widespread support in the House from all parties. However, it is because of, quite frankly, the indifference of the government to what is a significant issue in the country and a government much more concerned about protecting its political stature than it is about dealing realistically, effectively and efficiently with a major crime problem in the country.
We already have a backlog in the justice committee because so many other bills have been impacted exactly the same way. This bill will probably go through the House tomorrow and get to committee, which is backlogged significantly. If it is dealt with in its proper order, it is highly unlikely that this bill will get out of the justice committee in 2010. It almost certainly will not be, given the other bills before the committee. It has been my forecast for some time that we will have an election in the spring and that this bill will never become law before the next election. We need to be very clear that the responsibility for that lies entirely in the hands of the government.
All three of the opposition parties have dealt responsibly with the bill. When it was before committee, we did our proper work. We analyzed the problem, saw that the bill would work the way it should work, passed it, and then we see this again and again.
That is the reality of what we are dealing with. It is almost frustrating to say, “Why am I bothering to stand here today, because we are going to have an election before this bill becomes law?”. We will then start all over again and it will be another couple of years before we get it into the books as law.
The bill, as I see it, has only one significant problem, which is where I take some issue with what my colleague from Scarborough said. The mandatory minimum in the bill is only after a person has committed his or her third offence. As my colleague from the Bloc has raised, we are not quite sure what that would do. One of the reasons we should not be supporting mandatory minimums in some cases is that it sets the standard and judges feel compelled to work to that standard.
We can think of any number of scenarios. When a person has been convicted for the third time, six months is a ridiculously low sentence, especially if it involves individuals who are involved in organized crime in the theft of autos. Six months is a joke in those circumstances after a third offence. However, that happens because it is sometimes easier for judges who are overworked to say that the legislature has said that six months is the target after the third offence, so that is what they will invoke, when it should maybe have been two years or a penitentiary sentence, especially if it involved organized crime.
At the end of the day, my friend from Scarborough may be right, we may see an increase in the number of people incarcerated for this theft but it is also possible that we will see a reduction in the amount of time that they spend in our provincial jails.
The member has a very good point, though, in that the government does not know. Its simplistic solution is that everything can be solved by a mandatory minimum penalty. It just throws it at the problem. It has absolutely no idea what the consequences will be of that provision. Will it dramatically increase the prison population? It is building all those jails to the tune of $9 billion and there was another announcement for more jail cells. For those crimes that are not being reported, so we cannot put those people in jail because they will never get to court, we can maybe increase the population here to justify spending that $9 billion. The bottom line is that the government does not know. It has absolutely no idea what the consequences will be of that mandatory minimum in this situation.
The other point of significant concern, which came out of the work done by the justice committee, is that the bill would empower, which is necessary and we are supportive of it, the Canada Border Services Agency to take additional investigative methods to deal with the illicit importing and exporting of mostly autos and auto parts. The CBSA does not have enough jurisdiction right now and it is the agency that is on the front line.
When that was explained to us as we heard the evidence on it, we understood the necessity of it, but what was corresponding to it was that there were no plans by the government to provide the additional resources. This will be a significantly increased workload for the Border Services Agency but there were no plans in the last two budgets to provide additional funding to that agency. I am sure we will hear again, when this issue comes before the justice committee, that the government still has not planned for it. By that, I mean doing a basic business plan. How much more will we need? How many additional staff will we need? How much more equipment and investigative tools will we need? The government has no idea of that at all.
We are seeing this in terms of complaints coming back from governments at the provincial and municipal level, where these additional burdens are being put on our police officers, our prosecutors and our judiciary with no additional resources being provided by the federal government.
In this regard specifically, this is a federal government agency and this responsibility is entirely ours. We do not have any analysis of how much it is going to cost, how many more people, how long it is going to take to get it fully staffed. Are funds going to be available to fully staff it, or are we going to dump this responsibility on the officers who will have no ability to carry it out because they are under-resourced? They are under-resourced now. If we had additional staff at the Windsor-Detroit border, we could be doing much more, for instance, in the illicit import of guns. There is no capacity to do it. Now these officers are going to be forced to do more work with no particular ability to carry it out.
I am not a great fan of making auto theft a separate offence, although there is nothing wrong with doing it. It just does not add anything to the front-line police officer who enforces the law.
I want to acknowledge the work we saw in Manitoba. It came up with a solid, practical solution that dramatically reduced auto theft rates, particularly in the city of Winnipeg. In 2007 Winnipeg was the auto theft capital of the country by a long shot, running at about 1,700 thefts a year. The next closest city was Abbotsford at just under 1,000. Montreal, which traditionally until about 2000-01 had been the auto theft capital in the country, was only at 550 thefts a year.
Those numbers have altered somewhat in the last two years, since the last study available from Juristat. Winnipeg has dropped dramatically. It is no longer the auto theft capital of the country. Abbotsford still is and Edmonton is right behind. Montreal is running fairly close.
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
October 6th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC
Madam Speaker, this is the fourth time that this bill has been introduced in Parliament. I do not know if anyone said it was an urgent matter at the time, but they were ignored.
It started out in 2005 as Liberal Bill C-64. They were stopped short because an election was called, which they did not appreciate. It then became Bill C-53, and was shelved by an election or prorogation. It then became Bill C-26 and we now have Bill S-9, which was introduced by the government in the Senate in order to speed up its passage.
I believe that everyone recognizes that the government is responsible for the recent delays. That contradicts what we hear on a regular basis from the Minister of Justice in this Parliament, who says that the opposition is dragging its feet and that the opposition systematically opposes the legislative program it wants to present.
First, that is not true; second, the opposition's philosophy about some matters is diametrically opposed to that of the current Minister of Justice. We do not want our country to follow the example of the United States and become a country with one of the highest rates of incarceration. We know that half of all inmates in the world are found in U.S. prisons and it is obvious that this has not produced the desired results. There is a considerable difference in our philosophies. When a criminal justice bill that will really improve things and address an urgent problem is introduced, we are ready to collaborate. The minister knows that. Why did he not move more quickly before?
That said, now that he has introduced it, we will get the bill passed quickly because I note that there are no objections from the other two opposition parties, nor do we have any.
Nevertheless, I would like to make some comments. First of all, I must point out that auto theft has declined since 1996. I think the members who spoke before me said it is down by 20%. I think that corresponds to the statistics I have. Clearly, the nature of auto theft has changed somewhat over the years and now our legislation requires certain adjustments.
For instance, one thing that really surprised me when I consulted the most recent Statistics Canada data on the subject is that the incidence of auto theft varies considerably across the country. For example, Newfoundland and Labrador reports only 131 auto thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. Prince Edward Island reports 115. Nova Scotia reports 263, which is very high for the Maritimes. In New Brunswick, the number is 187. Quebec reports 507 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants, which is quite high. The number of auto thefts per 100,000 inhabitants in Ontario is 303, and in Manitoba, it is 1,376.
We have heard some reasonable explanations so far. I can come back to some and add to them, in order to understand. Personally, I do not say this to humiliate Manitoba—as we have been unfairly humiliated—because in Quebec, we do more to tackle corruption; we tolerate it less and we prosecute the offenders. Therefore, it is in our newspapers more often than in other places, but it does not mean that we have more corruption than other places, nor does it mean that the entire population is corrupt. In any case, we can look at it hypothetically.
In Saskatchewan, the number of auto thefts per 100,000 inhabitants is 663, in Alberta it is 725 and in British Columbia, it is 682. As we can see, the incidence is higher in western Canada. Once again, this clearly shows that the Parliament of Canada, which creates legislation for the entire country, does not necessarily have the power to make the changes needed to address crime. It was my experience, as a member of the Quebec government, that crime must be fought locally first, with local police forces and our own policies.
It is our duty to amend legislation when needed and that is what we are doing.
Statistics vary a great deal according to the province and the size of the city. I am all the more sympathetic to Manitoba when I know that the city in Quebec with the highest theft rate is the one that I have the honour of partially representing. Part of my riding is in Laval. In Laval, there are 852 car thefts per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to Montreal where there are 723 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. That is quite high.
I understand that the rate is higher in Toronto than in Montreal because of Montreal's port. In Montreal, there are orders from foreign countries for four-wheel-drive luxury vehicles with air conditioning and other accessories. These vehicles can be shipped out of the country quickly through the port of Montreal, something that is not an option for car thieves in Toronto. This certainly plays a role in organized crime, which makes crime prevention more difficult, but not impossible.
Another significant number: the stolen vehicle recovery rate is 75% in Toronto and 56% in Montreal. This also clearly illustrates that organizations that steal luxury cars are able to offload them quickly because of the port, or so I am told by the police.
When I was young, another common reason for stealing a vehicle was joyriding, which is far less common today. Cars were not stolen for the thrill of stealing, but to cruise around and try it out. We all need to understand that boys are fascinated by cars. At least, that has been my experience. Young girls think about the utilitarian side of a car, but young boys think about how much fun it would be to drive one. That is why, quite often, the only crime a young person ever commits is having helped steal a vehicle. Young men are fascinated by them.
How do we combat this? I think that we have done it over time. It is far more difficult to steal a vehicle now. We have taken measures to make it more complicated to start a car. In earlier days, among young people, both delinquent types and those not overly involved in crime who had never committed a violent act and who were respectful, it was a source of pride to know how to start a car without the key and things like that. That is another explanation.
Perhaps the members from Winnipeg can tell me if they agree. When there is a large population of youth from not-so-rich families, there are perhaps more youth who are tempted and fascinated by automobiles, as are all young boys. If their fascination is not satisfied by their family's vehicle, they will be more tempted to steal vehicles simply for the joy of riding around in a car, being in control and driving it.
We are taking advantage of the opportunity to change the legislation. First, a minimum sentence of six months has been added. People may think that the Bloc Québécois has an ideological stance against minimum sentences. We are not against minimum sentences, but we recognize the circumstances under which a minimum sentence can be effective. Most of the time, the minimum sentences that have been proposed are not effective. I am sure that not even 10% of the members in the House know how many minimum sentences there are in the Criminal Code. If I gave them a test and asked which offences have a minimum sentence associated with them, less than 2% of them would pass. And I am being generous.
So how can we expect criminals to know what the minimum sentences are? These sentences have no impact on criminals' behaviour because they do not know what the minimums are. I have always said so. The most striking example is the importing of marijuana in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when I began practising law. Marijuana was starting to spread. It all came from outside the country, because the marijuana that grew here was not hallucinogenic at all. The minimum sentence for importing marijuana was seven years. This was when marijuana use went up the most, so someone had to import it. We found that this minimum sentence, which was the longest in the Criminal Code after the minimum for murder, did not deter anyone. Minimum sentences generally have no deterrent effect, except under certain circumstances. The minimum sentence in this case is smart because it is for subsequent offences and because the offender is informed.
As a lawyer, I always informed my clients that if they were caught a second time, a minimum sentence would apply. That can act as a deterrent. If I had been appointed as a judge, I would have made a point of informing offenders when I had to sentence them for a crime for which a minimum is provided in the event of a subsequent offence. That way, an individual who might commit the same offence again is aware of the minimum sentence. That acts as a deterrent.
That is what we are talking about here. There is a reasonable minimum sentence of six months for a second offence. The minimum sentences that the members opposite come up with are always paradoxically flawed. Logically, a minimum sentence should apply to the least serious form of an offence, so that the maximum sentence can be handed down for the most serious form of the offence. But the people who come up with minimum sentences think about the most serious cases, which is why they want a minimum sentence. However, because they are motivated by the most serious cases, they set very long minimum sentences.
We have seen this in the United States, where there are many minimum sentences. Moreover, this is one of the problems with minimum sentences. In this case, there is no such problem. I feel that a six-month sentence for a third offence is reasonable. It can certainly act as a deterrent. As hon. members can see, the Bloc's objections are not ideological, but are based on rational knowledge, experience and criminology.
A new offence has been created—tampering with the vehicle identification number. I am surprised it is not already an offence. Someone who alters a VIN obviously does not have honest intentions. I really believed it was prohibited. No matter, it will be in the future.
A presumption is created: if an individual owns a vehicle with an altered VIN, he is presumed to have obtained it illegally. I believe that this is a reasonable presumption, but it does not always hold true. One can always provide a defence, if it is a good one. If it raises a reasonable doubt in the judge's mind, he will not accept the presumption. It seems to me that something is amiss if we own a car with an altered VIN, unless we dealt in good faith or were victims of the person who stole the car, changed the number and sold it to us. We apparently bought the car lawfully, and went to register it with the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec. That is a good change.
There is another new offence concerning trafficking in stolen vehicles. I have always thought that there could not be trafficking in a stolen car without possession of a stolen car. However, this is not a bad change—
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
October 6th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB
Madam Speaker, I am sharing my time with my colleague from Charlottetown, and I am pleased to do so.
I am pleased, once again, to speak in support of Bill S-9, but I have to admit it is somewhat in frustration that Parliament is yet again debating this important legislation.
We have heard from others here today that Bill S-9 is identical to Bill C-26 from the last session of Parliament, which was killed when Parliament was prorogued last year. I am struck by the fact that it was May 5, 2009, when I spoke in favour of Bill C-26, which was, as of yesterday, 17 months to the day since that bill had been introduced.
We on this side have consistently supported legislation to effectively reduce crime and to enhance community safety, including motor vehicle theft. We have heard from the previous speaker that this is an issue of particular concern to those who live in Winnipeg and Manitoba. It is a very serious issue.
Some may recall that in September 2007 a delegation from Manitoba came to Ottawa, met with members of the government and the opposition party. It was a very significant delegation, made up of the mayor of the city of Winnipeg, the mayor of Brandon, members of the aboriginal community, members of the police force, leaders of the opposition parties in Manitoba and several victims of crime. They asked for motor theft to be made an indictable offence.
As a result of that, I introduced my private member's bill on motor vehicle theft in March 2008, which was originally known as Bill C-526, and in the last Parliament I reintroduced it as Bill C-237. While I support the bill, I am somewhat saddened that it has taken so long for the government to act and to move forward on what is a very pressing issue for Manitobans.
After the delegation was in Ottawa, I made a point of doing a broad-based consultation within my riding and within my community on the issue of property crime and, most specifically, auto theft. I had several meetings with the police in district 6 in Winnipeg. I met with young people, some of whom were in the process of rehabilitation. I also met with victims of crimes, with business owners and with a broad-based representation in the community to understand what had been done. I heard of some of the initiatives that the provincial government had undertaken to reduce the number of auto thefts. We heard earlier about the immobilizer prevention programming, the intervention programming, suppression programming and the consequences for young people, which often includes a lifetime suspension of a driver's licence for repeat offenders.
I also heard very clearly that there was a role for the federal government to act, and that is why I introduced Bill C-526. Unfortunately my name was further down on the list and we did not have the opportunity to debate it in the House. The bill proposed that a person who committed a motor vehicle theft for a second or subsequent offence would be guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a prison term not exceeding 10 years and would require a mandatory minimum sentence of a year.
I am not, for the most part, someone who endorses mandatory minimums. I think prevention in all its various manifestations is equally important. However, there has to be consequences for the offence. There also has to be prevention programming. The provincial government does it, but it is also incumbent upon this federal government to undertake more support and resources both for the provinces and what they do and for the community groups directly in the work that they do.
I am struck by the irony of the government putting forward tough on crime legislation while at the same time not providing the supports to communities that deal with young people in distress, or reducing the supports, or narrowing the criteria of the support so that the violence is not curtailed.
This bill is not perfect, but it is indeed an important start in taking this issue seriously by updating the Criminal Code. Significant reductions in crime will indeed occur if we also invest significant resources in evidence-based prevention programs, and I underline evidence-based prevention programs. We need to see what works and build upon it, not decide on an ideological basis that we want to do x or y and then make the program fit the criteria.
If the government were truly serious about tackling auto theft and property crime, the Prime Minister would not have killed Bill C-53 when he broke his own fixed election date in 2008, and he would not have prorogued Parliament last winter, killing Bill C-26. Seventeen months later, I am speaking to the same issue.
This is the third time the government has introduced the bill. It took the government five months to reintroduce it in the exact form after the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament. We tried to expedite it in the past and we on this side will continue to do so again.
We know that according to Statistics Canada the rate of motor vehicle theft has declined almost every year since 1996. Data for 2006 confirms that motor vehicle theft has fallen by 20% since 1996, but motor vehicle theft has a major effect on vehicle owners, third party victims, indeed law enforcement agencies and certainly the insurance industry. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, it costs insurers and the public close to $1 billion a year.
Statistics Canada numbers show that Manitoba has the highest rate of auto theft, which is nearly three times the Canadian average. We also know that Montreal has the most stolen vehicles and the fewest recovered in any city.
When I speak to this issue, while I support and want to see this bill implemented, this time in a timely fashion, I also want to underline once again the importance of prevention programs.
When I met with a group of eight young people in Winnipeg who had been in trouble with the law, they expressed to me the absolute importance of having prevention programs available. That week, while we were meeting, community clubs in the city of Winnipeg were being closed down for lack of resources, lack of infrastructure.
We cannot give with one hand and take away with the other hand. It is important that there be a coordinated policy of prevention that will reduce overall the auto theft in the city of Winnipeg, provide opportunity for young people and provide opportunity for the residents of the city.
Having said that, it is important that this bill be implemented and moved through this House and through the Senate in a timely fashion. I would ask all colleagues to co-operate in doing so.
Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
October 5th, 2010 / 4:25 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise on Bill S-9, the tackling auto theft and property crime act.
I rise today to speak to this bill, an act I am pleased to see yet again in this place. I hope it will not follow its ill-fated identical twins, Bill C-58 and Bill C-26, which we mourn today. They were killed on the order paper by the poll-obsessed Conservative Party for the sake of political expediency. This is another well-intentioned piece of legislation and another piece of legislation where good intentions are late and not enough.
Let us be clear, as vice-chair of the justice committee, I and the Liberal Party promise that we will support this bill going to committee and being expeditiously dealt with at that committee.
The system within this bill will fail to keep Canadians safe and secure in their property without a commitment to enforcement, not headlines and hype but money and manpower, boots on the street, a dedication to putting Canadians' safety first, above hyperbole, above how our parties are faring or may fare in the polls.
Standing up and acting for Canadians, which I believe is a slogan of one of the parties here, standing up for Canadians, means taking concrete action. On this side, we have committed to taking what action we can to protect Canadians and encourage government to fund the police forces that can put laws like this, albeit very lately enacted, into action.
That means making the best of a flawed bill like this, sending it to committee, studying it, amending it, recognizing the good and singling out the bad, but nothing that this bill or the justice committee can do will affect the deficit of police forces and money to police forces across this country.
I want to reiterate the point that my friend, the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre made in having us remember what could be called the good law firm of Doer, Chomiak and Katz, and of course those were the Manitoba premier and minister of justice and the mayor of Winnipeg. The Manitobans came to town and asked for four things.
Now it is over four years since they came, and this bill addresses three of those items. The last item was in fact a request towards the realization that gangs, and youth gangs in particular, were being used in Winnipeg as the pawns, the effectors, of organized crime thefts of vehicles. The Youth Criminal Justice Act as it existed then and as it exists now allows for an accused youth to be let out of remand, to be not remanded, pending trial and in between offences.
Now this was precisely the situation that led the province of Nova Scotia, on my coast, to commission Justice Merlin Nunn to study the issue of youth criminal justice legislation and to make recommendations in what is now known as the Nunn commission report.
One of those glaring recommendations was to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act in the smallest way, with the fewest words to absolve our communities of this problem, the problem of youths being let go from remand, being let out of the custody of the court pending a determination of their issues. Remand is something that keeps a person who is accused of a serious offence in custody pending the determination of their issue, if there are grounds.
In many cases there are grounds for adults, and adult offenders are remanded or kept in custody. It is not so in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It was that fact that in the Nunn commission case study gave rise to its need. It was not the case and it had disastrous consequences.
As I said Doer, Chomiak and Katz came to Ottawa wanting that simple amendment more than four and a half years ago. They have not, as my NDP colleague mentioned, received that simple amendment.
People might ask why a simple wording amendment to a fairly large and complicated act, which would not have met with any resistance from this side, was not done. It is because, like everything the government does, it has to be presented in a political fashion. Politics has to be played with the Criminal Code. It has to be played in the realm of criminal justice.
When everybody agreed on an amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that would have given Manitobans the fourth item they wanted, the Conservative government added a phrase that was of debate. The point is that there was unanimous agreement on the amendment, but it had to add another element of denunciation and deterrence, which is alive with debate in the country, and spoiled it. It spoiled the idea that very quickly and very simply, for the benefit of the people in Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba and all the provinces in Canada, it could have had this amendment that everybody wanted. No doubt this has wreaked havoc across this country and has resulted in further actions by youths not in remand, joyriding and stealing cars, as adjuncts of gang activity in cities such as Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Abbotsford, British Colombia, and have made Canadians less safe than when the Conservative government was elected.
Shame on the Conservative government for not acting quickly on that fourth request from the Manitoba delegation.
Any night between 5:00 and 7:30, depending upon where one lives, newscasts will show the Conservative government as friends of the police, as friends of victims, but it does very little in action for police forces across the country. Police forces have been requesting funding. Police forces have not received the man hours, the boots on the streets that they require.
With respect to auto theft, members may say that more police officials will not necessarily lead to a decrease in auto theft. The Toronto Star reported in July 2009, three years or so into the mandate of the government, that the provincial auto theft team, a joint task force involving the OPP, the Insurance Bureau of Canada and local police forces, was going through a restructuring that would see a further decrease in the number of officers investigating auto theft in the GTA.
This is Canada's largest city. Now we know that the government has money to throw around in Canada's largest city on various security measures for a very short-term project, but it does not have the money to flow through the provinces to keep the provincial auto theft team properly staffed. If I were the mayor of Toronto or running for election as mayor of Toronto, I would be kind of steamed at the federal government for not putting its resources in policing.
Police forces are indeed the front line of how to prevent auto theft. I recall, as part of our study on organized crime, that in Winnipeg we met with a number of police officials who were very surgical in how they were going to approach the problem of auto theft in their community, and they were very successful. They were not successful with laws, necessarily. They did not rely upon the after-the-fact retribution or punishment that is replete in the Criminal Code. They relied upon intelligence, savvy and resources, and they successfully reduced the level of auto theft in Winnipeg. That was a matter of resources, of money.
While we might sit here as parliamentarians all agreeing to what is in this bill, we as parliamentarians have a deficit with the public in suggesting that this bill was brought forward in a timely basis and that it will have the effect of completely eradicating auto theft or even reducing auto theft in the short term. In other words, we have gone to the shelf and we have seen what is on the shelf. We are going to grab what is on the shelf, but it is not enough to feed the issue that is burning, in this case, auto theft across this country.
Let us examine some of the elements of this bill.
It includes mandatory minimums. We can have a long debate on whether mandatory minimums work. Some of the bad in this bill includes the provisions for mandatory minimums in sentencing. We have been at this experiment of increased mandatory minimums for five years. I look forward at committee to seeing whether the mandatory minimum increase experiment is working. In this case it is a six-month mandatory sentence for third and subsequent auto theft offences. These mandatory minimums are less severe than the Conservatives have brought forward in the past, but as always they impinge on judicial discretion in sentencing. It is why the Canadian Bar Association has expressed opposition to mandatory minimums.
This is a continuing trend with the government. As in many other justice bills, the Conservatives seek to strip judges of their authority. There is lack of overall respect for judges. On this side, for probably the umpteenth time I am here suggesting that we have one of the best judiciary systems in the world. We should be very proud that we do not have the kind of capricious justice that takes place in almost every other country but Canada. As the government is always saying, we should celebrate our strength. We should celebrate the fact that we have a great judiciary.
I was here yesterday in this place making the same case on white collar crime. This is a bill that would not have incurred much opposition had it been brought forward earlier. It is a bill that we should have brought to the Canadian public earlier, and it is a bill that might have prevented other white collar crimes or frauds having taken place in the time it took us, I will say, to get to this.
Of course the reason we did not get to it is we have been having elections every couple of years. The government prorogued Parliament, and I hope the public understands that if a piece of legislation that is ready to go, could be almost all the way there, has not been signed by the Governor General it is not law. If it is not proclaimed, it is not law. So it can be right up to the eleventh hour and all the work has been done on it with respect to amendments and committee reports and witnesses coming before the committee, and all the speeches in the House, and if we have prorogation the bill dies. All that work goes down the drain and we start the process over again.
That is why we have this subject today in Bill S-9 which is really the same bill as C-53 and Bill C-26 before it. It seems that the government is okay with wasting this chamber's precious time on failed ideology and simplistic conceptions of crime prevention. Conservatives feel that a sentence, something to amend the Criminal Code, will really work with respect to crime prevention. It is not the case. Crime prevention starts at an early age with respect to an offender. It starts in the communities and the police forces when they have to be properly equipped and resourced to combat crime.
The second element of the bill, which we applaud, is the separating of the offence of auto theft. One of the positive aspects is the creation of the new separate discrete offence of auto theft. It provides for a far more appropriate range of sentencing options than could be found in previous legislation. The summary conviction aspect of it has a maximum penalty of 18 months, which tripled the existing summary conviction and average summary conviction limit of 6 months. It shows strength. It takes account of the realization that auto theft is a major and numerously copied crime in all communities in Canada. It is a response to the delegation from Winnipeg and from the various articles from decades before in the larger cities in Canada.
The indictable conviction has a maximum term of 10 years regardless of the value of the vehicle. In case the House is curious, I can inform it that the most stolen vehicle in Canada is the Honda Civic. So everyone who has a Honda Civic, please take note. Lock it up.
There is no minimum sentence for summary convictions, and the type of prosecution is up to the crown attorney, creating a broader spectrum of options. That hybrid aspect, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, is a very good and flexible way to deal with the different types of auto theft. It is an improvement on the previous legislation. However, I have to put my two cents in that if the government believed in discretion with respect to how a crown attorney or crown prosecutor might proceed, it should give a little more leniency toward the idea of judicial discretion, as we were saying just a minute ago about mandatory minimums.
The aspect of giving more powers to the Canadian Border Services Agency is another positive change. The Canadian Border Services Agency will be empowered, if this legislation passes, to stop, search and seize goods believed to have been obtained criminally. At present, the CBSA may only stop, search and seize goods whose importation or exportation was prohibited by an act of Parliament. There is no provision for the seizure of goods, the possession of which is prohibited by law. Therefore, this is a very good enhancement to the authority of CBSA.
Perhaps what is most modern about the bill is the respect that it gives to vehicle identification numbers.
We believe it is useful to add measures concerning vehicle identification numbers and we would like to discuss this measure in committee. That is the kind of innovative measure that could help combat the problem of auto theft in Canada.
The obliteration of VIN numbers is a low-risk, high-profit tactic of organized criminal gangs. This provision should help crack down on organized criminal activity, a main source of auto theft in Canada. By denying criminal gangs access to a primary source of funding, the currency of gangs, we can inhibit them from developing their activities elsewhere.
The possession of property: to be in possession of a stolen car:
The provision concerning the possession of stolen vehicles is interesting and also merits discussion. That is another measure that could prove to be a useful tool for police forces. We need to be innovative in order to combat criminals who steal vehicles, who themselves are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
The measure is the first half of a clause meant to combat the trafficking in stolen goods following the actual theft. By cracking down on those in possession of stolen property, the disincentive from purchasing property one suspects or knows to be stolen is created. By restricting, therefore, the ability of criminals to fence or sell their stolen goods, their capacity to easily make money is reduced, their risk level goes up and their profit goes down as consumers choose to forgo the risk in inherent in the slightly cheaper, ill-obtained good from their legitimate cousins.
Trafficking in stolen property initially is buttressed and improved in, let us call it Bill C-26-Bill C-58-Bill S-9. We wholly support this aspect. The penalty for trafficking or fencing in stolen goods can be severe: up to 14 years in prison. It is an example of an effective provision that leaves the judicial determination through discretion of giving a sentence that severe in the most severe case of auto theft, trafficking or being in possession, and we support it.
In this case, the Winnipeg and Manitoba officials support this law and the stakeholder reaction has been very supportive of the bill, although half-heartedly. The support is that. yes, this is a good bill, but Professor Rick Linden, University of Manitoba, at the heart of the auto theft activity in this country, noted that the bill was a good step forward but that significant reductions in crime would only occur if we also invest significant resources in police tactics, numbers and in implementing other evidence-based prevention programs.
That is where I would like to conclude. As I stated, we could have had and should have had this bill long ago. It is only one step and only a minor step forward in the battle against car theft in this country. We need to get boots on the street and respect and resource municipalities, communities and police forces who will use, as Professor Linden says, smart tactics and other evidence-based prevention programs. There is something new for the government.
With that, I am happy to conclude and say that we support the bill going to committee. In fact, I have every indication that we will deal with the bill by the end of the year and get it onto the books as a minor step forward.
June 16th, 2009 / 1:40 p.m.
Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is with considerable interest that I rise today to speak to Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime).
This bill, introduced on April 21 by the Minister of Justice is almost identical to Bill C-53, which was introduced in the second session of the 39th Parliament, but which was not debated in the House. We know why. There has been an election since then. As with Bill C-53, the Bloc supports Bill C-26, which we are currently studying at third reading. As always, we carefully studied the bill in committee and now look forward to its passing.
In justice matters, as parliamentarians we are very concerned about public security. Clearly we want an effective justice system ensuring everyone's security. It is from this perspective that we worked with this bill.
Although their numbers have decreased since 1996, the number of auto thefts is still too high and their social and economic consequences remain too heavy a burden for both the individuals involved and society as a whole. The Bloc is certainly not opting for an ideological approach in justice matters, like some of our colleagues opposite. It recognizes that targeted measures aimed at improving the Criminal Code, if combined with measures linked to crime prevention, may be appropriate, indeed vital. Prevention remains the best tool, in our opinion, for fighting all forms of crime.
In addition, the Bloc notes that Quebec society, where wealth is the most evenly distributed, has lower rates of murder and violent crime. This is definitely something worth thinking about, since providing better protection for the public means attacking the root of the problem, the causes of delinquency and violence. Poverty, inequality and the feeling of exclusion provide fertile soil for the growth of crime. Better wealth distribution, better social integration and a focus on rehabilitation are proven ways to prevent crime.
When we in the House refuse to help people in a time of economic crisis by doing something about the waiting period for employment insurance, I believe we are encouraging crime and forms of delinquency. People sometimes get involved in crime in order to meet the needs of their family. This is why it is vital to provide support to individuals, families and children when we want to fight crime.
This bill also tackles a real problem affecting Quebec, but more so the western provinces, that is the theft of vehicles for joyriding. There are young people who, often just for the fun of it, steal a car to impress their friends or take their girl for a spin and return it later. They go off with a car, and the consequences for that are major too. It is in this perspective that the Bloc supports Bill C-26.
This Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime) was introduced by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and passed first reading on April 21, 2009. Although the bill focuses primarily on the theft of motor vehicles, it also has to do with the trafficking, export and import of any property obtained by crime.
It provides for four new offences and makes corresponding changes to the Criminal Code. In short, it creates a distinct offence of motor vehicle theft, punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years of imprisonment and, in case of a third or subsequent offence, a minimum sentence of six months. It creates the offence of tampering with a vehicle identification number, punishable by a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment. It also creates the offences of trafficking in property obtained by crime and possession of such property for the purposes of trafficking, punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years of imprisonment. Finally, it allows the Canada Border Services Agency to prevent property obtained by crime, including stolen cars, from crossing the border.
Bill C-26 is basically a repeat of former Bill C-53, with the addition of the offence of motor vehicle theft and the ability to use electronic listening devices in investigations into the new offences created by Bill C-26. Former Bill C-343 would also have created a distinct offence of motor vehicle theft, but it died on the order paper before it could be passed by the Senate. Finally, former Bill C-64 would have created the offence of tampering with a vehicle identification number similar to the offence in Bill C-26, but it died on the order paper at the end of the 38th Parliament. It has been a long process, but this bill is still opportune.
Motor vehicle thefts have major repercussions for vehicle owners, consumers, police, insurance companies and governments. The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates the financial losses resulting from this crime at more than $1 billion a year. This includes theft of uninsured vehicles and costs related to health care, the courts, police forces and lawyers, and personal expenses incurred by the vehicle owners who were victimized by these thefts.
In 2007, four stolen vehicles in 10 were not found by the police, which leads one to think that a considerable proportion of these thefts are linked to organized crime. In 2007, the province of Quebec, unfortunately, had the lowest rates of vehicles recovered, specifically in Montreal, the Saguenay, Sherbrooke and the region I represent, Trois-Rivières, or one part of Trois-Rivières. Winnipeg had one of the highest recovered vehicle rates in Canada.
I would like to take a few moments now to explain the situation a bit. As things currently stand, the Criminal Code does not specifically mention vehicle identification numbers. This bill will change that.
Although all vehicles in Canada must have a vehicle identification number to clearly distinguish one vehicle from another, there is no specific offence of tampering with it. However, changing this number is one of the easiest ways to disguise a stolen car and resell it.
At the present time, people caught altering or removing a vehicle identification number are charged under the Criminal Code with possession of goods obtained by crime or some other theft-related offence.
Tampering with a vehicle identification number will henceforth be considered evidence with respect to the offence of possession of goods obtained by crime.
The Criminal Code defines a vehicle identification number as any number or other mark placed on a motor vehicle for the purpose of distinguishing the motor vehicle from other similar motor vehicles.
Bill C-26 contains two major amendments. Clause 5 of the bill amends the section relating to possession of property obtained by crime. More specifically, it creates the offence of trafficking in property obtained by crime, which is punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of 14 years.
The clause defines trafficking:
...“traffic” means to sell, give, transfer, transport, export from Canada, import into Canada, send, deliver or deal with in any other way, or to offer to do any of those acts.
Another important point is that the new clause prohibits the importation into Canada or exportation from Canada of the proceeds of crime. The purpose of this is to allow the Canada Border Services Agency to prevent the cross-border movement of property obtained by crime.
Clause 3 adds, after section 353 of the Criminal Code, a specific section on vehicle identification numbers. It does, however, give one example of a legitimate excuse: it is not an offence to alter or remove a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle during regular maintenance or any repair or other work done on the vehicle for a legitimate purpose,
This new offence is punishable by imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.
As a Bloc Québécois member, I would like to take a moment to explain the situation in Quebec at present. Quebec is not distinct just because of its language and culture; its crime also presents a very different picture.
According to the insurer's organization, Groupement des assureurs automobiles, there were more than 38,800 vehicle thefts in Quebec in 2006. That is the equivalent of one every 14 minutes, and $300 million of insurance companies' money, which has a direct impact on our insurance premiums. Despite the size of those figures, Quebec is far from the worst. In fact, per capita, the figures are far lower than in the western provinces. Quebec's emphasis on prevention and creating public awareness gets results. Comparing the number of vehicle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants in 2006, Quebec had 507, Alberta had 725 and Manitoba had 1,376. The average across Canada was 487 per 100,000 people. In all of Canada, approximately 160,000 vehicles were stolen in 2006.
Behind the figures, however, the situations in Quebec and the western provinces are different. In Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, a majority of thefts are crimes of opportunity—they are committed by people who are not necessarily looking to derive a pecuniary benefit from their theft. Such thefts are known as joyriding. They are often committed by young people experimenting with driving a car. They are committed for fun or on a dare, or to use a vehicle to commit a crime. A majority of these thefts are committed by young people, as I said before.
In Quebec, and to a lesser but similar extent on the Ontario side, the picture is different. In fact, thefts are not committed for the same reasons as in the West. A larger proportion of thefts are committed for the purpose of trafficking in vehicles. This factor can be clearly seen when we read a statistic about the recovery rate for stolen vehicles. In 2002, for example, the stolen vehicle recovery rate in the greater Toronto region was 75%, as compared to only 56% in the Montreal region. Clearly, that means that the vehicles, whether intact or as parts, are leaving Quebec in large numbers. Of course, the regions most affected are mainly greater Montreal and Laval. The rates in those regions are 723 and 852 thefts per 100,000 population, respectively.
Apart from enacting more punitive measures in order to improve public safety, I think we must also tackle the root of the problem: the causes of crime and violence, as I said earlier.
We also have to understand that poverty, inequality and exclusion are very important factors in the emergence of this criminal behaviour, and so it is important to adopt social policies that do more to promote the sharing of wealth, social integration and rehabilitation. Filling our prisons and building new ones is not the way the federal government is going to bring the crime rate down.
Regardless of how harsh a bill may be, if we do not do something to prevent youths and other people from committing crimes, we will get nowhere. Investing in ways to combat poverty means investing in families, in preventing crime among young people and children who are often living in very vulnerable family situations. It also means investing in fighting crime; we must never forget that. And informing the public and promoting awareness are simple precautions we can take so people can avoid having their vehicles stolen. That is also important.
As I said earlier, however, we will be supporting this bill. When it comes to justice issues, I recognize that if targeted measures to improve the Criminal Code go hand in hand with crime prevention measures, they may be appropriate, and may even be necessary.
June 16th, 2009 / 11:45 a.m.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
We worked very diligently in committee. As our party's justice critic, I attended all the meetings. I was accompanied by my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, who has at least 30 years of experience as a criminal lawyer. His training was obviously very valuable during our examination.
We do not at all underestimate the gravity of auto theft. We heard a great deal of evidence in committee indicating just how important this issue is. If we sometimes have a tendency to refer to auto theft as a victimless crime, we must correct that tendency. It causes immense inconvenience for those whose cars are stolen, particularly in the regions. It also has a serious impact on the economy, given the associated costs for crime prevention groups, law enforcement agencies and people who rely on the protection provided by insurance.
Some of the best evidence we had in committee was from Richard Dubin of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. I would like to quote him. I believe that it provides a good context for situating the action to be taken by legislators in order to deal with the entire issue of car theft. He said:
Simply put, the days of the joyride have been replaced with sophisticated criminal rings bent on stealing automobiles, because the current penalties associated with this theft are so lenient and the profits are so attractive. These criminals steal vehicles and chop them up to sell parts. They switch the vehicle identification number to change the identity of the stolen vehicle, which is then sold to an unsuspecting consumer. And they export thousands of high-end vehicles through Canadian ports each year to overseas destinations where they can fetch a much higher price than here at home. In 2007, [not that long ago] almost 150,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada--exactly 146,142, to be precise. That cost auto insurance policyholders approximately $542 million. In that year, every policyholder in Canada paid an average of about $35 of their auto insurance premiums to finance costs incurred by the acts of car thieves.
Car thefts can be broken down into three categories. There are the petty thieves, the young people from the regions, who do it perhaps to impress someone. I said from the regions, but they can also be found in Montreal. I do not want to imply that this does not happen in big cities, but I am sure you know what I mean. These are young people who do not necessarily have a criminal record and decide to go for a joyride, decide to borrow a vehicle without permission to take it for a long, unauthorized drive. This is the first type of car theft. I would call it a joyride, which is not any less reprehensible or damaging to the victims. However, it does happen.
Other car thefts are committed by people who sell car parts. There is a market for them. They can resell the motor and some parts.
There are obviously large organized crime networks that are involved in importing and exporting, and that will export vehicles, especially luxury vehicles, to destinations and countries where they can make more money.
In all three cases, we can see how unique this bill is. Everyone knows that the Bloc Québécois is a responsible, clear-minded party that shows good judgment. When a measure is good, we support it; when a measure is excessive, we speak out against it; and when a measure is very bad, we fight it. I am pleased to tell the government members that we will enthusiastically support Bill C-26 because we know very well how serious the car theft industry is for our communities. When I studied law—a bit more recently than some other members in this House—we learned that the Criminal Code makes a distinction between theft where the value of what is stolen exceeds $5,000 and theft where that value does not exceed $5,000. However, until now, there has not been a specific offence related to car theft. Individuals were accused of possession of stolen goods, we made use of offences that were related, but there was no specific charge related to car theft. The government intends to create a specific offence for car theft, and I think that it has the support of law enforcement agencies. It certainly has the support of consumer organizations.
I will come back, obviously, to these offences but it is important to know that it is an extremely distressing state of affairs. In 1977, for example, 84,000 vehicles were reported stolen. In the early 1980s, the figure rose to 96,000. In 2007, it was 146,000. As we can see, in numerical terms, this phenomenon has grown significantly with, once again, the consequences involved in terms of insurance premiums and the resources required on the part of those enforcing the law.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you have never had your car stolen. I have not, as I do not have a car, but others may have and deserve our sympathy.
Certain distinctions need to be made if we are to understand this phenomenon. First, the rate of recovery of stolen vehicles varies significantly from one region to another. I have some statistics in this regard. In 2007, four of every ten stolen vehicles were not recovered by the police. What does that mean? We might think that the vehicles not recovered were intended for export and that organized crime was involved. It should also be noted that, in 2007, the lowest rate of vehicle recovery—and I was blown away to discover it—and I would draw the attention of the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles to this, was in Montreal, the Saguenay, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières. I repeat that, in 2007, it was in Montreal, the region I represent, the Saguenay, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières that the fewest vehicles were recovered. People might think that the residents of Trois-Rivières are leading a happy existence, preparing to celebrate their 375th anniversary as if they had not a care in the world, but in fact there are problems with car theft.
And so, with regret, I must inform the House about the city that tops the list for this kind of offence.
I see that my colleague from Trois-Rivières felt I was directing my remarks at her, but the city that tops the list in all categories is the city of Winnipeg. It has one of the highest rates of vehicle recovery in Canada. So, it is in Winnipeg that the most vehicles are stolen, but it is in Winnipeg that the most are recovered. Still, these are troubling data.
What does the bill propose?
I repeat, the Bloc Québécois enthusiastically supports this bill because we are a responsible and reasonable party. I have no recollection of our party not supporting a government whose measures were reasonable.
The bill creates four new offences. First, there will be, as I said, a separate offence for the theft of a motor vehicle, punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years. Obviously, I repeat, we have no problem with maximum sentences, since their application is left to the discretion of the judge.
Also, in the case of a third offence, there will be a minimum sentence of six months below which the judge cannot go. The type of proceedings will be at the discretion of the plaintiff.
We support the creation of a second offence in Bill C-26 in connection with the alteration of a motor vehicle identification number. In the course of our work, I learned that every vehicle has an alphanumeric number that is located in a different place depending on the vehicle model. It is not always in the same place. This set of 12 alphanumeric characters can be obliterated or changed to facilitate the resale of the vehicle, and that would constitute a specific offence. I believe that is a good thing. It is covered by clause 3 of the bill.
In addition to creating an offence for obliterating the vehicle identification number, as well as an offence for auto theft with a maximum sentence ranging from 6 months to 10 years, the bill establishes a third offence for trafficking in property obtained by crime and for possession of property obtained by crime for the purpose of trafficking. I spoke earlier about the import and export of autos dismantled for parts. Under clause 5 of the bill, this will be an offence carrying a maximum sentence of 14 years.
The fourth new offence is very important for those working at the Canada Border Services Agency, who will henceforth be able to prevent property obtained by crime from being taken across the border. I was very surprised to learn that, under the terms of the law, customs officers did not have the means to intercept stolen vehicles. This bill will correct that situation.
This is a bill that attacks a real problem. I will say it again: almost 150,000 vehicles are stolen every year. It is a reality in major centres, but not just in major centres. Earlier I gave examples of towns dealing with this problem.
I would like to speak about another issue. We were informed in committee that auto theft is a significant problem in Canada and is an offence that is committed in particular by young people between the ages of 15 and 18.
We were told, for example, that they were responsible in 2007 for three solved auto thefts in ten. The people found guilty, therefore, in three solved cases in ten in 2007 were 15 to 18 year old youths. This takes us much more in the direction of young people out looking for a thrill. With their desire to run with the crowd and impress their peers, they get together in a gang, take a car and go for a joyride. These youths are not necessarily big time criminals, but it is still very disagreeable, as the communities where this kind of thing tends to happen have pointed out to us.
I talked about the statistics and will not go back over them. However, I still want to mention the geographic realities of auto theft. For the 15th year in a row, the city of Winnipeg had the highest rate, followed by Abbotsford. The latter is a lovely town and I hope our committee gets a chance to go back there, but there is this nagging concern and the hon. member involved should delve into this a little more deeply. In third place is the city of Edmonton, followed by Regina. Then there is Kingston, which is actually a university town represented in the House by the Speaker, who guides our proceedings. Kingston is the city with the fifth highest auto theft rate. We should not think the Maritimes are spared. Saint John, New Brunswick, is in sixth place. The six communities that are most affected are therefore Winnipeg, Abbotsford, Edmonton, Regina, Kingston and Saint John.
People who want to know more about this should see the letter I had the pleasure of seeing published this morning in Le Devoir, the newspaper of Henri Bourassa himself, which explains why the Hells Angels should be outlawed. People should not hesitate to send me an email or correspond with me because this is very important. I hope to have a quick five minutes at the end of my remarks to return to this.
According to a study done by the RCMP in 1988, big criminal gangs are involved in all aspects of auto theft. That includes ordering specific vehicles, recruiting young people, taking vehicles apart, changing the vehicle identification number—which is now a specific offence—and transporting stolen vehicles outside Canada. That pretty well covers what organized crime is responsible for.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-26. We worked hard on it in committee. We know this is a significant problem. One hundred and fifty thousand vehicles are stolen in Canada, and certain communities are particularly hard hit.
I hope this bill will be passed as quickly as possible so that it can be sent to the other place and given speedy royal assent.
May 6th, 2009 / 3:35 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my experience regarding auto theft with the House.
I practised criminal law for thirty years. The issue of auto theft comes up regularly. Throughout my career I saw numerous young people come before the courts on auto theft charges. I will come back to this point later, but lawyers consider there are two different offences: auto theft and joyriding. There is a fundamental difference between the two, and I think this needs to be taken into consideration when this bill is examined in committee.
In my opinion we need to let this bill, on which the Bloc Québécois will be voting in favour, go to committee for in-depth study. It is an important and worthwhile bill which addresses a phenomenon that affects our society.
My colleague from Hochelaga spoke yesterday about auto theft in major cities. My colleague has no car, so he is not at risk of car theft. In big cities, the phenomenon is different than in the regions. Let me explain. I will compare the Montreal region and the Abitibi—Témiscamingue region. Obviously it is problematic to have your car stolen in Montreal, because the insurance companies are often rather uncooperative and there are investigations. That is no fun for anyone, but there is always the possibility of taking public transit. Obviously, the situation is the very opposite if you have your car stolen in a region like Abitibi—Témiscamingue, where there is very little public transit. A stolen car causes all manner of problems and difficulties.
Unfortunately, many vehicles stolen in the outlying areas end up in Montreal or the Montreal area or somewhere else, to be disassembled. This is a reality. A stolen car is rarely found in one piece. Generally, they are stolen, taken to a chop shop, transformed or modified. Expensive major parts are taken off and resold.
Society is plagued by auto theft. We believe that the new offence that would be created in the Criminal Code could be worthwhile and should be analyzed in detail. However, we should think twice before imposing mandatory minimum sentences for auto theft. I will come back to this shortly.
I would like to talk a bit about Bill C-26. This bill would create an offence for tampering with a vehicle identification number. This will not mean much to those who are watching. I will explain.
Every vehicle has an identification number, which the dealer notes when the vehicle is maintained. The dealer looks at the identification number, which is stored in a data bank. He knows what maintenance was done on the vehicle most recently, what sort of vehicle it is and what sort of maintenance it requires. This identification number is very important. The problem is that the number is found in only one place in the vehicle. Generally, it is quite visible. It has to be so that the garage can take note of it. It is inside the vehicle, on the edge of the windshield.
In committee, we can look at whether chips could be placed in other spots inside the vehicle, on important parts such as the wheel rims, the engine or the transmission.
Would it not make sense for manufacturers to put chips in vehicles to help trace them? I know from experience that a number of dealers have begun using this sort of identification, which could be used to trace these parts if the vehicle were stolen.
Let us go back to Bill C-26. I want to point out that in 2005, the Liberals introduced Bill C-64, which became Bill C-53, which has now given rise to Bill C-26. I hope that we will be able to pass this bill, because I feel it is important to create an offence for tampering with an identification number. I feel this is important because the bill will be broader in scope. Bill C-26 also targets the trafficking, exportation and importation of property obtained by crime.
Possession of stolen property is a Criminal Code offence. It means that you have in your possession an object that you are using and you know is stolen. For example, and this is the case unfortunately for many people, their car is stolen and, for one reason or another the VIN number disappears. Quite often the vehicle is found at the other end of Quebec or Canada. The vehicle has been transformed: it has been repainted and the doors replaced. The person buying the vehicle quite often believes that the vendor selling the car for an incredibly low price is honest. The courts have intervened on several occasions with regard to wilful blindness.
If you purchase a 2007 or 2008 Audi A4 for $2,000, it is obviously a case of wilful blindness. You deliberately ignore the fact that the car may have been stolen. Someone who purchases a Mercedes, especially a recent model, for $10,000 or under can expect to be charged with possession of stolen goods.
Heaven knows that there are many very honest people and I have met some in my career. They purchase a car at a reasonable price. I was looking at the list of stolen vehicles. Take, for example, someone who buys a 1999 Honda Civic coupe for between $10,000 and $15,000. They would expect to be purchasing a legitimate car, one that was not obtained by committing an offence such as theft. All this is difficult to prove. It is complicated for the courts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person knew that the car was stolen.
Tampering with an identification number must be an offence. The vehicle identification number may be altered, modified or changed, but only by the dealer. When I read the bill I noted that this person will obviously not be prosecuted. That is not the purpose of the bill.
This bill creates the offence of trafficking in property obtained by crime, punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years. It also creates sections 355.1, 355.2 and 355.3 in the Criminal Code. The definition will be important, since “trafficking” will not have the same meaning as it does in the Food and Drugs Act. It will correspond to the definition of the term “to traffic”, in the sense of to sell, give, transfer, transport, export from Canada, import into Canada, send, deliver or deal with in any other way, or to offer to do any of those acts.
With this, we are getting at the very heart of organized crime. Motor vehicle theft is very much the work of organized crime. A great deal of organization is required to have people who steal motor vehicles and bring them to specific locations so they can be disguised, changed or even broken down into pieces.
At this time, it is very difficult to identify the mags—pardon the expression—of a Passat, Beetle or Audi A4. It is very difficult to tell the difference if there is no chip or something to identify them. So the vehicle is broken down into pieces. That is what has been happening in many scrapyards, to use the jargon of those in the business. Of course they are not real scrapyards. The store front indicated auto parts, but motor vehicle were seen being brought in. We even have photos.
With this bill, we will be putting up a roadblock for organized crime—an appropriate expression given the subject. This must stop. Section 353.1 proposes the following offence: “Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse, wholly or partially alters, removes or obliterates a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle.” This is a recent offence, and very interesting. It is one of the reasons we will be voting in favour of this bill.
I do, however, have a serious problem and it is one that will require the bill to be examined very carefully. Here we are again with minimum prison sentences. Personally, I have a big problem with that. The Bloc cannot support minimum sentencing. That is not the solution. It is never the solution. They want to impose a minimum sentence on someone who is on his third auto theft charge. We need to be careful.
There are what are called joyriders and there are real car thieves. The first group are often kids from 15 to 19 who decide to steal a car just to get to a party or to look like a big shot —which is not really the case—to get from point A to point B. There is a specific section of the Criminal Code on this. Auto theft can be a theft in the legal sense, yet if it is a joyride, it is just some kids who see a car left near a convenience store with the motor running, and decide to take it just to get to point B, which is not far away. With respect, that is not auto theft. It is a theft from the legal point of view, but it is called instead taking a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner. There is a section in the Criminal Code on that.
We will have to be careful how minimum sentencing is imposed. I am very surprised to hear the Conservatives say, and say more than once, that someone who has committed at least three auto thefts should receive a minimum sentence. The problem is not when they go into prison, but when they come out. Let me quickly explain.
To give an example, the judge has someone before him who is on his third theft. He stole a car once and sold it to a scrapyard. He did this twice and got caught.
I would be very surprised if that person did not get a minimum prison sentence. The court needs to make sure the offender understands that enough is enough and that he cannot keep stealing cars. That is usually what happens. However, imposing minimum prison sentences....
If a person commits theft at 17 and then again at 18, should we not wonder why that person is stealing cars? The court should gather more information, analyze that information, and make sure that its sentence fits both the crime and the individual.
Now, the problem is that when a judge tells Mr. X that he deserves a prison sentence and then sentences him to six months in jail, that youth can get out in three weeks and never serve the time. That is the problem. I think that we will have to be very careful when we look at this bill in committee, because we have to consider minimum prison sentences for major crimes when we are dealing with a repeat offender who neither understands nor wishes to understand. I think that judges are the ones who should sentence offenders, and I think that they are well informed.
The Conservatives need to understand, listen and analyze. People convicted of offences should serve their time in jail and not be freed after serving one-sixth of their sentence. They should not be released until they have done some soul-searching and participated in rehabilitation sessions.
The problem is that a young person sentenced to 12 months in jail can be back on the street in a month and a half. Clearly, that is a problem, and it will continue to be a serious problem. We need to re-examine the parole system. That is what we are saying. We will vote for the bill so that it can go to committee, but the Conservatives need to understand that minimum prison sentences will not fix anything. We have to tackle the parole system.
May 5th, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-26. It is important to set this in a timeline context.
For a good number of years, somewhere between 7 and 10 years, it has been quite apparent that we have a major problem with regard to car thefts. At one point, we almost had a competition, on an annual basis, as to which city would be the car theft capital of the country. This is not something about which we did not know. It is not something about which the previous Liberal government did not know. It is certainly not something about which the current government did not know.
I will make some comments on why the government has not addressed this problem. It is true not only about these amendments to the code, but a good number of others as well. The strategy and tactic of the government calls for criticism.
First I will deal with this bill and why it has taken so long to get here. The bill had a predecessor in the last Parliament, which was tabled for first reading in April of 2008. Coincidentally, at that point, the Conservative Party and the Conservative chair of the justice committee was using one of their tactics in the justice committee, which was also used in at least in three or four other committees, of destroying the functionality of that committee.
His initial stance with regard to the issue was one that I supported. However, once it was obvious the majority of the committee would overrule him on that, he refused to allow the committee to function. Therefore, from April of 2008 until after the election, the committee did not meet. It did absolutely nothing. The predecessor to this bill, which was Bill C-53 in the last Parliament, simply sat with nothing happening on it, as did all the other work of the justice committee on all the other justice and crime bills.
There was not only this role by the Conservative chair of the committee, but then the election intervened. I am sure there was no consideration given to the bill or any other crime bills at the time when the Prime Minister decided to have an election. We had the election, we came back to work and in December the Prime Minister decided to prorogue, again I am sure without consideration to the reality of the need for legislation in a number of areas in the Criminal Code.
We finally saw the first crime bill in February of 2009. The justice committee did not get to consider a crime bill for a whole year, from April 2008 until April 2009. That was the first government bill it had any opportunity to deal with all because of the conduct of the government.
In addition to that, in terms of specific events, the government has been absolutely determined to use crime and crime issues for partisan political purposes. From the very time the Conservatives were elected, and we can maybe argue that the tactic and strategy existed even before they were elected, they would take an individual issue and introduce a bill that would have a very narrow scope and few clauses to it to deal with the issue. The Minister of Justice would have a press conference, issue press releases and create news stories around the fact that they were addressing an issue.
Then a week or two later, the Conservatives would choose another issue as opposed to doing what they should have done, which was to address all the issues of which the government and Parliament were aware. In a large number of cases, they had all party support. In spite of that all party support, they continued with this strategy, and have continued with it right up to today.
It is a strategy that I think more and more people are recognizing for its lack of credibility, if the government is really serious about getting tough on crime as opposed to being smart on crime, which it does not seem to be capable of doing.
Last week the justice committee was in Vancouver. One of the tactics of the Conservatives when they asked questions of the witnesses was to tell them what they had done. They would list the bills and then ask the witnesses if they agreed with them. Their specific tactic was to address each issue separately. In fact, I think that specific question was put to the mayor of Surrey. He responded by saying he did not agree with them. He said that a lot of issues needed to be addressed. He was speaking from a community that had been particularly hard hit by crime in the last few months. He said there was no time to wait for the government to address them one at a time.
That is the point I have been making repeatedly for the last several years, as I have watched the government turn crime and crime issues to its partisan advantage as much as it can.
We need a major revamp of the Criminal Code. This is my version of what the 2009 Criminal Code should be. I believe at least a third to a half of it could be done away with and accommodated into fewer and clearer sections, sections that would be easier for our police, our prosecutors and our judges to enforce.
The best way of doing that review of the code and bringing it up into the 21st century would have been to commission the Law Commission to conduct a review, prepare a white paper on it and get a whole new Criminal Code that would be much shorter, much clearer and much simpler to enforce. What did the government do? It did away with the Law Commission, by refusing to fund it any more. That was two budgets ago. We are now faced with this.
Now we come to this bill and to the issue of auto theft. It should have been addressed by the Liberals when they were in power a good number of years ago. It should have obviously been addressed, as well, by the current government. It should have been dealt with effectively by including it into several omnibus bills, which could have been brought forward much more efficiently.
I want to make one more point about not using small omnibus bills. I am talking about addressing five to ten issues all at once. When we follow the strategy and tactics of the government, we need to have hearings on each one of the bills. We have to call witnesses, oftentimes witnesses who would address each one of these sections if they were in an omnibus bill. Now they have to come back repeatedly. Our justice department officials have to spend all this extra time in hearings, watching each bill go through. They are there to assist in that regard. The strategy the government is employing is a great waste of time, energy and resources. It is not fair to the witnesses and it is certainly not fair to the Canadian public.
When we deal with this specific bill and the issue of auto theft, we need to look at the effect it will have. I want to be very clear that we are supportive of creating the new offence. We are supportive of creating an offence that would make tampering with the VIN number a crime. This issue was around at the time I was in law school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has taken us all this time to finally deal with it.
We are dealing with, as well, introducing a new section on the whole concept of trafficking in stolen goods. It was not in the bill of last April. I have some problems with this. It is a concept, outside of trafficking in drugs, that is fairly new. We have to be very careful as to whether it will survive, not so much a charter challenge, but a challenge as to whether the offence is clear enough and the risk that it could be struck down for that. I have some difficulty with the way the section has been drafted. We will have to take a very close look at it.
I want to echo some of the comments of my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona on what the Manitoba government has done. We heard this from members of a delegation in Ottawa last year. They probably would have been at one point in front of the justice committee, but the committee was not sitting due to the tactics of the Conservatives on the committee.
They told all the caucuses what they needed with regard to fighting auto theft. They also told us what they had done. It has been the most effective tactic in the country. My colleague said that there was one day last week where there was not one auto theft in all Manitoba. Two years ago Winnipeg was the auto theft capital of the country. There were literally as many as 50 to 100 thefts of cars on a daily basis in that city.
The statistics my colleagues from all parties are using with regard to auto theft are somewhat dated. Members are using figures from 2006 and 2007. If we look at 2008, and I believe even more so what we see at the end of 2008 and 2009, cities like Winnipeg and Vancouver have moved dramatically to reduce the amount of auto theft. They have not done this with legislation, and I am not taking away the need for the legislation. In the case of Vancouver it has used practical police tactics. In the case of Manitoba, the provincial government has used its public auto insurance to, in effect, force people to put an anti-theft immobilizing device on their car for free, if they want auto insurance. This issue came up, but I cannot remember in what other context.
Representatives of the Insurance Bureau of Canada officials were in front of the committee at one point in the last year. I asked if they proposed their private sector companies do the same thing. They said, no, that they believed in freedom of choice. In spite of this, as we heard from my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, IBC has a brief which shows the amount that auto theft costs it.
One thing the government should do is urge provincial governments, which have public insurance plans, to follow the model in Manitoba. It has literally cut auto theft by over 60% in a little over a year. That is an effective tool.
Today the chair of the justice committee spoke about Vancouver and its use of bait cars. I remember seeing one of the examples on national TV. I watched an individual being recorded, taped, all of it, not realizing he was in a bait car. The individual was subsequently apprehended, charged and convicted.
We could use those kinds of techniques, and the federal government should urge the provinces to do so. Their responsibility is enforcement.
Finally, from a practical standpoint, the government needs to comply with its promise that it will put more police on the streets. The use of the bait car, for instance, would be much more effective in Vancouver if there were more police officers there. When we were there last week, it was again confirmed that it had the lowest proportion of police officers to the general population of any major city in the country. In spite of the protestations of innocence and compliance by the government that it would put those extra 2,500 officers on the streets of this country, it has hardly met any of that.
With regard to the specifics, we agree that making auto theft a specific separate offence makes sense. It will make it easier for us to get convictions.
However, I do not want to mislead the Canadian public, as opposed to Manitoba driving down by almost two-thirds its auto theft because of its tactics around auto insurance. The figure we saw was as much as 47% of auto thefts reduced in Vancouver over the last two years from its peak, where it is now.
This section will not reduce auto theft to any significant degree. I would accord it a one to three percentile potential of reducing auto theft. We still need it because it will make it easier for our police and prosecutors to get convictions in very specific types of cases.
The need for the VIN number is a section that is really important because it targets members of organized crime. They are the ones that change the VIN numbers. They take it off if they can or in some other way alter it, and oftentimes ship the vehicle out of the country. It is very important that section gets passed.
I have made comments on the trafficking. It makes sense for us to be doing that. I am just not sure this section will accomplish it.
I do want to make one concern public at this point. The government is imposing additional responsibilities for enforcement of both export and import of stolen vehicles and stolen auto parts on the Canada Border Services Agency. There has been nothing in what the minister said when the government made the bill public in that usual press conference it always has. There was nothing about providing additional financial resources to our Border Services Agency.
Living on the border-crossing that is the busiest in the country, border officers are way over-taxed already in trying to deal with the trafficking of people, the trafficking in guns and the trafficking in drugs. That is true of our Border Services Agency at just about every crossing in this country. Unless additional financial resources and additional staff are put into it, this part of the section will be ineffective because there is no way they will be able to enforce it.
Finally, we have the concern that the Bloc has, and I want to address a couple of points to that, particularly the introduction of a mandatory minimum here after a third conviction for auto theft.
I want to be very clear that there are other sections of the bill that are clearly going after the organized crime sector, which has been estimated to be anywhere from 20% to 40% of all stolen vehicles in the country. They tend to be the high end ones, but not always.
We have to understand the way the system works. The organized crime members do not steal the cars themselves. They find people, usually young people, to do that. This section will be used primarily against young people, oftentimes people who have already been in conflict with the law in other ways, have other convictions, and oftentimes are abusers of drugs and alcohol.
In terms of what we should be doing to make these amendments most effective in reducing auto theft in this country is to be targeting organized crime. As I have said, I give the government full credit for doing that belatedly because it has taken it so long, but a good number of these sections are directed right at that. This one is not. This one will not get anybody who is a real senior member or even a mid-level member of an organized crime gang. It will be hitting those young people who are picked up, oftentimes from other sources and used specifically for this purpose. That is all it will be for.
Generally, mandatory minimums do not work and this will be another one of those cases where it will have no impact at all.