Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to express my support for Bill C-343, introduced by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle.
The government agrees that there is a pressing need to reduce the high rate of vehicles stolen every day in this country. This bill, by creating a distinct offence for motor vehicle theft, aims to do just that.
It is true that there are many offences in the Criminal Code that already address motor vehicle theft, such as theft, fraud, joyriding, possession of property obtained by crime, and flight from a peace officer. However, this bill will create a distinct offence, with penalties in the form of mandatory minimum sentences.
The sentence for a first offence will be a minimum fine of $1,000 or a minimum term of imprisonment of three months, or both. A second offence would result in a mandatory minimum fine of $5,000 or a minimum prison term of six months, or both. A third and subsequent offence would result in a minimum fine of $10,000 and a minimum term of imprisonment of two years, up to a maximum term of 10 years.
I am aware that not all members will agree on the penalty that a distinct Criminal Code offence for motor vehicle theft should have. However, I am certain that most members can agree on the utility of creating such an offence. Accordingly, the bill should be sent to the appropriate committee for review on its merits, including the proposed penalties.
I would like to note that the idea of a distinct offence for motor vehicle theft was supported by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre on March 20, 2007, when he introduced Motion No. 295 calling for, among other things, an amendment to the Criminal Code to include auto theft as a distinct, stand-alone offence. Clearly this is an issue that cuts across party lines and is one that most members of the House can support.
Winnipeg holds the dubious distinction of being the car theft capital of Canada. For example, in Winnipeg, the auto theft rate in 2005 was 1,712 thefts per 100,000 population, whereas in Toronto there were 306 thefts reported per 100,000 population.
It is clear that the rate of auto theft in Canada is simply unacceptable. In 2001, the per capita rate of auto theft was 26% higher in Canada than it was in the United States. In the 1999 international crime victimization survey, Canada ranked fifth highest for a risk of car theft, with 1.6% of the population being a victim of car theft. Overall since 2001, the auto theft rate has remained roughly the same.
While in recent years auto theft rates have held steady at unacceptably high rates, the number of stolen vehicles that are recovered has been on the decline. It used to be that over 90% of stolen cars were recovered. Today, that rate has fallen to 70% nationwide, with recovery rates varying by city. In large cities in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, organized crime groups are believed to be more active in thefts, thanks in part to readily accessible ports that allow cars to be shipped out of the country quickly and with relative ease.
Out of the approximately 170,000 automobiles stolen every year, police and insurance experts estimate that about 20,000 of these cars are shipped abroad to destinations such as Eastern Europe, West Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Stealing and reselling a vehicle is an extremely lucrative way for organized criminals to make money.
Let us take, for example, the scenario when a new luxury SUV is stolen. It is valued at $65,000 on the lot. It would cost an organized criminal around $1,000 to pay a youth to steal the car and approximately $1,500 to have the car “re-VINned” if it is being sold in Canada, or if it is exported to another jurisdiction, around $3,000 for shipping and handling. The automobile would likely be sold for around $45,000, resulting in a profit of nearly $40,000 per car.
Clearly the rewards for motor vehicle theft are enormous. There is a great incentive for young future career criminals to get involved in motor vehicle theft rings.
The involvement of youth in motor vehicle theft is a serious problem. Almost 40% of those charged with stealing motor vehicles are between the ages of 12 and 17 years. While vehicles are often stolen by youth for joyriding, it is also frequently the case that youth are enticed by organized criminals to steal an automobile and deliver it to a predetermined location all for a set fee. This involvement in organized crime unfortunately often has the effect of cementing criminal behaviour in young offenders. This influence on Canada's at risk youth is another tragic aspect of motor vehicle theft.
Not all of the news is bad though. Advances in technology, such as alarm systems, steering wheel locks, and GPS tracking units are making it harder to steal motor vehicles. However, as technology advances so do the skills that professional car thieves use to defeat these technologies.
So while the smash and grab method employed by most joy riders will no longer work on newer cars outfitted with sophisticated anti-theft devices, the new career car thief will ultimately find ways to outfox these devices.
It has already been mentioned that auto theft costs Canadians more than a billion dollars a year in insurance costs, medical costs, legal costs, police costs, and costs to the victims, such as insurance deductibles.
However, what about the costs that are impossible to calculate? I am referring to the human toll that motor vehicle theft has on our society. All too often when a car is stolen, the offender will drive erratically or at a high speed and not always because of police pursuit. Each year motor vehicle theft results in over 30 deaths and over 50 people being seriously injured a year in Canada.
Recently, a 10 year old girl in Regina was killed after a driver of a stolen pickup truck smashed into the minivan she was travelling in while he was attempting to escape the police.
As a society we do not tolerate impaired driving and our laws should treat this type of dangerous driving with the same seriousness. It is time that we reaffirm our commitment to making Canada's roads and highways safer.
I am proud that the government is taking a number of measures to tackle crime in Canada. We have introduced a number of pieces of legislation that deal with serious criminal offences.
Bill C-10 was introduced to ensure that criminals who use guns in the commission of an offence or if an offence is gang related receive a very serious sentence with escalating mandatory minimum penalties for first and subsequent offences.
As well, the government also introduced Bill C-35 which seeks to protect the public from gun crime by amending the bail provisions in the Criminal Code. The proposed amendments would reverse the onus to the accused to prove why he or she should not be denied bail when the accused is charged with a serious offence committed with a firearm or charged with smuggling or trafficking firearms.
The government is serious about making our roads and highways safer. We introduced Bill C-19 which created five new offences to combat street racing. It also gets these dangerous drivers off the road by providing mandatory minimum periods of driving prohibition. I am pleased that this bill received royal assent on December 14, 2006.
Another step the government has taken to make our roads and highways safe is with Bill C-32 which aims to significantly increase fines and minimum jail terms for driving while impaired. This bill tackles driving while under the influence of both alcohol and drugs. Although it is already a crime to drive while impaired by drugs, currently police officers have to rely on symptoms of impairment to driving behaviour for an impaired driving investigation. There is no authority in the Criminal Code to demand physical sobriety tests or bodily fluid samples.
Bill C-32 would authorize the police to demand roadside testing and a drug recognition expert evaluation at the police station, and if this evaluation shows impairment, the police will be authorized to demand a sample of bodily fluid to identify that the impairment was caused by an illegal drug. Refusal to comply with these demands would be a criminal offence punishable by the same penalties for refusing to submit to an alcohol breath test.
The government is also committed to crime prevention. The 2007 budget allocates $64 million over two years to establish a national anti-drug strategy to crack down on gangs, grow ops and meth labs, prevent elicit drug use and illicit drug dependency. As well, the government has set aside $14 million over two years to combat the criminal use of firearms.
The hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has brought forward a very important issue for the House to consider. I urge all hon. members to vote to send this bill to committee for further review.