An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Andrew Scheer  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of May 2, 2007
(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 provide for minimum and maximum punishments for persons who are convicted of motor vehicle theft a first, second or subsequent time.

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.

Votes

May 2, 2007 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

May 2nd, 2007 / 6 p.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division at second reading of Bill C-343, under private members' business.

The House resumed from April 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2007 / 2 p.m.
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Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to speak in support of Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft), and I thank the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle for bringing this important bill forward.

It is clear from reading Bill C-343 that this proposed legislation is directed at combating the high rate of auto theft in Canada. Reducing the rate of auto theft would make Canadian streets safer and would target a major source of profits for criminal organizations.

The bill would amend the Criminal Code to create a distinct offence with enhanced penalties for the theft of a motor vehicle. The bill provides that the sentence for a first offence would be a minimum punishment of a fine of $1,000 or a minimum prison term 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 two years imprisonment with a maximum of ten years.

The auto theft rate in Canada must be reduced. Statistics Canada reports that more than 160,000 cars were stolen in 2005, which is up from 130,000 in 2003. The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates that motor vehicle theft costs Canadians over $1 billion a year in insurance costs, health care, court, policing and out of pocket expenses such as deductibles.

While the financial cost of auto theft is a serious concern, an even greater concern is the dangerous driving that often results from the commission of the offence of stealing a car. Dangerous driving can and does result in serious injury and death to innocent Canadians. Such was the case of the tragic death of Theresa McEvoy, a Nova Scotian educator and mother of three children. She was killed on October 14, 2004 when her car was struck by a youth driving a stolen vehicle. Just recently in Regina a young girl was killed when the minivan in which she was driving was struck by a stolen car whose driver was evading the police.

In my own province of Manitoba, the city of Winnipeg has become the auto theft capital of Canada. Manitoba's auto theft rate jumped over 10% in the last two years, despite a $22 million program to put in ignition immobilizers in as many vehicles as possible. In 2006, Manitoba recorded 9,449 vehicle thefts, up from 8,957 in 2005, but still down from the record 10,638 in 2004, one of the worst years ever for car theft, which placed Manitoba on top among provinces for auto theft.

This epidemic often leads to the destruction of vehicles and serious injuries to law-abiding motorists and pedestrians when the stolen vehicles are used as weapons or taken for dangerous joyrides.

Just last month a group of kids in Winnipeg stole vehicles and then targeted joggers, clipping them with their car mirrors. It is these kind of criminals that we need to get off our streets.

There is also a trend in Canada where auto theft is shifting away from random acts of crime toward organized criminal activity. Experts link the recovery rate of stolen cars to the degree of organized crime involvement. The recovery rate for stolen cars is on the decline. For example, in Toronto, over 90% of stolen cars used to be found and returned. Now that rate is less than 70%. In Quebec, less than 50% of stolen cars are recovered.

Out of close to the 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.

Vehicle theft rings are insidious organizations that the government is determined to fight. They tend to be complex organizations made up of brokers who hire middlemen who, in turn, hire thieves to steal the cars. Typically, the thieves are young people who are instructed to steal the vehicle and deliver it to a set location. At this point, the vehicle is normally chopped and dismantled for parts or re-VINed, where the vehicle identification number is altered, or the car is exported.

Another serious issue is the role of young offenders in motor vehicle theft. Almost 40% of those charged for stealing a motor vehicle are between the ages of 12 and 17. Oftentimes cars are stolen for joyriding but, increasingly, organized crime is recruiting youth to their operations. Youths are required to steal the cars and deliver them to a middleman, while the criminals at the upper levels of the organization are protected from the risk of getting caught by the law.

Canadians know that our government is committed to getting tough on crime. We have introduced a number of pieces of legislation that aim to crack down on serious criminal offences.

Bill C-10 was introduced to increase the mandatory minimum penalty for serious offences involving firearms for gang related offences. For offences committed with a restricted or prohibited firearm, such as a handgun, there are mandatory minimum penalties of five years on a first offence and seven years for a second or subsequent offence.

The government has proven its commitment to combat dangerous driving through Bill C-19, which created five new offences to combat street racing and also provided for mandatory minimum periods of driving prohibitions. I am pleased that the House supported the bill and, indeed, that it received royal assent on December 14, 2006.

Another step that the government has taken to make our roads and highways safer is with Bill C-32. In 2003, alcohol and/or drugs were involved in 1,257 fatalities, 47,181 injuries and 161,299 property-damage-only crashes involving 245,174 vehicles. The total financial and social costs of these losses are estimated to be as high as $10.95 billion.

The bill would significantly increase fines and minimum jail terms for driving while impaired. It also would make it easier to investigate and prosecute impaired driving cases. The bill also deals with those who drive while on drugs, authorizing police to demand roadside physical sobriety tests and bodily substance samples at the police station.

The government has shown its commitment to crime prevention in the 2007 budget in which $64 million over two years were set aside to establish a new national anti-drug strategy to crack down on gangs, grow ops and crystal meth labs, prevent illicit drug use and treat illicit drug dependency. In addition, $14 million over two years have been set aside to combat the criminal use of firearms.

Under the current law, a person who steals a motor vehicle is normally charged with theft over $5,000. Bill C-343 would create a separate, distinct offence for motor vehicle theft.

Another compelling reason for the creation of a distinct offence is that it would make the criminal justice system more efficient. Currently, a prosecutor is often unaware of whether an offender is a career car thief. Normally the offender is simply charged with theft over $5,000 and there is no indication on the record as to the type of property that was stolen. The creation of a distinct offence would help to give the courts a clearer picture of the nature of the offender for bail hearings or when it comes time to handing down a sentence.

I support Bill C-343 and urge hon. members to send the bill to committee so it can be reviewed in greater detail.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2007 / 1:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate on Bill C-343. This bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code to increase minimum penalties for motor vehicle theft.

A similar bill, Bill C-293, was defeated at second reading during the last Parliament. At the time, the Bloc Québécois voted against it, and today, we will vote against it again. The only difference between the two bills is that Bill C-343 establishes a two-year minimum sentence for a third car theft offence instead of a one-year sentence.

Currently, the Criminal Code treats car theft like any other theft, that is, as a crime against property punishable by different penalties according to the value of the stolen goods. When an individual steals a motor vehicle whose value exceeds $5,000, the offence is punishable by a maximum prison term of 10 years. If the value of the vehicle is less than $5,000, the offence is punishable by up to two years in prison. As we are all aware, most of the time, shorter sentences are given. I would note that a vehicle worth less than $5,000 is becoming a rare thing these days. At any rate, thieves generally steal vehicles that they think have a certain cash value.

The bill before us seeks to amend the Criminal Code to impose minimum prison sentences for motor vehicle theft. It sets out different sentences for first offences and repeat offences. As I said, we are against this bill. We believe its purpose is not really to solve this problem but to create the illusion of doing so. I mentioned earlier that we voted against a nearly identical bill on September 28, 2005.

Minimum penalties are at the heart of this bill. We know that, in the vast majority of cases, the concept of minimum penalties is an ineffective deterrent to crime. In our society, most people readily obey the law. Any reasonable person obeys the law and they do so not because they worry about the repercussions, but because they are reasonable and they simply respect society. Those who do not obey the law do not have that good sense. In the majority of cases, in almost all cases, these people think they will not be caught. So the severity of the punishment is not much of a deterrent to criminals. When the legislator determines the length of a maximum term of imprisonment, they are far more concerned with establishing the relative seriousness of a crime in relation to others than with the deterrent it would provide.

So, to think that because a thief is familiar with the Criminal Code and knows that there is a minimum penalty, he will be deterred from stealing a car is wrong in most cases.

I would like to provide some international statistics that prove that imprisonment is not an effective measure for crime prevention. Canada imprisons 101 persons out of every 100,000 inhabitants. In the European Community, it is 87 out of every 100,000. In France, the number is 77. I do not think anyone believes that countries in the European Community or that France are less safe than our country. In Japan, one of the countries which has the lowest number of cars stolen, 50 out of every 100,000 inhabitants are imprisoned. In fact, the places in the western world where crime rates are the highest include the United States, where 689 out of every 100,000 inhabitants are imprisoned. The United States even surpasses Russia, where that number is 673.

Contrary to the Conservatives' worn-out rhetoric about law and order and getting tough on crime, the numbers show that this does not work. Putting people in jail does not prevent crime. We put people in jail to punish them once they have already committed crimes. We have to get to the root of the problem and work on preventing crime.

The members of the Bloc Québécois do not like the idea of minimum penalties because we do not want judges' hands to be tied unnecessarily. In some cases, this can produce undesirable results because judges may be inclined to acquit a person rather than impose a penalty they consider unreasonable. If the application of this legislation results in people who would otherwise have been given less severe penalties being acquitted because judges cannot bring themselves to apply such draconian penalties, we will be no further ahead. How paradoxical that this bill should have come from the Conservative Party, because in the past, the Conservatives criticized political activism on the part of judges and accused them of making or amending legislation. They said this was the prerogative of elected representatives, that it was up to the House to vote on legislation, and that the judges had no business getting involved.

It is rather ironic to see the Conservatives denounce a so-called intrusion by judges in our work while, at the same time, they are proposing a bill that interferes in the work of judges. Personally, I believe it would be best to maintain the traditional division of power. We are here, as legislators, to enact legislation and determine the relative seriousness of offences. We must leave it up to the judges to impose the most appropriate penalties after taking into account any aggravating or mitigating factors that may come up in a given case. As legislators, we will never be able to incorporate that into a bill.

It is even more ironic that this bill would lower the maximum penalty for a first offence. As I was saying earlier, the current sentence is 10 years, but that would be decreased to five years in the case of a first offence. If, as legislators, we pass this legislation, it could be construed as belittling the seriousness of the offence, which seems rather illogical. That was probably not the intention of the sponsor of the bill, but there is a clear incongruity here.

Another problem arises from the fact that the $10,000 fine provided for in the bill would not have the same impact on everyone, depending on the offender's financial situation. Motor vehicle theft is often the work of organized groups. These groups are often very wealthy, and a $10,000 fine would not be a much of a problem, given the profits earned from the sale of stolen cars. However, for certain isolated young people who spontaneously commit a one-time indiscretion, this would be a very serious penalty. For these reasons, it seems to me that this bill completely misses the mark. The Conservative government and the Conservatives would be much wiser to leave the firearms registry alone, which would help prevent crime.

As we all know, throughout Quebec and Canada, crime prevention programs and subsidies are being cut by the government. That is where we must act, to prevent crime before it happens.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2007 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft). It was introduced by the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, who is also deputy chair of the committee of the whole.

The bill is meant to address the serious issue of automobile theft. While I appreciate my colleague's efforts in this area, I regret to say that the bill is a very imperfect way of trying to solve this problem. I want to raise a number of concerns that I think, should the bill reach committee, need to be considered as well.

As things stand now, the Criminal Code does have specific provisions to deal with the theft of motor vehicles. These offences would be covered by the general offence of theft as set out in section 322 of the Criminal Code. Punishments are laid out in section 334.

If the value of the stolen goods exceeds $5,000, the theft is an indictable offence punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison. If the value of the goods is $5,000 or less, the offence may be prosecuted by way of a summary conviction or an indictable offence. In the first case, it is punishable with a maximum jail term of six months or a fine of $2,000 or both. In the latter case, the maximum penalty is two years of incarceration. In addition, if the circumstances surrounding the theft result in criminal negligence causing death, those convicted are subject to a penalty of life in prison, the most serious sentence in the Criminal Code.

There are also a series of offences in the Criminal Code that deal with related car theft offences. For instance, some offenders may at times decide to flee from law enforcement personnel in stolen vehicles, the member just gave an example, and drive perhaps recklessly to do so. If this occurs and there are no injuries as a result, the offender may be charged with the offence of flight from a peace officer and this offence carries a maximum term of five years of imprisonment. Should flight lead to death, as was the case just given, then the offender is criminally liable to a term of life imprisonment for this terrible crime.

Obviously, society does not accept this type of behaviour and available sentences for this crime reflect that strong message. Also related is Bill C-19 which was passed by Parliament some months ago. It received royal assent on December 14. It dealt with the issue of street racing, one with which our previous Liberal government had been dealing. In any case, Bill C-19 defined street racing and created a set of five specific offences to deal with this issue.

I will recognize that the theft of automobiles may sometimes be undertaken systematically by organized criminal organizations and I might say that in my time as solicitor general, I saw that issue up pretty close.

In this regard the Criminal Code holds a number of additional and useful tools that can apply when auto theft is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization. These additional tools provide for the possibility of consecutive sentencing and reduced parole eligibility.

My point in referring to various sections of the Criminal Code is to show all Canadians that there are already existing and efficient mechanisms to deal with the issue of motor vehicle theft.

Let us now consider the effects of Bill C-343, were it to receive royal asset one day. The bill would add a new section to the Criminal Code, section 334.

On a general level, the bill affects the current motor vehicle theft regime in the following ways.

One, the bill brings in mandatory minimum sentences, be they fines or incarceration.

Two, the bill sets out what are referred to as escalator mandatory minimum penalties which establish increasingly harsher penalties for people who commit the crime time and time again.

Three, more specifically, an offender who was found guilty a third time of motor vehicle theft would automatically be incarcerated for a time period of 2 to 10 years.

Four, the bill erases the distinction given to the value of a vehicle that is stolen as an aggravating factor that would be taken into consideration in sentencing determination upon conviction.

Let us consider the specific sentencing provisions outlined in Bill C-343. Let us first examine the punishments established for summary convictions.

For a first offence prosecuted summarily, the minimum mandatory penalty is three months of incarceration and/or a fine of $1,000. The maximum penalty is a two year prison sentence. Should a second offence later take place and also be prosecuted summarily, the punishment is that of a six month jail term and/or a $5,000 fine. The maximum is also a two year sentence. As I stated previously, the value of the vehicle is of no consequence in these sentencing arrangements.

Should the criminal act be prosecuted by means of indictable offence, the minimum penalty upon conviction would be a three month jail term and/or a $1,000 fine. The maximum sentence would be a five year stay in prison. For a second offence prosecuted by way of an indictment, the penalty would be a six month incarceration and/or a $5,000 fine. The maximum sentence is a five year jail term. Here too, the value of the stolen vehicle has no effect on the sentence.

Finally, in the case of a third offence, the individual may only be prosecuted via indictment and cannot be prosecuted through a summary conviction. Its penalty is a minimum of two years in jail along with a $10,000 fine. Its maximum sentence is 10 years of jail time.

We do have to consider the issue of mandatory minimum penalties and their use.

The minority Conservative government seems to believe that mandatory minimum sentences and mandatory minimum penalties are the ultimate panacea to all crime committed in Canada. However, when they are used as a sweeping blunt instrument like in Bill C-343, they could lead to an immense increase in prison populations and a series of unintended consequences. For instance, the presence of mandatory minimum sentences often affect how a Crown attorney lays charges and conducts plea bargains. Has this been considered by the mover of the bill? I suspect not. It would no doubt have dire consequences for Canada's justice system.

As we on this side of the House know and appreciate, Canada uses mandatory minimum sentences with restraint, preferring an individualized sentencing approach that gives the court the discretion to fashion a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the conduct of the offender, considering also any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

Given this, the broad and generalized use of mandatory minimum sentences in Bill C-343 would be contrary to the established Canadian sentencing principles such as proportionality and restraint in their use. The flexible approach, I believe, delivers quality justice and has the support of many Canadians. We should not disregard these facts.

It would seem that the bill's mover believes that any potential thief would be deterred from a criminal act when he or she realizes that a second or third offence, in this case of auto theft, would yield a certain prescribed penalty. That is not necessarily the case. I realize I am not--

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

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.

The House resumed from February 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2007 / 7:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take part in the debate on Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft).

I can say right off the bat that the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill. I will use the few minutes I have to try to explain the position of the Bloc.

Right now, in the Criminal Code, car theft is treated as any other theft, that is as a crime against property punishable by different penalties according to the value of the stolen goods. When an individual steal a motor vehicle whose value exceeds $5,000, the offence is punishable by a maximum prison term of 10 years. If the value of the vehicle is less than $5,000, the offence is punishable by a maximum of two years of imprisonment. Light sentences are usually imposed on car thieves and repeat offender rate is high. That is the reality.

Some people would have us believe that minimum sentences and minimum fines could solve the problem of theft. My colleagues from the Conservative Party are mistaken. The repressive system they have in the United States does not reduce the number of offences that are committed. Quite the contrary, the crime rate is higher in the U.S. Reality is very quickly catching up with them.

We need to have faith. We did not create our justice system. What we are trying to do here in this House is make the system better. It was our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who created the system.

The justice system they created called for punishment that fit the crime. The justice system has a certain balance. Our parents and grandparents and their parents before them chose the very values and foundation of our society. It is a societal choice that was left to us by our ancestors.

Today, because the government is not happy with how the courts make certain decisions—often because they have been highly publicized—it wants to reform the entire legal system. That is what the Conservative Party wants to do: replace judges with minimum sentences. This is just the opposite of what our ancestors wanted.

In Quebec, the people who came before us did not bequeath this type of legal system to us. They left us a system based on equity and the judiciary. We trust in our judges to impose punishments that fit the crime.

The bill does not address certain dichotomies. As I explained earlier, the maximum punishment for thefts of vehicles worth $5,000 or more is 10 years in prison. The bill seeks to reduce the maximum prison term to five years. It sets minimum sentences and reduces maximum sentences.

It is important to understand that the society that was bequeathed to us wants balance, with a justice system based on the judiciary. We have to leave it up to the judges to hand down decisions. There are precedents. There are people who came before us. A whole framework has been put in place. The members of the judiciary do their job very well. We can discuss and argue about court decisions, but every case is unique. It is impossible to make all criminals fit the same mould.

The bill imposes minimum fines of $1,000 for a first offence and $5,000 for a second offence. Usually, people who steal cars do it because they do not have enough money to buy one. Even if we include minimum fines, car thieves who do not have the means to buy a car will not have the means to pay the minimum fine. They will face community work, fine option programs and prison sentences because they do not want to pay. We will have to put them in prison. The prison population will increase.

The law and order policy the Conservative Party is trying to sell us on makes no sense. It makes no sense when you think of the huge amounts of money that will be spent on the penal system. That is what will really happen if the Conservative Party brings this in.

What I just mentioned is only one example. A simplistic bill has been tabled to say that too many motor vehicles have been stolen. Regardless of the punishment associated with auto theft, if there are cars to be stolen and if people can make money selling car parts, there will always be criminals willing to do it. Mandatory sentences will not put the brakes on this system.

We have to be able to supervise people. Rather than focussing on punitive measures, we need a rehabilitation system. We need tools to take care of young people because these are juvenile delinquents who hate society for all kinds of reasons and who will do anything to stand out. They often get involved in bad stuff like auto theft.

We have to try to identify these people and invest in rehabilitation, in people who work with juvenile delinquents, in street workers. We have to try to stop young people from getting involved in criminal activities. That will definitely not happen by increasing sentences.

The Bloc Québécois has never changed its position on this issue. Every time the government tries to impose minimum sentences, it interferes with the judiciary and judges' decisions.

It comes as no surprise that the Conservative Party, given what it is doing with the judiciary, given that it sees that these minimum sentencing bills—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2007 / 7:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on behalf of my constituents in Palliser to speak to Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft), which will toughen penalties for car theft.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to talk about my colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle, who of course is an excellent Acting Speaker. This is his chance to rise on behalf of his constituents on an issue of great importance in his riding and to deal with a subject of great importance to him. For the member for Windsor—Tecumseh to impugn his future fairness in decisions is way over the top. He is certainly very capable of balancing his role as an elected member of Parliament representing his constituents and his duties sitting in the chair.

Canadians have a right to feel safe in their homes and on their streets. That is why our government has taken tough action since being elected more than a year ago to crack down on dangerous offenders and to make our communities safer.

However, Canadians also have a right to be protected from car theft. Bill C-343 does that by toughening penalties for criminals who steal cars.

The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has brought forward an important issue worthy of debate as to whether to create a new distinct offence for motor vehicle theft. Under the current law, a person who steals a motor vehicle is normally charged with theft over $5,000.

After they gutted Bill C-9, we know that the Liberals and the NDP think house arrest should be a sentencing option available to judges. Conservative members strongly disagree.

Bill C-343 would create a separate distinct offence with enhanced penalties for motor vehicle theft. Bill C-343 would amend the Criminal Code so that everyone who steals a car will be subject to jail time or a fine or both. These punishments increase if the person steals subsequent cars.

These reforms are essential. Stealing a car is a serious crime. It is critical that this bill be referred to the appropriate committee so these proposed punishments can be debated. Certainly not all members in the chamber will agree on the specifics of the punishments, but they should at least support the bill on its merits of getting tough on car theft, get it to the appropriate committee and have that discussion there. My colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle has said that he is certainly open to amendments.

Bill C-343 would help deter car thieves because it promises swift and certain punishment. The importance of that cannot be overstated. Of course we need better social programs and we need to work with the youth who are most likely to commit these types of crime, but as part of that strategy, someone who steps outside the law needs to be punished.

This bill would also help those who prosecute car thefts by creating a distinct offence for motor vehicle theft. 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 and there is no indication on the record as to the type of property that was stolen. The result is that the prosecutor and the judge do not know if they are dealing with a prolific car thief or someone involved in organized crime. The creation of a distinct offence would help to give the courts a clearer picture of the nature of the offender for bail hearings or sentencing.

It is clear from looking at the statistics that we need to reduce auto theft in Canada. In 2003 there were over 130,000 automobiles stolen in Canada. That is roughly one car stolen every three minutes. Car theft costs Canadian insurers over $600 million a year or $43 a year for every insurance policy. It is further estimated that other costs such as health care, courts, policing and out of pocket costs such as deductibles also cost Canadians another $400 million per year.

The real crime that occurs when a car is stolen goes far beyond the loss of property and the financial cost to replace it. Having a car stolen is a serious breach of personal security and a violation of one's right to own personal property. This is not a victimless crime. For those Canadians who rely on cars to get to work or school or drive their children to hockey practice or swimming lessons, having a car stolen can be disruptive and devastating. We as a society cannot stand idly by while this happens.

There is also the threat to public security and safety when a car is stolen. Very often auto theft leads to dangerous driving which can result in serious injury and death to police officers, the accused or innocent bystanders.

A study carried out by the national committee to reduce auto theft reported that between 1999 and 2001, 81 people were killed as a result of auto theft and another 127 people were seriously injured.

We also know that auto theft is not just kids taking cars out for a joy ride. It is also part of the way that gangs and organized crime profiteer while terrorizing ordinary citizens. Because of this, the recovery rate for stolen cars is on the decline. We also know that gangs target young people to commit car thefts.

In 2002, 40% of persons charged criminally for stealing a motor vehicle were between the ages of 12 and 17. Organized vehicle thefts rely on the legal system to be lenient with young offenders and when apprehended, young offenders are unable to identify other members or senior members of the theft ring.

Motor vehicle theft is an ideal recruitment tool for organized criminal groups. Research shows that youth, whose first offence is motor vehicle theft, are most at risk of continuing along the career criminal path. We need to take better action to prevent this and that is exactly what Bill C-343 will do.

Our government is committed to getting tough on crime. In fact, we have introduced a number of pieces of legislation designed to do just that.

Bill C-10 was introduced to ensure that criminals who use guns in the commission of an offence receive a very serious sentence with escalating mandatory minimum penalties.

Bill C-19 introduced by our government created five new offences to combat street racing and also provided for mandatory minimum periods of driving prohibitions. I am proud to say that this bill is now law.

Despite claims from the opposition parties that they will act and get tough on crime, we have not seen evidence of this in the House. The Liberals have declared that they are fighting Bill C-10. The Liberals and the NDP worked together to gut Bill C-9, an important piece of government legislation designed to eliminate house arrests for arsonists, car thieves, and those who commit break and enter.

The opposition parties are soft on crime. They do not like to hear it, but it is the truth.

In addition to introducing legislation our Conservative government has committed significant financial resources to crime prevention. Budget 2006 allocated $20 million over two years for communities to help prevent youth crime with a focus on guns, gangs and drugs. That is our government's record on getting tough on crime.

We have taken real action and our tough on crime agenda has the support of Canadians and certainly the people in Regina and Moose Jaw, and throughout the great riding of Palliser. Part of the reason that there is such widespread support for getting tough on crime in Saskatchewan is that we have a provincial NDP government that has one of the worse records in the country when it comes to crime. It made a promise in 1999 to hire 200 new police officers. It never did; it broke its promise.

Saskatchewan's overall per capita crime rate is higher than Ontario's. Saskatchewan has the highest homicide rate and the highest rate of violent offences of any province per capita. It also has the highest rate of break and enter in Canada. Regina, which is part of my riding of Palliser, is the second most crime ridden city in Canada and Regina has the highest number of car thefts per capita in Canada.

I guess the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle is going to bring this forward when he has a chance to present a private member's bill. That is shocking and totally unacceptable that we have the highest number of car thefts in Canada.

While the recently introduced Regina auto theft strategy has helped to decrease the rates of auto theft in the city, the numbers are still too high and more decisive action must be taken.

That is what this bill does. That is why I am proud to second the bill put forward by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. Toughening penalties for car theft is the right thing to do. It is another step that our government is taking to get tough on crime. That is what the residents of Palliser and Canadians across the country have asked for.

We all have a right to feel safe. Enough is enough. It is time to take action to stop people from stealing automobiles.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2007 / 7 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-343 is a private member's bill purported to deal with the issue of auto theft. What it does, as is so common with the response from the Conservative Party and the government, is introduce a simplistic analysis, although I know well-intentioned, to a reasonably complex problem.

Before I proceed, I want to raise an issue that has bothered me since I saw this bill on the order paper. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, who is the author of the bill, is also one of the Acting Speakers in this House. I was concerned to see a bill that I would say has, and we have seen that today, a significant degree of controversy behind it in terms of the use of mandatory minimum penalties. We also know, from the speeches that have been given so far today, that both the Liberal member and the member from the Bloc have expressed grave concern about their ability to support and do not intend to support the bill.

I had some of my staff do some research on this and it is my opinion that any member of the House who is also a Deputy Speaker or Acting Speaker should not bring forth before the House a private member's bill or a motion as part of the rotation that we all are entitled to unless it is non-controversial, it would draw or at least be expected to draw support from all the other parties and would be almost non-partisan.

My concern was further highlighted this evening when I heard the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle in his speech to the House extol the virtues of his government. He indicated quite clearly that this private member's bill was completely in keeping with the government's agenda on crime. Clearly, both in terms of the substance of the bill and then the comments this evening, they show no bipartisan approach, just the opposite.

As I said, I had my staff do some extensive research on this. The protocols are that the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are not to introduce into the House, although they would be, as part of the rotation, entitled to do so, a private member's bill, but that the Acting Speakers can. I was not able to ascertain any protocol, either here or in other houses of similar historical background, as to whether that extended to controversial bills, which is whether Acting Speakers have the right to bring in what are clearly partisan and controversial bills. Nothing in the research that I did told me anything about that.

It would behoove this House to start a precedent in that regard, in that when the Acting Speakers are appointed by the Prime Minister that they would be directed at that time to develop this protocol, that if they are going to bring forward a private member's bill or a private member's motion, that it be one that would be fully expected to draw significant all party support of the House.

I will conclude these comments on this subject with this. The fear, of course, for us, and I say this having practised in the courts all my professional career, is that we always are concerned about appearing in the courtrooms in front of judges who are unbiased and who do not come with any conflict. We are always sensitive to judges who may have expressed a bias in one form or another and then refused to recuse themselves when challenged.

I think it is a similar type of protocol that we need to develop in sensitivity, perhaps, to bias and the appearance of bias and conflict here, because the Acting Speaker, when he or she is in the chair, has the responsibility to keep order in this House and to treat all members equitably, fairly and equally.

The apprehension that as individual members of Parliament we would have is that if we had occasion to speak against a private member's bill that had been brought forward by that same Acting Speaker, as I am about to do, it would be to expect to question and to be apprehensive as to whether I would henceforth be treated fairly by the Acting Speaker.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2007 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

moved that Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise today to introduce this bill and speak to it.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

June 22nd, 2006 / 10:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft).

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise today. This is the first private member's bill I have introduced in my career as a member of Parliament.

The bill is in response to a growing concern in Regina and throughout my riding of Regina—Qu'Appelle with the alarming rate of car theft. Regina at various times has been the car theft capital of Canada. We have experienced various rashes of criminal gangs stealing cars for either joyriding or to strip them down and sell them. Unfortunately, our legal system does not have a lot of deterrents for those criminals.

The bill would establish a three strike system. On the person's third conviction or any subsequent conviction thereafter, the case will be prosecuted by indictment and there will be minimum prison sentences. What it means is that no longer will criminals be able to steal several cars and not ever face any prison time. The bill establishes a clear signal that on the third offence the person will go to jail.

I appreciate the support of my colleagues on this bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)