An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

In committee (Senate), as of Oct. 29, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to create offences in connection with the theft of a motor vehicle, the alteration, removal or obliteration of a vehicle identification number, the trafficking of property or proceeds obtained by crime and the possession of such property or proceeds for the purposes of trafficking, and to provide for an in rem prohibition of the importation or exportation of such property or proceeds.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to voice strong support for Bill C-26. As my colleagues in the House know, this bill targets the pervasive problem of auto theft and the trafficking of property obtained by crime. Time is short, so I will go straight into the substance of this important piece of legislation.

Bill C-26 has three main components. First, it creates a new and distinct offence of motor vehicle theft. Second, it also creates the new offence of altering, obliterating or removing a vehicle identification number. Third, it creates a new offence for trafficking in and possessing for the purpose of trafficking property obtained by crime, including the importing and exporting of such goods.

Let me deal with the first component of Bill C-26. The new separate offence of motor vehicle theft would give the crown prosecutor discretion to proceed either by indictment or by way of summary conviction depending on the seriousness of the particular case. The maximum penalty on indictment would be 10 years' imprisonment while summary conviction would draw a maximum of 18 months.

Bill C-26 does something else that Canadians have long been asking for. It goes after repeat offenders by imposing a mandatory minimum penalty of six months in prison for anyone convicted for a third or subsequent time of stealing a car, provided the third or subsequent offence was proceeded with by way of indictment.

This is a proportionate and appropriate response to the issue of serial car thieves. It gives those who are prosecuting these cases the flexibility to seek the mandatory minimum sentence when, in their opinion, such a penalty is warranted.

I come from the province of British Columbia. British Columbians are incredibly frustrated with the number of serial thieves who are plaguing our communities. In fact, our community has had one of the highest rates of auto theft in the country. In some cases these thieves do not commit auto thefts 20 or 30 times; we are talking about 50 times, 100 times and even more than 100 offences. When they are apprehended, they are immediately released into the community again. This is frustrating to the residents of my community of Abbotsford.

In fact, our justice committee recently had an opportunity to hear evidence from an official from Statistics Canada. Those statistics showed that the highest rates of auto theft are found in western Canada. The city of Winnipeg is the leader, but what really concerns me is that the city of Abbotsford, where I come from, has the second highest level of auto theft in the country. Abbotsford is certainly the auto theft capital of British Columbia.

To be fair, those statistics go back to 2007. I want to be fair and commend our local police department, as well as other police departments in our region for implementing the bait car program.

The bait car program allows police officials to set up cars that are rigged with GPS tracking devices. Video surveillance cameras are set up in the bait cars. The unsuspecting car thief will steal the car and will be immediately apprehended. The evidence will be there to be able to convict the individual. All the evidence shows that the bait car program has had a marked impact on reducing auto theft in our community and in our region.

Abbotsford residents are pleased that they now have a Conservative government in place that takes car theft seriously. They are pleased that they have a government in place that will actually impose a mandatory sentence of imprisonment on serial car thieves.

The second area addressed by Bill C-26 relates to a car's vehicle identification number, or VIN as it is commonly known. Many Canadians know that the removal or alteration of the VIN is a common way for criminals to disguise the identity of stolen vehicles.

Bill C-26 takes deliberate and clear steps to prohibit and punish this behaviour. The proposed amendment would make it an offence to wholly or even partially alter, obliterate, or even remove a VIN on a motor vehicle without lawful excuse.

Under the new offence, anyone convicted of tampering with a VIN could face imprisonment for a term of up to five years on indictment and up to six months on summary conviction. The only exception to this offence is if someone is required to remove a VIN as part of regular maintenance or repair work that is done for a legitimate purpose. That exception would only arise in the rarest of circumstances.

Taken together, these first two components of Bill C-26 will provide our law enforcement officials with a set of tailored strategies that respond to the scourge of auto theft which is endemic in many of our communities.

The bill also assists prosecutors by ensuring that previous auto theft convictions are clearly listed on the criminal records of car thieves. This will provide more guidance to the courts when they have to deal with bail and with sentencing.

Finally, as mentioned before, Bill C-26 also proposes new offences that target the trafficking in property obtained by crime. These provisions are extremely important to Canadians.

As chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I was privileged to be involved in reviewing this bill with other members of the committee. We heard testimony from the director of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, who provided us with statistics which showed that four out of ten stolen vehicles are never recovered. What this statistic suggests is that a substantial number of motor vehicle thefts are committed as part of an organized crime enterprise.

Accordingly, when Bill C-26 creates new trafficking offences, it goes after the chain of criminal acts that yield the financial benefit which makes property crime so lucrative for professional criminals.

Even though Canada's Criminal Code already prohibits the possession of property obtained by crime, simple possession does not adequately reflect the full range of criminal behaviour involved in trafficking in stolen property.

Let me explain a typical chain of property theft within a criminal enterprise.

Typically, a high-end vehicle is stolen; it might be a Lexus, a BMW or a Mercedes, or perhaps a high-end SUV. That vehicle's identification number, its VIN, is then obliterated or removed. The vehicle is passed on, perhaps to a chop shop, where it is disassembled and sold to unsuspecting purchasers. The vehicle may be placed in a container, shipped out of our country and around the world to be sold to unsuspecting purchasers.

The new trafficking offence would define trafficking quite broadly by including the selling, giving, transferring, transporting, exporting from and importing into Canada. It would also criminalize the sending, delivering and dealing with property obtained by crime. Because there are so many middle men in a criminal enterprise that involves auto theft, we have to have a broad definition to reflect that crime. By using that broad definition of trafficking, our government hopes to interfere with the myriad of ways in which criminal enterprises steal property and then market that property to unsuspecting buyers here in Canada and around the globe.

With the amendments contained in this bill, we will be making it much more difficult for professional thieves to flourish in Canada. Simply put, we are doing our very best to remove the profit motive from property crime.

Bill C-26 also proposes strong penalties for the new trafficking offences. Where the value of the property exceeds $5,000, the maximum penalty would be 14 years' imprisonment. Where the value is less than $5,000, the maximum penalty would be five years' imprisonment on indictment or six months' imprisonment on summary conviction.

I strongly support these increased penalties because they properly reflect the additional burden on society created by those who profit from stolen goods.

Evidence before our justice committee estimated that auto theft alone costs Canadians around $1.2 billion every year. There are a staggering 400 car thefts committed every day in Canada. In themselves, these are disturbing numbers, but they fail to take into account the human costs, costs which are unquantifiable but which nonetheless impact on the lives of Canadians every day.

I too have been a victim of auto theft and I can say that it is not a pleasant experience.

The tougher penalties in Bill C-26 send exactly the right message and demonstrate that such crimes will no longer be tolerated by Canadians.

I urge all members of this House to do the right thing, to reflect the wishes of the majority of Canadians, support Bill C-26 and ensure its swift passage into law.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member is the chair of the justice committee and he does a fine job. As a former city councillor of Abbotsford, I know it is difficult for him to get up and say that Abbotsford is experiencing some difficulty with respect to auto theft.

I want to ask him about one part of the bill which could stand to have a little more explanation. That is the prohibition against the importation and exportation of property obtained by crime and the triggering of certain Canada Border Services Agency powers with respect to investigation, identification and the detention of imported or to be exported vehicles that are the products of crime.

I would like the member to explain how that is a good thing. Also, has he or the government discussed this matter with public safety officials? Is there going to be an increase in the budget, the number of officers or a unit itself to cover these new powers?

All too often legislation is brought forward or enacted by the government, but Peter is not talking to Paul. The public safety and justice ministers do not talk enough to know whether there is enough money in the budget to cover correctional services that might be needed in terms of some other bills.

In this very specific case, it ought to be easy for the member, as a member of the government, to tell us if the government has funded the CBSA and whether the CBSA has some plans to put into effect this part of Bill C-26.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the bill and to let the public know why our members will support the bill.

Bill C-26 has a number of elements that poke at different aspects to the scourge of auto theft. The first element of the bill is to create a separate offence for auto theft. This has been kicked around for some time since 2008. One of the criticisms of a predecessor bill was that there was not a separate offence, but now there is, so this is progress. The offence would carry a mandatory prison sentence of six months for a conviction of a third or subsequent indictable offence.

It will not need to be repeated for members like the member for Abbotsford, the member for Fundy Royal and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who are members of the committee and know this, but there is a difference between a summary conviction offence and an indictable offence. The indictable offence is the more serious offence. It generally carries sentences of two years or more. Therefore, the law intends to impose is a six month conviction for a third indictable offence involving auto theft.

I had the pleasure recently of visiting the Winnipeg area and talking to individuals involved in law enforcement. It is very clear that auto theft is not something that we pick up off the cuff. It is a bit of an expertise-driven occupation. People in places like Winnipeg, Montreal, Abbotsford and other communities across the country are very good at it and they tend to be repeat offenders. It is a commercial business for many of them.

As they get better, the Insurance Bureau of Canada representatives, law enforcement officials, car manufacturers, after market car parts suppliers attempt to catch up with them, but one thing is certain. If these recidivists, specialists in auto theft, are put away after their third conviction by indictable means, then they will not be out doing more auto theft. The evidence we saw in Winnipeg was very clear. Statistically officials can prove that when the known top 30 to 50 car thieves serve time at Her Majesty's pleasure in a facility, then auto thefts go down. Therefore, that part of it is good.

The second part of the bill is the vehicle identification number, VIN, tampering. This is the alphanumeric number and letter combination inside the windshield of every vehicle and in many cases on almost all the important parts of one's motor vehicle. Tampering with the VIN is an offence. We studied it at committee at length. Other than putting some protection in the act to cover the truly innocent person tampering with a VIN, we could find no reason why anyone would tamper with a VIN unless there was fraud involved and theft was a goal. That itself would become an offence, which would help police officials do their job.

The other part of the bill is that the trafficking in stolen goods, particularly stolen motor vehicles, would be an offence. The general offence of possession of property obtained by crime in the current Criminal Code carries a maximum of 10 years for property valued over $5,000. The proposed legislation will give law enforcement or prosecutors new tools to combat those who participate in any part of the trafficking in stolen motor vehicles. There will be a wide definition of trafficking, as indicated by my friend from Abbotsford, which will include the selling, giving, transferring, transporting, importing, exporting, sending of, or delivering of goods or offering to do any of this, and that will trigger the offence of trafficking.

It is intended that this would capture the middlemen who are involved with stolen property. We recognize in today's modern, sophisticated, organized crime culture and business practice that it goes from retailer, wholesaler, distributor, exporter, importer, much in the same way that Wal-Mart probably organizes itself from manufacturer to point of sale contact.

That is why the offence has to be wide in order to catch everyone. It is not one person. Stealing a car, putting it on a boat, transporting it to a foreign location and getting paid on the dock in South America or wherever does not involve just one person. It is a chain of distribution with which we must deal.

The last aspect is something I asked the chair of the justice committee about, and that is the prohibition against importation or exportation of property obtained by crime. While that may not be necessarily groundbreaking, what is important is CBSA officials will have added powers to investigate, identify and detain imported vehicles or vehicles about to be exported and search databases to determine whether those vehicles are stolen. Those are the broad strokes of the bill.

The theft of autos has become a prolific business for organized crime in our country. We have heard about Winnipeg and Abbotsford, but I want to talk briefly about Montreal. Committee members heard that when organized crime was established in a city, it took on the subsidiary of auto theft and made it an expertise-driven crime. We learned that in cases like Montreal, where organized crime seems to be more involved in auto theft than in the western cities of our great country, the amount of vehicles recovered was lessened.

Attempted and actual auto thefts tend to be similar in a place like Montreal, but, to pick on Winnipeg for a moment, the number of attempted auto thefts might be higher per population of 100,000 than in Montreal. However, the actual number of vehicles recovered is also higher. It indicates that auto theft in a place like Montreal, driven almost wholly by organized crime, is for the profit attached to the procurement of vehicles, chopping them up and the exportation or reselling of parts and/or whole vehicles in and around the Montreal area.

On the other hand, in western Canada the experience seems to be more tilted toward vehicles being stolen to further other criminal activities. The Winnipeg Police Association says that many attempted thefts, because many vehicles are recovered, are merely for the purpose of being a mode of transportation or carriage to further implement a crime in a place like Winnipeg. That allows criminal organizations to have getaway cars and vehicles for committing offences and not having them traced back to their vehicles. We have some sort of quixotic idea that young teenagers in a James Dean like setting go out joyriding. Across Canada that is a very minuscule number when it comes to auto theft.

Another piece of the evidence we heard in committee was that the number of youth involved in attempted auto theft in a place like Winnipeg was much higher than in other large centres in the east. This indicates that organized crime is encouraging young members of gangs to steal motor vehicles for further criminal purposes and then abandon the vehicles so they might be recovered.

I say all of that because it is important to have a regional context and a different context for the scourge of auto theft and to react appropriately.

The bill would attack the situation we see in Montreal. There is no question about that. If organized crime can be pinned down, and if these sentences can pick up the middlemen and the repeat offenders, then that is certainly very good progress.

We support the bill, but I do want to put up a red flag or the marker down here. Since so many young offenders are involved in Winnipeg and some other western cities, this legislation may not have the same immediate impact in combatting auto theft.

Let me get back to the image of cities.

I am a former mayor and I know that almost every city councillor and mayor is concerned with his or her city's image. Sometimes things are beyond a council's control and sometimes they are within its control.

As a former mayor of the city of Moncton, I know that citizens' concerns reverberate and are passed on to city council. Complaints reflect negatively on a city's image. No municipality wants to be known as the auto theft capital of the country, the province or the region. That is not a distinction that municipalities like to have.

Anything we could do to amend the Criminal Code through provincial regulations or through public safety programs and public education programs would be important.

The IBC has been telling people to lock their cars or not park their cars in certain areas. Initiatives as simple as this start at the municipal level. The FCM has been very adamant about having an anti-auto theft policy for all its member cities, and that is at the base level of each municipality.

Organized crime has become a Fortune 500 new business category. We need to be more sophisticated in our response to this new burgeoning business.

Thus, I think it is important that members of this House and the general public know that, despite the rhetoric heard on the major television networks like CTV and CBC, and from the Conservative Party spokesperson, we cannot do it all within this Parliament. That is impossible.

We are sitting here in 2009. I have been here since 2006. We are finally getting around to saying that auto theft should be a specific crime, that obliteration or removing of VINs should be a crime, and that we should give border agency officials more power to stop the exportation of stolen vehicles.

What is controversial about that? Nothing. Why was it not done before? Well, the delay has a lot to do with the mood, the temper, the temperament and, dare I say it, the prorogation of this Parliament many times. I think a three and a half year delay on something that communities are looking for is inexcusable.

I also want to take a shot at the government in that there have been many suggestions coming up from officials from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The government should listen to the FCM. It should have a better relationship with the FCM. If it has a member who gets on an open-line show who openly criticizes mayors and councils, the way the member for Nepean—Carleton has done on numerous occasions, some of them who might be former councillors, former mayors or former members of FCM might take that person aside, take them to the woodshed and say, “Don't say that, that's not good for municipal relations”. How can FCM work well with the government when it is being criticized for just standing up for what it believes in?

The important thing about auto theft is it is not a victimless crime. The member for Abbotsford spoke very eloquently about his own experience, which up to this moment I did not know had occurred. It is a violation to the person, having a home entered by a burglar or a car stolen. I remember my uncle, who is deceased now, when he was a provincial court judge. His son's RV was stolen. He had been 30 years on the bench and was fairly hardened. He was mortified and violated, especially from the fact that his dentures were in that RV. When the RV was recovered, he was somewhat more grateful.

It touches a judge, a member of Parliament, all Canadians. That is the point. We must show compassion. We must move this law along. We must show compassion for people who have had auto theft visited upon them.

It is a $1.2 billion business. It includes things like, as IBC would say, the collateral losses in health care costs, court, policing, legal and out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles. In some cases the police authorities will tell us, especially in western Canada, and particularly in Winnipeg, there have been incidents where the stolen vehicle is used to run down someone, to injure someone. So the vehicle itself becomes a weapon.

We know from the Insurance Bureau of Canada that each and every householder, and that includes all of us in here who have motor vehicles, who have insurance, is paying about $37 more per policyholder because of the incidents of auto theft.

The municipalities have been doing a very good job. They have been talking about public education. It is simple to say that when people leave their car, it should be locked, but how many people here or watching have left keys to the vehicle inside the vehicle because they have a second set? That is certainly a no-no. How many people here, because there was a space available, have parked under a tree or in a dark alley? That is a no-no. Never leave a parking lot claim stub in your car when parking at an airport or other large parking lot. Getting car parts marked is something that they suggest can be done.

If parking in a private garage, make sure the garage is locked when leaving. Make sure the garage at home is not accessible. Prevent having a car towed by thieves. This is the evidence we heard about the gangs in Montreal, of organized crime. Immobilizers, which is a very high-tech response to moving a vehicle that is locked, are lauded in some quarters as being very effective. If the car cannot be moved or the wheels cannot be moved without alarms going off, it might make it very difficult to steal a vehicle. What we hear from the police authorities is that in Montreal, for instance, they have such organized units that they come up like a regular towing company and just take the vehicle away without engaging any of the drive mechanisms and without moving the wheels.

To prevent it from being towed, park with the wheels sharply turned or apply the emergency brake. That may not stop the gangs in Montreal, but it might stop other smaller level gangs that have less sophistication.

I want to close with two things. There was a CBC story from Winnipeg. I feel a great empathy for great officers out there, like Officer Pellerin and Officer Sutherland. They have been tracking auto theft for some time in their careers at the Winnipeg Police Force and on behalf of the Winnipeg Police Association.

There are two elements to these last two points. Sometimes, without naming chiefs, mayors or leaders in any way, there is an under-reporting of some crimes. We can imagine that if we are sitting in Winnipeg, Abbotsford or, in the old days, New York, we would want to underplay statistics to improve our civic image. I will close on this. It would be important to have statistics that are accurate. We want to make sure that there is a reporting of statistics that are accurate.

However, here is the story from Winnipeg. There was a long-awaited milestone achieved in Winnipeg when, for the first time in decades, there was not a single auto theft during a 24-hour period. I come from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. The whole area has about 100,000 people. If a car is stolen, I suspect that it happens maybe once a month.

That is not the smallest place that is represented in this Chamber. I am looking around and I see members from rural parts of Canada. I bet an auto theft in, for instance, the member for Fundy Royal's riding might be a big event. I have seen the parliamentary secretary's second vehicle and I am sure it will never be stolen, but it is a big event and it touches everybody in every community. Imagine it being a big deal in Winnipeg to not have a car theft for 24 hours.

We have to do something. I think this bill will help in that regard. It is also important to help municipalities. Officers Pellerin and Sutherland told me about their very good relationship with their new chief, Keith McCaskill, and Attorney General Chomiak. Things are improving in Winnipeg and Manitoba. However, they need the officers and resources that have been promised again and again by the government. They need support at the municipal level for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to affect its policies.

As a final note, we have to be clear that fudging numbers at the federal and municipal levels is not occurring. Juristat and other Canadian agencies rely on local agencies to feed them numbers. It is incumbent upon the government, public safety and justice to ensure that the feed into the statistical line of information is correct and that we do not have instances such as drive-by shootings not being recorded as organized crime offences.

We will support the bill. Let us get it out of here. Let us get it to the Senate. Let us make it law and let us help cities.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-26, which is supported by the Bloc Québécois. We supported this bill in its previous form, when it was presented in this House as Bill C-53.

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.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to my colleague from Hochelaga. I know that he may well soon take up a position in a major city. We all hope so, not because we want him to leave, but because I know he will be able to play a very important role in that major municipality.

I have a question for him. He mentioned a number of statistics. I would have liked it if he had been able to say—without going into great detail—whether, in the next few years, this bill will reduce vehicle thefts or whether vehicle theft is really increasing dramatically. Has there been a huge rise in vehicle thefts in recent years, or could vehicle theft be controlled somewhat with the help of Bill C-26?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 12:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-26, which addresses the issue of auto theft.

As has been said throughout debate on the bill, not only in this Parliament but in the previous one, there is strong support from the NDP. I want to start off by being critical of the government. The bill should have been passed into law at least a year or year and a half ago if it had not used a number of tactics to slow down the work of the justice committee, preventing bills like this one from moving ahead.

I want to provide a caution and I will do that in a bit more detail as I get into my speech. This is not the be all and the end all. When I was preparing some notes for my speech this morning, it made me think of one of the lawyers I articled for and one of my law professors, who became a judge while I was still in law school.

Both of them gave me what I thought was some very good advice. As a lawyer, a judge or a legislator, one cannot always look to solutions in the law as a strictly legislative approach. There are a good number of times when the better approach is a practical one. That is very true with regard to this bill. It fills some cracks that exist in the Criminal Code and for that reason the NDP is pleased to support it. However, in terms of dealing with the issue of auto theft, practical, street-level solutions are going to be much more effective in dramatically reducing the numbers.

I will put this into context. During the course of the committee's work in analyzing the bill, we heard a good deal of evidence from representatives of Statistics Canada, specifically Juristat, on what the current situation was in Canada with regard to auto theft and what it had been over the last several decades.

It is interesting that with so much other crime in our country, auto thefts are in fact in decline. That is not in any way to minimize the problem with which we are faced. As we have heard from some of the other speakers, we are still averaging almost 150,000 thefts per year across the whole of the country. It varies quite significantly from province to province and even from city to city within provinces.

Overall, if we look at the statistics, on a per 100,000 population, we averaged about 375 thefts 30 years ago, in 1977. That peaked at slightly over 600 thefts per 100,000 in the 1996-97 period of time. It has declined since then, with several peaks during that period of time. In 2007, which is the last year we have statistics for, it is down to about 450 per 100,000 population in the country, again with very wide variations across the country.

I would note that because of the work done in the installation of immobilizers, when we see the statistics for 2008, which we will receive some time in July, I expect that number to be down even more dramatically to close to about 400. This is the information being received particularly from Manitoba and more generally across the country. We were at 375 per 100,000 in 1977 and we will be fairly close to that by the end of 2008. I am expecting an ongoing decline, so it will be almost a straight line from 2009 back to 1977, when we began gathering these figures.

Having put that in context, it is important to emphasize what has happened historically over that period of time.

Traditionally, we have looked at auto theft from three vantage points in terms of how they are perpetrated.

I think back to when I was first starting to practise law in the early 1970s. Clearly, joyriding, as we called it then and now, constituted by far the larger percentage of auto thefts. That is no longer the case. It still happens, and in fact, in provinces such as Manitoba that have a disproportionate number of thefts, it is quite clear from the statistics and the nature of the theft that the joyriding percentage is still quite high there. In the rest of the country, it has come down dramatically.

We have that theft, and obviously with the joyriding, it is almost always a young person, oftentimes young people who cannot even drive legally, who will steal a vehicle for a very short period of time and then abandon it. That vehicle is generally recovered.

The second type of theft has become a fairly recent phenomenon. We cannot even put percentages on it, but we know it is happening at a more significant rate than it was as recently as even five years ago, and certainly 10 years ago. This is a theft that is perpetrated by an individual who steals the vehicle for the purposes of committing another crime. We have what would be expected as the usual types of thefts, sometimes for armed robbery, sometimes for kidnapping, and more often for break and enter and they are using the vehicle to transport the stolen goods. In the vast majority of those thefts, the vehicle is then subsequently abandoned, if the person is not apprehended.

The third one, of which we have seen a significant increase in percentage, is theft for profit. It is organized crime stealing large numbers of vehicles at the high end. These would be more valuable vehicles, specifically targeted for this purpose.

Interestingly enough, it has a couple of interesting phenomena. One, organized crime is generally engaging or hiring young people to steal the vehicles, the directing mind never going near them, having set up a chain where it is usually stolen by a street gang member, delivered to the organized crime centre where the vehicle is altered in some way, sometimes completely taken apart for parts, but most often altered in some way, sometimes painted, and then shipped out of the country, oftentimes to Africa and Asia, those two markets. They are going into countries where there is much more limited enforcement of laws and they are sold there, oftentimes at greater value than they could be sold at as used vehicles in Canada. One of the parts of this bill specifically addresses that issue, but I will come back to that.

So we have this phenomenon that is growing, we believe, from the numbers we are seeing, that is using young people just starting out in their criminal careers, being hired to steal vehicles, and those vehicles are being put into a network and ultimately exported from the country.

One of the ways we know this is happening is in looking at statistics for thefts and how often the vehicle is recovered. We know, and we have learned this from police and prosecutors, that once they determine the facts of the theft they are able to say that this was the stereotypical joyriding, and in the large percentage of cases, as I said earlier, those vehicles are abandoned and then recovered, oftentimes intact, sometimes with some damage as the result of an accident.

On the other hand, if it is part of organized crime, if it is a theft for profit, the percentage of successful recoveries is extremely low, because those vehicles, in a large number of cases, are exported from the country or they go through a chop shop and the parts are sold off, so the vehicle is never recovered intact.

It is interesting to look at the proof of this by comparing the figures for Manitoba, specifically Winnipeg, and for Montreal.

From the testimony we heard from witnesses and the statistics we are seeing, it is our belief that organized crime syndicates in Quebec, and specifically in the Montreal area, are very active in this network of auto theft, whereas in Manitoba, the vast majority of thefts are more of the joyriding kind. The recovery rate of stolen vehicles in Manitoba is over 80%; in Montreal, it is right around 30%. We can do that comparison with other cities and provinces, but this statistic is the one that is the most telling.

My next point goes back to the comment I made about my law professor and senior when I was articling, about practical solutions.

On a percentage basis, auto thefts are dropping in the country. We cannot attribute that to this legislation since it is not yet in effect. It should have been, but that is the government's problem. The reason that auto theft is decreasing is really because of two things that have happened.

By September 1, 2007, all new vehicles in Canada had to have immobilizers. These immobilizers have had the effect of stopping thefts of the joyriding kind by almost 100%. The individual who steals a car for joyriding purposes does not have the sophistication, the competency, or the criminal network to steal a vehicle.

For almost two years we have seen a decline in the number of thefts of the joyriding kind and thefts for the purpose of committing another crime, the reason being that the individual could not get the vehicle to start. It was just not possible.

However, organized crime looked at that and decided to change its method of operation. We know from apprehensions in the Montreal area in particular that organized crime will acquire a towing vehicle, either by stealing it or leasing it, or whatever, and steal 10 or 20 cars in one evening by towing them away. Those cars then go into the network and are sold off internationally.

The rate of auto theft in Manitoba is three times the average for the country. Abbotsford, B.C., the other city that is close statistically, has a little better than twice the average of the rest of the country.

The Government of Manitoba, through its public auto insurance, required everyone to have an immobilizer on their vehicle in order to get insurance. It had tried doing that on a somewhat voluntary basis for about a year but had very little uptake. When it was mandated, thefts in Winnipeg specifically, but Manitoba generally, dropped dramatically. We have not seen the final figures because the full year would have been 2008, but we know that in 2007 the figure declined.

My colleague from Winnipeg, who used to be a provincial member of Parliament, stood up in the House about a month or so ago and proudly announced that, for the first time, the city of Winnipeg went a whole 24 hours without an auto theft.

Immobilizers have had a dramatic impact in driving the numbers down. Because the numbers came down so dramatically in Manitoba, the numbers have been brought down for the rest of the country.

That was a practical solution, and I have been quite critical of the private insurance industry in this country for not following suit, because it is obviously working. They have been before the committee a number of times on this bill and others, in the form of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. They set out their statistics, which I am sure are quite accurate, about the losses they are taking and what it is costing the rest of the community in terms of health care costs, our police officers' time, and our prosecutors and our judges.

I ask them why they do not get their members to follow the example of the Government of Manitoba. It is working there clearly. We are driving the rates down, we think, by as much as 40% or 50%. I do not get a satisfactory answer from them. They are quite prepared to slough this off to others, including this level of government, but the problem of auto theft is something that the private insurance industry could solve to a significant degree. If they did that, if every car in this country were required at this time to have an immobilizer in order to be insured, we would see the auto theft rate drop in this country by as much as 50%. They will not do that.

With regard to the bill itself, it has four specific provisions, all of which we support.

It first would create a specific offence of auto theft. At this point, in the code, the theft of an auto is treated like the theft of household furniture or other property. We are creating a separate offence, and there are good reasons for doing that in the case of some legal decisions we have had over what is the theft of a vehicle. It is important that we do that.

The second section is even more important. It would create a specific offence for tampering with the VIN, the identification number that all vehicles have. As I said earlier, this is an area where we are going right at organized crime, because in the vast majority of cases, they are the ones who are taking vehicles apart or altering the VIN before they export them to Asia or Africa. That section would make it a specific offence.

The next point is that it would create additional authority where, in terms of dealing with the export issue, we would authorizing the CBSA to specifically intervene when they find stolen parts and stolen vehicles that are being shipped out of the country. Historically, they have had to call the local police force to intervene, because they did not have a specific jurisdiction. We would now give that to them.

I have to say to the government again that I do not believe it has addressed in any adequate way the additional resources that are going to be need. We heard from the committee chair, in one of my questions earlier today, that there are going to be efficiencies here. I think the Conservatives are deluding themselves in believing that.

I live on the busiest border crossing in this country and have regular contact with CBSA officials. They have no belief that there can be those kinds of efficiencies when they are taking on this additional responsibility. I think we are going to see that this part of the legislation will not be very useful, because our officers at the border will not have the resources to actually deal with it.

The final point on this bill is that it raised some concern with a delegation that came before us that we would allow a defence of lawful excuse. This would be where a vehicle has been in an accident and the damage to the vehicle is where the VIN is situated. A regular repair shop would have to deal with that part of the vehicle and would not be guilty of an offence for tampering with that.

It went a bit further, and we have some concerns about that. It is an issue that we will have to address. I just want to say to that delegation that we heard them and we will be monitoring this on an ongoing basis.

We are going to support this bill. I hope the government will find a way to provide those additional resources to the Canada Border Services Agency and get this through as quickly as possible, having delayed it for over two years now.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague from Abbotsford to ask me that same question relating to minimum prison sentences during the period reserved for questions and comments. I will have what I think is a wholly appropriate response under the circumstances.

For those who are listening to us, these are pretty impressive figures. I have the statistics for 1999, but I do not want to dazzle our audience with a whole lot of numbers. I would just like to demonstrate why the government must attack this scourge and why the Bloc Québécois will be supporting Bill C-26. As a criminal lawyer for a number of years, I have, as my colleague from Hochelaga said, experienced this with a number of my clients, and I will come back to that.

In 1999, 161,388 vehicles were stolen in Canada. Nearly 10 years later, in 2006, the figure was 159,944. Let us round that up to 160,000. So there has been just a slight drop. Only 1,000 fewer car thefts in close to 10 years,so we have a major problem.

Let us look at the situation in Quebec. In 1999, 43,068 vehicles were stolen, and in 2006, 38,821. So yes, there has been a drop, but we still have a problem.

I have some good news for our audience. In 2006, the car the most often stolen in Canada was—and if someone has one of these, they would be wise to keep a close eye on it—the two-door 1999 Honda Civic. It is followed by the two-door 2000 Honda Civic. Third, the four-door all-wheel drive Subaru Impreza. Fourth, the two-door 1999 Acura Integra. In fifth place is the 1994 Dodge Grand Caravan/Voyager, and in seventh the 1994 Dodge Plymouth Caravan Voyager. In eighth place we have the two-door 1998 Acura Integra. Ninth place is held by the two-door 2000 Audi TT Quattro Coupé 2000, and tenth by the two-door 1994 Dodge Shadow Plymouth Sundance hatchback. Why did I list all those? Because there really is a problem, most definitely a problem with auto theft.

When I look at the bill we have before us, which the Bloc will be supporting as I said, we see that there are three types of car theft. A theft is always a theft, I agree on that, but there are three different categories.

Let us talk about the theft of an idling vehicle by a young person aged 15, 16, 17 or 18. How many times do cars get stolen when the owner has just run into the convenience store for two minutes to get a newspaper? They leave the keys in the ignition, the motor is running, and the young person happens by. He has decided he wants to go downtown, so he takes off with the car, and when he gets downtown he abandons it in a public place and just goes on about his business. That is what is known as a joyride. Kids who just take cars to drive around in. They have no intention of doing any harm to them, or anything else. They just want to take a spin for a little while. That is the first kind of theft, and it is unacceptable.

I live in a region that is 600 km from Montreal, and some 500 km from Ottawa, and cars are a necessity in regions like mine. There is little if any public transit in small places such as ours. In the riding of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the only place with municipal service is Rouyn-Noranda. There is none anywhere else.

When someone is deprived of the use of his car, it is a problem. No offence to my hon. colleague from Hochelaga, with his metro and other public transit, but we have nothing like that. So it is very unpleasant to lose your car, I would go so far as to say unacceptable. Very often, the young people who take a car just for a joyride do not even realize they are depriving someone of his means of transportation. They need an appropriate sanction. I will return to this later if my hon. colleague from Abbotsford will ask me the question. The problem with these young people will not be solved with jail time. There may be an underlying problem but generally, if they are taken to youth court under the young offender legislation and given community service—like painting or washing vehicles in garages or at the municipal vehicle pound—the problem solves itself.

There are two other types of theft that this bill provides a strong response to. That is why, I would repeat, we will be supporting it. I am referring to motor vehicles being stolen for parts. This is what happens. Generally, an individual sees a vehicle and knows a place where someone can strip the vehicle for parts. We were told, in our practice, that quite often this is done to fill an order. A young person is told that they need a 1978 or 1980 Volkswagen windshield, or a particular kind of radiator. Very often, the individuals receive an order and go out and steal a vehicle, which they bring back to a specific place. The vehicle is stripped and only the parts are kept. I will come back to this during in-depth consideration of the bill, but quite often, the vehicle is stripped for parts. It is broken down into pieces. I have seen Audi TT transmissions completely stripped. Vehicles are stolen for a spoiler. There was a time when vehicles were stolen for the windshield, because it had wires that could be used to receive radio signals. Completely unacceptable things have happened. It has become totally unacceptable.

I am not going by order of seriousness, but I think this point is the most serious. Generally, someone who steals vehicles for parts is not necessarily part of a ring. The person does it for the parts. They steal two or three. Yes, they may be part of a ring. With no disrespect to my hon. colleague from Hochelaga, this really happens more in big cities like Montreal, Toronto, Calgary or St. John's, where we see vehicle thefts with definite organization and where organized crime has already started to be in evidence in places where vehicles are stripped. In regions like mine, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, or even Saguenay—Lac Saint-Jean, criminals tend to do it more to fill orders.

There is a third kind of offence. This one was less visible in recent years, but it is being seen more and more and it is very important. Earlier, my colleague mentioned the number of vehicles that had been stolen in recent years, and in particular the number of those vehicles that had not been found. That is extremely dangerous. An order is sent out. Someone says: “I want a Porsche 911. I want a 2006 Volkswagen Jetta. I want an Audi TT. I want an Acura.” And so on.

Why? Because organized crime has in fact set up a system where vehicles are taken for export. What do they do? Obviously, it takes an entire organization. There has to be good planning to know how they can be exported. Generally, organized crime controls the supply chain from the outset, from when the order is placed to the final step. I will give an example, something that has happened several times. Someone wants a Porsche 911 or a Porsche Carrera. Why? Because the Porsche Carrera will end up somewhere in Russia, or somewhere in Afghanistan—maybe not—or in other countries, but in very specific places. To organize that kind of theft, that kind of crime, you need a well oiled, well run organization. That is where Bill C-26 is going to be useful.

I want to get into the details of the bill. It contains a particularly important provision. This bill would amend section 353. It would create a hitherto non-existent offence. My colleague from Hochelaga is very young and, sadly for us, has not yet been called to the bar. Unfortunately, he only recently found his calling in the law. However, those of us who are older remember a time when the stolen parts market was booming. What happened was that a guy would steal a car, go to a chop shop and have it broken down into parts. The charge was having voluntarily, directly or indirectly, encouraged an individual to commit an offence, or having directly or indirectly possessed an object known to have been stolen. What did people do? They went to the chop shop, had the car broken down into parts, and then sold the parts.

Now there is a new section that reads as follows:

Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse, wholly or partially alters, removes or obliterates a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle.

I said that I would say it at least ten times during my speech, so I will once again refer to the member for Hochelaga. He does not own a car—and I respect that—so he does not know this, but next time he takes the metro in Montreal, which he often does, or travels on VIA Rail, as he does every week, he should take a look and he will see that every car has an identification number. Generally it can be found inside the car—I would hope—just below the windshield. It is a very long number that usually includes several letters.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime). This enactment amends the Criminal Code to create offences in connection with the theft of a motor vehicle, the alteration, removal and obliteration of the VIN, vehicle identification number, the trafficking of property or proceeds obtained by crime and possession of such property or proceeds for the purposes of trafficking and to provide for a new prohibition and the importation and exportation of such property or proceeds.

As my colleague, our critic in this area, pointed out in his speech half an hour ago, the NDP supports the bill, a bill that is long overdue. In fact, it would have been passed had the government not been so busy calling an election last fall. The Prime Minister passed legislation setting fixed terms for elections, which would have been this October. Then he went back on his promise and called the election, which effectively killed all the bills on the order paper at the time. Therefore, the government has only itself to blame for no action being taken on the bill. It could have easily been passed had he not called the unnecessary election last year.

The issue of auto theft is a very complicated issue, an issue that has been around with us for a long time. In Manitoba, particularly in Winnipeg, we had a front line view of the problem, having three times the theft rate of any other place in Canada. While it was a long time coming, and there were a number of reasons why things turned out the way they did, three or four years ago the Manitoba government developed what turned out to be a very effective approach to deal with the whole problem. This is basically our argument on some of the approaches in crime legislation with which the government deals.

The NDP is willing to support items that work. If the government can show us that something works, then we will probably say it is a good idea. We did not support the mandatory minimums on a crime bill last week. We know from the history. For over 25 years the United States have tried it and it has not worked. It has ended up in a huge development of prisons and the crime rate is as high as ever. Clearly that is not an approach we want to follow. It has be demonstrated that it does not work. We would like to deal with issues in a way where we can develop programs that works.

On September 13, 2007, the Premier of Manitoba pressed Ottawa for tougher sentences and action on auto theft. Representatives from the Manitoba NDP government, Attorney General Chomiak, the Liberal leader, the Conservative leader, the mayor of Winnipeg, the mayor of Brandon and a number of people came to Ottawa to meet with the then minister to advocate for tougher action on this whole area of auto thefts.

Manitoba's approach to reducing auto theft and youth crime is focused on a number of issues. One of the big issues we are involved in is the whole idea of prevention. We believe if we can prevent the crime from happening, it is a much cheaper and more effective way of dealing with it than trying to deal with the consequences of the crime after it has been committed. In the last nine years we have set up a number of lighthouse programs for young adults. There are roughly 50 of them now in operation. There are friendship centres, education pilot projects and, as I had indicated many times before, the vehicle immobilizers program.

With regard to the immobilizer program, it was not established in isolation from the other programs. There was an operational gang suppression unit that concentrated on the most high risk criminals. Car thieves are classified by level one, level two, level three, level four and special attention was paid to the highest level, the level four, offenders. We are only talking about maybe 50 people.

The gang suppression unit of the police targeted these individuals. It visited them every three hours or so to find out where they were. A number of approaches involving police activities were provided to try to deal with this problem. That was one of the ways it was dealt with, but then the immobilizer program was also brought in.

When the immobilizer program was brought in, the Manitoba Public Insurance announced it and for a period of 10 months it was basically a voluntary program. It gave what I believe was an $80 reduction in people's insurance rates for the first year and then $40 afterward, but they had to pay for the immobilizer. The uptake on that program was not extremely high.

Sometimes there are programs in government that we think should work. When we try them out, they do not work as well as they should. It boils down to a bit of tinkering to make them work correctly. We knew we had the right program, but it was not working, probably for the reason that people had to pay for the immobilizer.

After 10 months, the Manitoba government made an announcement that it would make the program mandatory. It identified a number of cars that were at the highest risk of being stolen based on theft statistics. It announced that as of September 1, 2007, people could not renew their insurance unless immobilizers were installed. The installation was free and the customer would receive an $80 reduction in insurance and a $40 reduction in each subsequent year.

It was that action, combined with the gang suppression unit's activities, that caused a huge drop in auto thefts in Manitoba. It was not only the immobilizer program alone that did it. It was the combination of working with police. We also understood that we had to go to Ottawa to ask for tougher laws. It is a multifaceted approach to deal with auto thefts.

We know the problem over the long term will solve itself. The federal Liberal government back in 2003 announced that effective September 1, 2007, all new cars sold in Canada would need factory-installed immobilizers. However, it would probably take 10 to 15 years before we would solve the problem.

Clearly, from a Manitoba point of view, we applauded the federal government for announcing that in 2003 and for the Conservative government bringing it in September 1, 2007. However, we were not prepared to wait those 10 to 15 years for the problem to solve itself. While we were happy with that, we wanted to deal with the other more immediate problems of auto thefts today.

Members have compared the Manitoba auto theft rates with Montreal. In Montreal the recovery rate was only about 30%, which would indicate that there is criminal gang involvement, where vehicles are stolen and exported to other countries for resale. In Manitoba the recovery rate was about 80%. Therefore, we could conclude that people were joyriding, that they were using the cars to get from point A to point B.

It is true that a lot of that is going on and the cars they are stealing are usually older, but the fact is we have had an alarming increase in the number of stolen vehicles involved in police chases. The vehicles are involved in police chases that invariably end with serious accidents that have resulted in a number of deaths. Auto thieves have stolen cars, become involved in high-speed cases and ended up killing a number of people. Last year we had a situation where so-called joyriding thieves actually tried to run down joggers on the road.

We saw this as a very serious problem that needed an extremely aggressive approach. It was only when we took the mandatory steps to force people to put in immobilizers in order to insure their car, at the insurance corporation's cost, that we had compliance and saw an almost immediate drastic drop in the car theft rate.

That is an idea that should be transplanted to other jurisdictions. I am wondering why that has not actually happened at this point. The member from B.C. asked about the bait car program, and I told him we did look at that. We do not have a monopoly on good ideas here; there are other ideas, like the bait car program, that could be used.

Manitoba looked at the bait car program and for whatever reasons decided it was either too expensive or, as some may know we have cooler temperatures for parts of the winter, perhaps the bait car would not work properly at 40 below in January.

Nevertheless we did adopt a GPS program, which has been used successfully in Nova Scotia for a number of years. We have tested that for over a year now, and there was some slippage with it. I think it has worked out okay. We outfitted a number of high-risk car thieves with a tracking device. They were followed around and monitored, and evidently that was helpful.

It seems surprising that we can have a system that works in one place and we cannot replicate that with any kind of swiftness across the country. I look at the whole history of the auto thief program, and 20 years ago consumer groups were asking the auto industry to install immobilizers. The car industry resisted. It did not want to do it. It did not want to do it because it was going to add $30 to the cost of manufacturing the car. It had all kinds of time and money for putting in extra cup holders and all sorts of other features that would not add to the safety of the vehicle the way putting in an immobilizer would.

It was not until 1997, I believe, that the Ford Motor Company started installing the number one approved immobilizer of the different types that were available. Then again, it only installed them in the high-end, not the lower-end vehicles. It was something that was necessary at the end of the day, but it certainly took a long time for the auto industry to start an effective immobilizer program.

Now a couple of the other car companies use a different standard, and the standards are at odds with one another. The Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation will not give a discount to people with immobilizers that are not of the highest standard. Constituents of mine have insisted they had the right immobilizer on their car, but found out they did not. Several kinds of immobilizers are available and not all of them meet the standards.

I have the definition of what is required with respect to meeting the highest standards. Approved immobilizers have to meet a national standard, Canada ULCS338/98. Immobilizers of this standard meet a number of requirements for immobilizer technology. Transponder base technology is the key to this.

The transponder is a radio frequency chip located in the key or key fob. When the chip is near the ignition it sends a signal to deactivate the immobilizer thereby allowing the vehicle to start. The vehicle will not start without the signal. When someone walks away from the vehicle with the key or key fob, the immobilizer is armed and the vehicle cannot be started.

By contrast, some non-approved immobilizers have the deactivation system in the steering column. In addition, many non-approved immobilizers only disable two systems in the vehicle, while approved immobilizers must disable three. Thieves have become skilled at defeating less effective systems, and as a result, theft of these vehicles is on the rise.

If the immobilizer is installed according to the proper standards, it cannot be defeated. Until a year ago, there were zero car thefts because of Ford's high standard.

A number of people in my constituency were quite incensed about the whole idea of installing an immobilizer in the first place. They feel that it is not their responsibility to protect their vehicle. They feel that people should behave themselves and be law-abiding, as they were when they grew up. They feel they should be able to leave their cars unlocked in front of their house with the keys in the car, as they did in the 1950s. People did not steal things in those days.

My constituents are quite incensed, and they have been phoning my office to complain about putting an immobilizer in their cars to prevent people from stealing them. They feel we should lock people up and the problem would be solved. We know that locking people up is not the correct approach. They will come out of jail as better criminals unless we have preventative programs, training programs, educational programs and incentives.

The previous Conservative government in Manitoba tried making auto thieves pay for stealing cars. Legislation was introduced, maybe it has been passed by now, requiring parents to pay for damages caused by their children. I heard the other day that some other jurisdiction is looking at this right now. Young people who are stealing cars are not concerned about paying for damages.

We also looked at the idea of having the auto corporation put on liens to make sure car thieves could not renew their driver's licences. Most of them do not have a driver's licence, so the lack of a licence would obviously not stop a person from stealing a car and driving in the first place.

We looked at a prohibition against car thieves getting a driver's licence. We were hoping young people would think twice about stealing a car because having a licence is important to them. Some people might actually have been deterred from stealing a car because of that.

I am not saying we should not do these things, but the last thing young people are worried about when stealing a car is whether they are going to get a driver's licence on time or they are going to have to pay for the damages they cause.

Another big area of auto theft is that thieves are not only stealing cars for joyriding, they are stealing them in order to commit more crimes. We have found that people steal cars, go out and break into houses and then use the vehicles to transport stolen goods they then sell.

This is a very complicated and huge area. If we were to work together to try all the different aspects that work in different jurisdictions, we could actually get a handle on this, albeit about 20 years later than we should have.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech with some interest. At the end of his speech, he talked about working together and collaboration. I was a little disappointed to hear the member basically apologizing and making excuses for the people who commit auto theft, not once or twice but sometimes dozens of times. One person alone in B.C. was responsible for more than 1,000 car thefts.

I heard him mention that insurance companies should perhaps transfer responsibility to car owners by forcing them to buy immobilizers, as was tried in a jurisdiction he referred to. It seems to me that is lazy politics. It is wrong-headed. It is like the gun registry, which penalizes the honest people.

Bill C-26 creates a separate offence for theft of a motor vehicle. It calls for a prison sentence of up to six months for conviction of a third or subsequent offence, and there is a new offence for altering or destroying a vehicle identification number. It makes it an offence to traffic in property obtained by crime, and it makes the possession of such property for the purposes of trafficking an offence.

Why does this member and his party not get on board with Canadians who are tired of this kind of theft and do something that will actually make our communities safer?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

June 16th, 2009 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

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.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

June 11th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to respond to not just the regular Thursday question about the business of the House for the next week, but indeed to respond to all the questions from my colleague across the way.

In the order that we will dealing with it, today we are debating a motion from the New Democratic Party, which has its supply day today.

Tomorrow we will continue, and hopefully conclude, the third reading stage of Bill C-6, product safety, followed by Bill C-36, the faint hope bill. The backup bill tomorrow will be Bill C-19, the anti-terrorism bill.

Monday, June 15 and Friday, June 19, 2009 shall be allotted days.

On Monday, we will be introducing a bill regarding the Maa-nulth First Nations agreement. It is my intention, provided that I have an agreement from all the other parties, to call and complete that bill on Tuesday. On behalf of that first nation, I express my appreciation to all hon. members and all the parties in the House.

Next week, I will also call Bill C-26, auto theft, for report and third reading. My hope is that we will get that down the hall to get it dealt with at the Senate.

In addition to Bill C-26, we will also consider Bill C-36, the faint hope bill; Bill C-37, National Capital Act; Bill C-38, Nahanni; and Bill C-31, modernizing criminal procedure. All of these bills, as we know, are at second reading.

I am hoping that Bill S-4, identity theft, can be sent over from the Senate expeditiously. If and when it arrives, I will be seeking the cooperation of the opposition to try to expedite that bill in our Chamber.

I might add that despite the assurance of the hon. opposition House leader last week, after we had passed Bill C-33 at all stages, the bill that will extend benefits to allied veterans and their families, I expected the Senate to quickly follow suit. Although sad, it is true that time is running out for some of these veterans and their families. They are waiting to receive these benefits. This bill is not controversial, but the delay of this bill by Liberal senators will become controversial very quickly.

Last week I also mentioned Bill C-29 in my Thursday reply, which the hon. member for Wascana mentioned a minute ago. That is the agricultural loans bill, which will guarantee an estimated $1 billion in loans over the next five years to Canadian farm families and cooperatives. Today the Liberal senators did not grant leave to even consider the bill, let alone agree to adopt it.

Another week has come and gone. I am not sure how the member for Wascana intends to return to farm families in Saskatchewan and explain why his senators in the other place are delaying the passage of Bill C-29.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

May 6th, 2009 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to use a bit of the time remaining to conclude my remarks. I want to make it clear that I support Bill C-26.

We heard much yesterday about the high incidence of auto theft in the city of Winnipeg. We also heard yesterday that both the attempts and the actual theft of cars was being reduced, through a host of measures that had been undertaken by the provincial government and the police department of the City of Winnipeg.

However, I am pleased this legislation has come forward. It is long overdue. The leadership delegation from Manitoba came here 16 months ago to ask for auto theft to be made an indictable offence. The response was another piece of legislation, which really did not address the issue. The Prime Minister, as most are aware, came to Winnipeg and announced a bill, but it did not create a distinct offence for vehicle theft. It dealt with the VIN and the trafficking of stolen property.

The legislation is long overdue. As I indicated yesterday, in March 2008 I introduced a private member's bill, which went substantially further than this bill. I called upon auto theft to be an indictable offence, with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year after a second offence.

I am pleased to see the legislation here. I am pleased offer my support for it. I hope it will move through the House in a timely manner and that there will be an opportunity for colleagues to discuss it further in committee.

I want to emphasize the importance of prevention programs as well. There have to be consequences for the offence, but there also have to be prevention programs. We know the provincial government is doing this. It is incumbent upon the federal government to provide the support and resources for the provinces to do what they must do. It is important for the federal government not to disengage from anti-gang activity or programs that do not deal with violence in communities.

Prevention is equally important, but there have to be consequences to the action.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

May 6th, 2009 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Bloc

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.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

May 5th, 2009 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Fundy Royal
New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime).

The bill is aimed at tackling the separate but related problems of auto theft and trafficking in stolen property and other property obtained by crime. The bill reintroduces offences for tampering with a vehicle identification number and for trafficking in property obtained by a crime, which was initially set out in Bill C-53, a bill that our government introduced in the 39th Parliament.

Bill C-26 also proposes a new distinct offence of theft of a motor vehicle, which is similar to the offence proposed in Bill C-343, a private member's bill introduced by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, which died on the order paper in the last Parliament. I would be remiss if I did not mention at this time the efforts of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle for his outstanding work on behalf of his constituents and for raising awareness of this serious issue.

Auto theft is one of the most pervasive forms of property crime in Canada. While there has been a downward trend in auto theft rates in the last decade, it stills remains one of the highest-volume offences in Canada. In its December 2008 report on motor vehicle theft, Statistics Canada reported that in 2007 approximately 146,000 motor vehicle thefts were reported to the police across Canada, averaging 400 thefts per day.

Motor vehicle theft has created a significant impact on owners, law enforcement and the insurance industry. The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates that auto theft costs Canadian more than $1 billion each year, including non-insured vehicle theft, policing, health care, legal costs and out-of-pocket costs such as insurance deductibles.

Motor vehicle theft also creates public safety concerns for Canadians, as stolen vehicles are often involved in police chases or dangerous driving, which can result in injury or death to innocent bystanders. Such was the case of the tragic death of Theresa McEvoy, a Nova Scotia educator and mother of three children who was killed on October 14, 2004, when her car was struck by a youth driving a stolen vehicle. Sadly, this is not a rare incident. A study carried out by the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft reported that in the period of 1999-2001, 81 people were killed as a result of auto theft and another 127 people were seriously injured.

The bill therefore proposes that a new offence of motor vehicle theft be added at section 333.1 of the Criminal Code. It is true that many offences in the Criminal Code already address motor vehicle theft, such as theft, fraud, joyriding, possession of property obtained by crime and flight from a police officer. However, the bill would create a distinct offence with an enhanced penalty for a third and subsequent conviction in the form of a mandatory minimum sentence of six months imprisonment.

The creation of this distinct offence is an important measure that will assist prosecutors. A problem currently facing the courts is that very often a prosecutor is unaware that the offender is a career car thief. Normally, the offender is simply charged with theft over $5,000 or possession of property over $5,000 and there is no indication on the available record as to the type of property that was stolen. The result is the prosecutor and the judge do not know if they are dealing with a prolific car thief or with a car thief involved with organized crime. The proposed distinct offence will help give the courts a clearer picture of the nature of the offender for bail hearings and when it comes time to impose a sentence.

In a report published in 2004, Statistics Canada estimated that roughly 20% of stolen cars were linked to organized crime activity. Organized crime groups participate in the trafficking of stolen autos in at least three ways. First, they operate chop shops, where stolen vehicles are disassembled and their parts are trafficked, often to unsuspecting customers. Second, organized crime is involved in the process of altering a car's legal identity through changing its vehicle identification number, commonly known as its VIN. Third, high-end, late-model luxury sedans and sport utility vehicles are exported from Canadian ports to far-off locations in areas such as Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

The bill takes serious steps to address organized crime's involvement in motor vehicle theft in a number of ways, including by the proposed creation of two new offences of general application that will target trafficking in property obtained by crime whether stolen property or property obtained by fraud or other crimes. Let me be clear, though. The scope of the proposed trafficking offences is comprehensive and will extend to all forms of trafficking and property obtained by crime, not just stolen autos.

To understand how the proposed offence of trafficking and property obtained by crime would help, consider what ultimately happens to personal property when it is stolen during a typical break and enter. Members in the House probably have constituents who can relate to the offence of break and enter. When thieves break into homes, the first thing they usually do with the goods is sell them to a fence, who buys them at a significant discount and then sells the stolen property at a profit, either to pawn shops, legitimate businesses or directly to customers who have ordered a specific item such as a high-end bicycle or electronics.

In the theft cycle it is the fence who provides the avenue to pursue the financial incentive that motivates the thief to commit the initial crime.

Another example of trafficking involves the stealing of vehicles to export or dismantle for parts. This is a lucrative business for organized crime and one that affects the legitimate retail industry. Stolen parts are easily fenced and often sold to unsuspecting customers or garages. It is far easier to traffic automotive parts than entire vehicles, especially when exporting by sea.

Selling automotive parts can also be more lucrative than selling an entire automobile because parts from cars older than five years old are often worth much more than the vehicle would be worth if it was sold as a whole.

Chop shops that disassemble stolen cars thrive in urban areas, especially those with easy access to ports. Canadian chop shops export automotive parts throughout the world.

Presently the general offence of possession of property obtained by crime in section 354 of our Criminal Code carries a maximum of 10 years imprisonment for property valued over $5,000. It is the principle Criminal Code offence that is used to address trafficking in property obtained by crime. There is no specific trafficking offence that adequately captures the full range of activities involved in trafficking, such as selling, giving, transferring, transporting, importing, exporting, sending or delivering stolen goods. The current theft and possession provisions also do not recognize organized crime involvement in these activities.

There is an organized nature to the activities involved in dealing in property obtained by crime. Take auto theft as an example. Chop shops often keep as little inventory as possible to avoid detection and to minimize the risk of multiple counts in the event of a raid. The offence of possession of property obtained by crime does not capture the fact that the chop shop operation processes far more motor vehicles than are normally seized during a raid. Additionally, the police often only charge the person who is in possession of the property at the time of the raid. In many cases none of the other players can be fully prosecuted during the existing theft or possession offences.

To more effectively address organized crime, including commercial auto theft, it is necessary to target all the middlemen, including the seller, the distributor, the person chopping the car, the transporter and the person arranging and organizing these transactions. This is also the case in regard to the trafficking of stolen property in general.

The proposed reforms in Bill C-26 will give law enforcement and prosecutors new tools to target those who participate in any part of the entire range of activities that are involved in the disposal of illegally obtained goods. To this end, it will make it an offence to traffic in or possess for the purpose of trafficking in property obtained by crime.

The proposed offences will be based on a wide definition of trafficking. It will include the selling, giving, transferring, transporting, importing, exporting, sending or delivering of goods or offering to do any of the above. As such this, new law will target all of the middlemen who move stolen property from the initial criminal act through to its sale to the ultimate consumer.

I should mention that there are victims at both ends of the spectrum, the individuals who have had their property stolen and the unsuspecting purchasers of goods obtained through the theft from innocent victims.

This government believes that serious crime should be appropriately punished. Accordingly the proposed trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking offences will have higher penalties than the existing possession offence in section 354 of the Criminal Code. If the value of the item trafficked exceeds $5,000, the maximum penalty will be 14 years imprisonment. If the value is less than $5,000, the matter will be a hybrid offence and will carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment on indictment or six months on summary conviction.

As noted, the movement of stolen property across Canada's international borders, especially automobiles, is a particular problem. However, at our ports now, Canada Border Services Agency officials cannot use their administrative powers under the Customs Act to stop suspected stolen vehicles from leaving our ports. In order for the CBSA to be able to bar the cross-border movement of property obtained by crime, goods must first be classified as prohibited goods for the purpose of importation or exportation.

No such classification is currently set out under federal law. If customs officials come across suspected stolen automobiles, they do not currently have the administrative authority to detain the shipment, or even to determine themselves whether the cars are stolen by accessing databases. They can, of course, refer clear cases of criminal activity to the police, but the application of administrative customs' powers would be far more effective in helping to interdict the export of stolen goods.

To address this concern, I am pleased to say that the bill proposes to supply the necessary express prohibition against the importation or exportation of property obtained by crime. This would trigger the administrative enforcement powers of the Canada Border Services Agency.

In the case of auto theft, for example, CBSA officers would be able to investigate, identify and detain imported vehicles or vehicles about to be exported, and to search databases to determine whether such vehicles were indeed stolen. These actions could ultimately produce evidence that would allow the police to conduct criminal investigations and lay criminal charges.

As I have mentioned, another one of the ways in which organized vehicle theft is facilitated involves disguising the identity of stolen vehicles. This process involves stripping the vehicle of all existing labels, plates and other markings bearing the true vehicle identification number, and then manufacturing replacement labels, plates and other markings bearing a false vehicle identification number obtained from imported or salvaged vehicles.

There is currently no offence in the Criminal Code that directly prohibits tampering with a vehicle identification number. Like trafficking, the current Criminal Code provision used to address VIN tampering is the general offence of possession of property obtained by crime.

The proposed amendment would make it an offence to wholly or partially alter, obliterate or remove a VIN on a motor vehicle. Under the new offence, anyone convicted of tampering with a vehicle identification number could face imprisonment for a term of up to five years on indictment, or punishment on summary conviction.

As of October 1, 2008, when Bill C-13 came into force, the general penalty for an offence punishable on summary conviction is now a fine of not more than $5,000, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. This would be an additional offence. A person could be charged with both the possession of property obtained by crime and the proposed VIN tampering offence, which could result in a longer sentence. In order to ensure that the proposed VIN tampering offence does not capture lawful behaviour such as automobile body repair, recycling and wrecking, the offence also includes an express exemption provision.

This government is serious about fighting crime, and this legislation is a strong measure to help law enforcement and prosecutors punish criminals who commit auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime.

I want to take this opportunity to thank our Minister of Justice, who has carried the ball on a number of significant measures that tackle violent crime, gang crime, organized crime and motor vehicle theft. As he is fond of saying, we are just getting started.

There is so much more we can do, and we are doing that. This bill is a big part of protecting all Canadians from the offence of motor vehicle theft.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

May 5th, 2009 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-26, which was formerly introduced as Bill C-53 in the last Parliament. That Parliament was stopped, so we did not get to consider that bill.

This is an act to amend the Criminal Code, specifically with respect to auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime. The theft of autos has become a very prolific business for organized crime in the country. I do not mean to pick on cities, but certainly with respect to Montreal and Winnipeg, we, at the justice committee, have heard time and again about the auto theft challenge for mayors.

Being a former mayor, I understand that complaints about the state of one's city come from the people to the mayors and councillors. It becomes a complaint that resonates through a city, and it can affect the image of a city. No city wants to be called the car theft capital of Canada or a province or a region.

Anything we can do through the Criminal Code, through provincial regulations, through public safety programs, public education programs is important. Initiatives as simple as telling people to lock their cars or not to park their cars in certain areas have started at the municipal level. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has addressed the issue that is so rampant in some of its member cities with respect to how to prevent auto theft, how to avoid the occasion of auto theft.

At the other end, organized crime has made it a business. It has become the Fortune 500, so to speak, of stealing autos in larger centres.

In the middle, all we can do in Parliament is review legislation with a view to making the situation more tolerable in our large cities, and indeed throughout the country, with respect to auto theft. That is one part of this bill.

I would like to say that the Conservatives are learning; they are getting a little better. The parliamentary secretary said such nice things about the Minister of Justice. I would not want that to go to their heads. The fact is that Bill C-53, which when introduced was virtually going to end auto theft according to the Conservatives, has now been changed in this bill, Bill C-26, and it is a separate offence in the Criminal Code in order to deal with auto theft. The Conservatives made it a separate offence, which is a good thing. We applaud that. We will be supporting it.

However, I think it is important for members of the House and the public to know that despite all the rhetoric that appears on CTV, CBC, and all the other networks across this country, from the spokespeople of the Conservative Party, we cannot do everything from this Parliament. It is not possible.

What is possible is to work well with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It is not to make enemies of mayors and councillors, which the government has done so often, but to work in harmony with all levels of government to make auto theft a priority--