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.