House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Some hon. members: Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime), be read the third time and passed.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise once again to speak to Bill S-9, as it is now called. I have spoken on this bill under other numbers in the past.

I listened very intently to all of the speeches this morning. I want to begin by pointing out that auto theft is something that has been with us for a number of years. It goes back to the 1970s, but I do not think it became a public issue until sometime in the 1980s.

Essentially there was a long delay. I think governments of all political stripes were asleep at the switch for a considerable amount of time, when in fact they could have moved a little earlier than they did.

It is comforting to know that auto theft numbers are dropping because of efforts made by various governments, for example, the Government of Manitoba and the government in Ottawa as well. It was in 2003 that the federal government announced that, effective September 1, 2007, all new cars sold in Canada would have to have immobilizers.

So if we do the calculations and recognize that the average car is on the road for perhaps 15 years, it will be around 2021 before the problem actually solves itself. I do not think we should have to wait that long for the problem to solve itself.

The fact of the matter is that the federal government, as far back as Brian Mulroney but certainly under the 13 years of Jean Chrétien and the Liberals, in any one of those years could have acted and could have enforced the requirement for the mandatory installation of immobilizers, which they did effective September 1, 2007.

Just so members know how effective these immobilizers are and can be, for example, the Ford Motor Company in its 1996 version of the Ford Windstar, on sale in the fall of 1995, the higher end models of those vehicles had factory-installed immobilizers. That was sort of the beginning of immobilizers in mass-produced cars. There may have been some around previously in higher end vehicles.

Gradually over time more and more of these immobilizers became factory-installed. There was an after-market product available to be installed, but there were some problems with them. I checked several years later with the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation, perhaps as little as two or three years ago, and was told that no vehicle with a factory-installed immobilizer had been successfully stolen.

Now, they are damaged because the thieves break into the vehicles and, when they cannot steal the car, of course there is still resulting damage to the vehicle. At least they are not running away with the vehicle, taking a potentially lethal object out on the road and perhaps running somebody down or being involved in accidents with the vehicle.

We knew early on that this was a very solid solution to the problem. The question is, Why did the government not act? When I checked back a few years ago with the Insurance Bureau of Canada data and information, I was not surprised but I did read that there was information available that immobilizers could have been factory-installed in vehicles for as little as $30, I believe I read, but it could be a little more than that. It is not a significant expense.

The United States government could have enforced these and made them mandatory. The Canadian government could have done this.

When police started to report rising theft rates of automobiles, and statistics started to show that people were being injured and killed because of auto theft, it would have been prudent for the government to take this issue more seriously and attempt to nip the problem in the bud by forcing immobilizers to be installed at the factories. But that was not done.

In the 1990s, the Conservative government of Gary Filmon in Manitoba attempted to tackle the problem by several means. It did not get to the point of dealing with immobilizers. It was looking at things that, in the end, proved not to work. It planned to sue the offenders and hold off giving them their driver's licences.

Bear in mind that, at least in Manitoba, authorities had determined that level four offenders for car theft numbered around 50 people. In other words, 50 people were stealing most of the cars. The theory was that if we concentrated on those 50 people the numbers would be reduced.

Most of those 50 people were very young. Some were as young as 13 or 14 years old. Trying to sue them would be an impossibility. Holding their driver's licences back did not mean much to them. Making the parents responsible was another attempt by the Filmon government. It passed legislation holding the parents responsible for these kids.

In the end, I do not think the government was able to gain any significant restitution or result from these efforts. Nevertheless, it was an attempt to respond to the problem. The government of Manitoba was still not there in forming a gang suppression unit, immobilizers, or any of the best practices that seem to have helped to solve the problem.

When the NDP government of Gary Doer came into power in 1999, it had a lot of issues to deal with. It was not overly quick to deal with this one. I believe it was 2005 when the provincial government announced an immobilizer incentive program.

I remember that the government was planning to theft-proof 90% of Winnepeg vehicles within five years. The government was going to guarantee a price of $280, taxes included, for the purchase and installation of immobilizers that met Canadian standards. The customer had to pay $140, half the installation cost, to the insurance corporation, which was a government-owned corporation in Manitoba. The government provided interest-free loans and was going to give an insurance reduction of $40 annually.

Guess what? Almost nobody took up the program. After a while, six months to a year, we found that people were not participating.

Finally, the government decided it had had enough and mandated the installation of the immobilizers free of cost, which was $200. The government made it a requirement that immobilizers had to be installed before vehicle registration and insurance could be renewed, thereby ensuring that it was going to be done. Also, there was a reduction in insurance.

One would think that people would be lined up by the hundreds to get this done, given that this program was free and there was going to be an insurance reduction. But the reality is that people complained. People did not want to get their free immobilizers installed in their vehicles. They felt it was their right to drive around without the fear of their car being stolen.

There is this strange train of thought out there. Many people retain a more or less 1950s mentality, and think they should be able to leave their house doors and car doors unlocked and that no one should steal anything. These people are not dealing with reality. The majority of people realize that they are required to take some precautions and lock their vehicles and homes.

Thieves target certain models of cars. Since September 1, 2007, all new vehicles have factory-installed immobilizers. That means that during the last three years of vehicle production all cars had immobilizers installed at the factory.

Manitoba has taken vehicles methodically, group by group, and worked its way down from the highest-theft vehicles to the lowest. Over time, there is a smaller pool of vehicles available for theft. That has been reflected in lower automobile theft rates. Manitoba had an immediate reduction in the first year. The province had a long way to go, because it was the auto theft capital of Canada by quite a long shot. In fact, Manitoba was almost double the national average in auto theft.

The province had a lot of work to do, but it had a good base to start from. Auto theft was cut down substantially. Once, a couple of years ago, no thefts occurred during a 24-hour period. One day in a month a couple of years ago, Winnipeg actually had zero car thefts. Manitoba has started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This problem should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. When governments see a problem, they should be proactive, not reactive. The problem should be studied early on. We should have started studying this problem in the eighties to determine how best to solve it. Putting an immobilizer in a vehicle is a simple solution.

The other part of the approach was to set up a gang suppression unit with the police department, and that has worked very well. The police know who these level four offenders are. They are roughly 50 people. The police targeted these 50 people, and most of them are now in jail, where they are unable to steal cars.

A number of others who are out on bail wear a monitoring device obtained from Nova Scotia, where it evidently works well. There have been incidents of car thieves cutting off their ankle bracelets and escaping, but by and large it has been a decent program. Manitoba set up a pilot project for a year, and I believe it is still going on. So it appears that the pilot worked out okay and is achieving some results, in spite of the odd hiccup along the way.

Manitoba also looked at the bait car program, which is an interesting program that works in some parts of the United States. It also works well in B.C.

However, Manitoba, for one reason or another, decided not to proceed with the bait car program. It could be because we have very cold temperatures for a large part of the year. Vancouver has warmer temperatures to work with. However, to each his own. Evidently, the bait car program worked reasonably well in Vancouver, and that is fine if it is getting results.

The Manitoba government then decided to chase this tough on crime government for some action on crime. To that end, Premier Doer led a delegation to Ottawa on September 13, 2007, and he included in his delegation the attorney general, the opposition Conservative leader, the leader of the Liberal Party in Manitoba, and the mayors of Winnipeg and Brandon. He also included a number of other people.

The province's approach to reducing auto theft and youth crime focuses on four broad areas. One is prevention, with programs like lighthouses, friendship centres, and education pilot projects as well as initiatives like vehicle immobilizers. Another is intervention, with the highly successful turnabout program and intense supervision for repeat offenders. A third is suppression, with more targeted funding for police officers, corrections, and crown attorneys dealing with auto theft. The final area is consequences, which includes lifetime suspensions of driver's licences for repeat offenders.

In addition, the premier cited the success of provincial initiatives dealing with drinking and driving, which helped reduce related fatalities and injuries by 25% from 1999 to 2003. There were also changes that Manitoba was asking the federal government to make.

No other province, to my knowledge, was doing this at that time. The NDP government of Manitoba was actually getting tough on crime. It was coming to Ottawa to talk to the pretend tough on crime government, demanding that the federal government provide stronger penalties for youth involved in serious crimes, especially auto theft. The province wanted to allow first degree murder charges for gang-related homicides. It wanted to eliminate two-for-one remand credits, which the government, to its credit, is doing now. It wanted to classify auto theft as an indictable violent offence, and it wanted to make shooting at buildings and drive-by shootings indictable offences as well. In addition, Manitoba requested the federal government to examine the issue of drivers who refuse to take a breathalyzer test, with a view to strengthening existing laws.

I ask the member for Sudbury, my colleague, does that sound like a party and a government that is soft on crime? The Manitoba NDP government was asking for things that the tough on crime government here in Ottawa cannot seem to get done at all. It has accomplished only two of the five requests from the provincial government. It is clear that the government that is tough on crime is the NDP government of Manitoba. It is tough on crime, but it is also smart on crime, because it relies on best practices. We do not run off for whatever is politically popular at the time. We proceed with what works, what gets results.

I have explained to the member about immobilizers, how we were able to pilot that program and get drastic results in auto theft reduction. I also explained the gang-suppression unit, which isolated and identified those 50 people.

I have not started even one word of the notes I brought with me today. I am extremely disappointed about that, but I am sure that there will be questions.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to expand on my colleague's thoughts. He said that he had a lot of notes and perhaps he would like to continue that theme.

However, I do have a question. This is the third rendition of this particular type of legislation. It has been a long time coming. The member alluded to the fact that some of the measures are soft on crime and questioned whether they are tough on crime. It seems to me that this tough on crime, if we want to call it that, has been a long delayed process between the earlier versions of this bill, Bill C-53, as well as Bill C-26.

One of the things I do like is that auto theft is now a separate offence, which is certainly a step in the right direction, and many stakeholders have said as much. Insurance bureaus believe in that, as was expected, and I believe the people in his province of Manitoba are also supporters of this bill. In Winnipeg, where this is a big issue, the mayor may have had some comments about this.

Now that we are into third reading, perhaps the member would like to comment on whether he was satisfied with the process by which it went through committee and on whether he would like to see this improved upon.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a minority government situation and if it were not for the Prime Minister proroguing the House on two occasions and calling an election, this legislation probably would have been passed long ago.

If the Manitoba government had waited for the federal government to act, auto theft rates would be even higher than they are right now. I do not see where the government has provided a very strong initiative or played a strong role in this whole debate about auto theft.

When the member talks about penalties, I think the penalties will be more important for the criminal elements. I did not get to that in my speech, but a large component of this bill involves professional auto thieves who are stealing for profit. If we take a city like Toronto or Montreal, the police know the cars that are stolen and never get recovered. Those cars are torn part and the parts are sold and shipped out of the country.

However, in Winnipeg, it is a little different. Some of that is happening but most of the thefts are for joyriding and for the commission of crimes. The reason we know that is because 80% of stolen cars in Manitoba are recovered within 24 or 48 hours. I believe in Montreal only about 20% of stolen cars are recovered.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we all know, joyriding has been going on since the invention of the automobile, but it has taken an extremely long time to pass this bill. It first started out as Bill C-53, then it became Bill C-26 and now it is Bill S-9, a Senate bill.

I have two questions for the hon. member. First, why is it taking so long to pass this bill into law?Second, why does the crime prevention government seem to think that putting everybody in prison is the answer? I would like the hon. member to compare, if possible, incarceration to putting immobilizers in all vehicles.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it has taken so long because the government, in the last few years, has gone through one needless election and two instances of proroguing the House which were both unnecessary. That is why these bills are having to be reintroduced and debated over and over.

I do want to observe that in Manitoba, now that we have the auto theft rates down, we are now finding that the thieves who are out there are, in some cases, commandeering taxis to get from point A to point B. We are in the process of solving one problem but we may now be creating another problem that needs a solution.

In fact, the Manitoba Taxicab Board is currently dealing with that whole issue of how it can install GPS systems and shields in the taxis, and deal with issues where people at 10 in the morning, and these are not only males but females too, are flagging down a taxi and commandeering it for a ride across the city. It is an issue that must be dealt with on a constant basis. We cannot just ignore it. However, we need to do what works and what is effective, as opposed to what gets us a bit of positive publicity at the end of the day.

As I indicated before, the government finally implemented the requirement that immobilizers had to be installed as of September 1, 2007 in all new vehicles in Manitoba. In fact, that was an edict of the former Liberal government from 2003. We can see how long it took. The Liberals announced it in 2003 and it took until 2007 to require the automobile manufacturers to install them in all the new vehicles. We missed four years there. This initiative could have been taken by the Chrétien government the day it came to office. It could have been taken by the Mulroney government before that. The Insurance Bureau of Canada indicated that it was only a $30 or $40 expense to install these in the factory.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a few remarks about three aspects of the bill because I want to put on the record the fact that the House has considered and was aware of these things when we passed the bill.

I first want to say that my party and I are supporting the bill. It is quite true that the provisions of the bill have been in the legislative hopper for a number of years now, it being recognized that automobile theft was a significant economic crime here in Canada, but realizing, of course, that throughout the Criminal Code offence of theft and the offence of joyriding were already on the books and being used to enforce the problems of car theft.

However, some car theft rings now have turned this into a major international business, victimizing people in Canada and around the world. Therefore, it was necessary to take a broader and more comprehensive look at the issue of auto theft and this bill is the result.

One of the things I want to point out is the question of a shift of the burden of proof in relation to this offence. Most of us will understand that in the Criminal Code the burden is on the state to prove that the individual has committed a criminal offence and we do not criminalize somebody by saying, “Hey, Mr. Citizen, you prove you are not guilty”.

Clause 4 of the bill states that:

Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse...removes or obliterates a vehicle identification number....

That is saying that if people were to remove a vehicle identification number, it is a criminal offence unless they have a lawful excuse. What is a lawful excuse? I would have thought that people could simply say that they owned the automobile and that they were entitled to do with it whatever they would like to do in terms of how it is described, identified, painted or whatever.

I cannot recall another instance where in setting up a criminal offence we have shifted the burden to citizens to provide a lawful excuse before they are convicted. This might have read a lot better if it had said that it is an offence to obliterate or remove a vehicle identification number with fraudulent intent. That would have been more consistent with the way we currently operate under the Criminal Code.

I am not at all sure that shifting the burden is fair or constitutional, but I did want the House to know that the House and the committee had an opportunity to discuss this. It is not clear that we have an answer, but it has been noted and it will be for others to determine the appropriateness of that innovation where we place upon the person charged with the offence the burden of showing a lawful excuse for something that would otherwise be pretty normal.

The second thing concerns the definition of vehicle identification numbers. It states that it is:

...any number or other mark placed on a motor vehicle for the purpose of distinguishing it from other similar motor vehicles.

My first reading of that led me to think that included a licence plate. On reading it and discussing it with other colleagues, they felt differently. I am not fully convinced but I did want the House to know that a “number or other mark placed on a motor vehicle for the purpose of distinguishing it from other similar motor vehicles”, in the views of members but not me, does not include a licence plate.

So I will leave that resolved at least by the majority here in favour of the licence plate not being included in that definition.

Third, on the issue of mandatory minimum, the commercial for this offence says there is a mandatory minimum contained in the bill; and yes, there is. However, I want to point out that it is not in every third offence that a mandatory minimum will apply. That is because it is only where the third or subsequent offence is proceeded with by indictment that it involves a mandatory minimum sentence.

So there could be a third, fourth or fifth circumstance where, in the discretion of the crown attorney, the prosecutor, the Crown will not proceed by indictment, it will proceed by way of summary conviction, and therefore, by the wording of these new provisions, a mandatory minimum will not apply.

The last thing I want to point out is that there have been some references in the bill to the new automobile trafficking, export-import provisions of this bill. These trafficking provisions are actually quite important because they fill a void in the ability of the state to intercept, monitor, surveil and deal with the issue of exporting stolen cars, or even importing stolen cars. It is a lot tougher to import them.

We have referred to our enforcement mechanism as being the Canada Border Services Agency, the CBSA. I have to say that it is pretty easy to pass a new statute and say that we have an enforcement agency. In fact, the CBSA is not set up or resourced to be a border police agency. Maybe they should; maybe they should not.

It is a border service agency and its three functions are to do immigration processing and verification, food inspection, and tax collection, including dealing with smuggling. That is what CBSA was set up to deal with.

Yet we are passing a bill that seems to be suggesting that the CBSA will now have what would otherwise be police enforcement objectives and goals to accomplish. At the justice committee, we did not look at resourcing or the mandate of CBSA. This is part of a bigger issue involving CBSA. That agency is going to need some scrutiny and some help from the policy-makers to make sure it is properly resourced for all of the functions we expect it to do.

In this case I have a feeling that we are passing a law and saying to CBSA, “Over to you”, when CBSA does not do police work. They do CBSA work in the three categories I mentioned. I should add that they also process goods leaving Canada where there are restrictions placed on the processing, which is why these trafficking provisions in the bill will enable CBSA to play a role in interdicting the export of stolen Canadian automobiles.

The last thing I want to say is that this bill passes another amendment to the Criminal Code. There must be half dozen to a dozen of them in the pipeline. Most of us around this House should by now recognize that the biggest bang for our buck, the most effective tool in dealing with crime, is investigation and enforcement.

We cannot just get rid of a crime problem by passing a law. Even if we pass the law, while it manifests denunciation of these anti-social acts, we only get the guy after the offence has been committed, and then there is the arrest, the investigation, the prosecution, the sentencing, et cetera.

We as a society have to get out in front of these things, and that is why investigation and enforcement is so important. It is the key element of all the many elements involved in crime prevention and reduction of crime.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I congratulate my colleague on a fine speech. I have just a quick point.

One of the issues here is to create this auto theft as a separate element to our Criminal Code, and I want to get his comments on that.

Yesterday we had a private member's bill by the hon. member for Red Deer about impersonating a police officer, which I think is a great bill and will be voting for it.

In this particular case, in his experience, could he comment on that? Has he seen that sort of practice before? Does he think this is fundamentally a good idea, to separate the idea of auto theft from it?

Could he also talk about how this bill has been so delayed? We have had Bill C-53 and Bill C-26, time and time again, delay after delay, and we finally get around to doing something, which everybody in this House agrees with.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the last question first. The delay described involves a delay over quite a few years, over quite a few Parliaments and sessions. The reason the government of the day, whether it was Liberal or Conservative, did not actually punch through on this quickly and immediately was that there were other Criminal Code offences being used for this purpose.

We could have gotten by with the existing Criminal Code provisions, but with something as thick as the Criminal Code, we can always find ways to add a section or amend a section. This will go on forever. I have to say that these new additions to the code will assist in police enforcement of the code. Will it produce reductions in crime? Only time will tell.

The earlier question that was asked was on this concept of continuing to legislate new criminal laws. I get the sense that some of us will, from time to time, present bills amending the Criminal Code for, let us just say, political purposes, as if we have all invented a new way to deal with the problems of crime. This will also go on for many years. I have probably done it myself once or twice.

Every new idea is welcome and I am happy to participate in those debates.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.