Thank you, Madam Speaker.
I was just saying that this man, Jacques Lamontagne, is a seasoned professional and he said the following:
There are more legal consequences to crossing the border with four kilos of cocaine than with stolen vehicles. Both crimes pay big dividends [to criminal groups and] the criminal underworld. Young thugs run less of a risk if they steal a Jeep Wrangler than if they sell narcotics on the street....There's not much of a deterrent if people know that they'll probably be let off for a first [offence] or, at worst, serve four to six months for car theft compared to a sentence lasting years for selling illicit substances.
I will return to Mr. Lamontagne's use of the term “young thugs”. The phenomenon is fairly widespread. Crime gangs often use young people who often have no criminal record and are sometimes minors. They are asked to steal cars or transport illegal guns because the punishment for first offences is rarely harsh. It is a kind of strategy that these people use. I am not saying that the thieves should not go to prison, but I think that we need to focus primarily on going after these criminal gangs and their leaders.
Where the Conservative Party goes wrong is in assuming that this entire crisis was created by the Prime Minister himself and by lax policies, like Bill C-5, as the Conservatives are claiming.
The motion specifically calls on the government to "immediately reverse changes the Liberal government made in their soft on crime Bill C-5 that allows for car stealing criminals to be on house arrest instead of jail.” Reading the motion, it is clear that the Conservatives are trying to link the increase in auto theft since 2015 to Bill C-5. As my colleague mentioned earlier, Bill C-5 received royal assent at the very end of 2022. I have no idea how the Conservatives came to the conclusion that Bill C-5 is to blame, since auto theft has been increasing since 2015. I do not think there is one simple explanation. The Conservatives are trying to find simple solutions to complicated problems. They say that this Prime Minister has been in office since 2015, so he is responsible for all of society's problems. Again, I am not defending the Prime Minister, but at some point, members have to put forward serious arguments.
Contrary to Conservative claims, Bill C‑5 did not do away with minimum sentences for auto theft. Subsection 333.1(1) of the Criminal Code provides for a minimum sentence of six months in the case of a third offence. The Conservatives may well say that is not enough, but there is one major problem with their assertion. Are they aware that subsection 333.1(1) was added to the Criminal Code by the Conservatives themselves in 2010 via Bill S‑9? If they now find that that is not enough, they have only themselves to blame.
In this motion, the Conservatives also say that Bill C‑5 allowed for conditional sentences for auto theft. These are also known as house arrest, or what the Conservative leader likes to call Netflix sentences. It is true that the Liberals repealed subparagraph 742.1(f)(vii), which prevented conditional sentencing for auto theft. However, the other paragraphs in section 742.1 set out conditions for conditional sentencing: The court must be convinced that there is no risk to society, and the term of imprisonment must be less than two years. The judge may also impose any conditions they deem necessary. In other words, there is nothing preventing a judge from saying no to a conditional sentence. A judge should be able to exercise judgment. The Conservatives are assuming judges are not capable of doing that.
A conditional sentence cannot be imposed for a sentence of two years or more, so it is not an option in the most serious cases, because the maximum sentence is actually 10 years.
The Conservatives are also forgetting that there is always a bail hearing to determine whether an offender can be released while awaiting trial. Unless there are aggravating factors, it is rare for a person to remain in jail while awaiting trial for auto theft. In other words, the Conservatives' claim that criminals are being caught and and then immediately released because of Bill C‑5 is unfounded, because that was happening long before Bill C‑5 came into force.
Once again, it is up to the judge to decide whether an offender should be kept in jail while awaiting trial and what conditions the offender must meet, especially since, as I mentioned earlier, criminals often use minors because they are handed lesser sentences.
I agree with the Conservatives about one thing in every case. Part of the problem is that Ottawa has done absolutely nothing to control auto theft. Under the current conditions, even life in prison will not act as a deterrent, because the federal government is doing absolutely nothing to monitor the port of Montreal, where criminals can easily ship stolen vehicles overseas. I will come back to that later.
However, I want to close by talking about the second part of the Conservative motion, which seeks to “strengthen Criminal Code provisions to ensure repeat car stealing criminals remain in jail”.
Once again, it was the Conservatives who created a specific offence for auto theft, with their Bill S‑9 and section 333.1 in 2010. If they believe that sentences are not long enough, they have only themselves to blame.
The Conservative leader proposed that a third offence be punishable by three years in prison instead of the six months set out in the Criminal Code. The current six-month sentence in the Criminal Code was a Conservative initiative. What the Conservative Party is proposing today are changes to measures it put in place when it was in power.
The Conservative leader is also talking about eliminating house arrest, or conditional sentences, for thieves. As I said, a sentence of two years or more already cannot be served at home. That said, Bill C-5 did allow judges to impose house arrest if they deemed it appropriate, but not automatically, as the Conservatives like to claim. However, the bill did not make any changes to release pending trial.
Let us make one thing clear: The Bloc Québécois is entirely open to revising the Criminal Code to deal with auto theft. That is what the Montreal police department wants as well. This time, they believe that new sections should be added concerning the export of stolen vehicles and that there should be stricter penalties for ring leaders. I think that might be a good solution. I imagine that will come out in the discussions at the national summit on Thursday.
The last proposal in the Conservative motion concerns the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, and the export of stolen vehicles. It asks that the CBSA be provided with the resources it needs to prevent auto theft in Canada. I could not agree more with this proposal.
I spoke about this a few months ago. I think that the CBSA, which is under federal jurisdiction, needs to do more. Some people say that it does not have the resources it needs to do more right now, that it is short on labour and funds. They need to figure out what the problem is. Clearly, the CBSA is not doing enough right now.
I spoke about auto theft and how thieves steal vehicles; that is the first step. The second step is exporting the vehicles. Like auto theft, shipping the vehicles out of the country is practically risk free. Clearly, for criminal gangs, it means higher costs and more organization, but it seems to be going well when you look at what is happening at the port of Montreal. That is because it is a sieve.
Around 700,000 containers leave the port of Montreal every year. According to the Customs and Immigration Union, only 1% of all containers are searched. According to the Montreal Port Authority, or MPA, the law does not allow employees or the port authority to open a container unless a person's life is in danger or there is a serious environmental hazard. According to the port's director of communications, when the containers arrive at the port, it is already too late to do anything. The containers remain sealed unless law enforcement intervenes for a specific reason. They need a warrant to open them, so they need reasonable grounds.
Police forces have access to the port and can intervene. However, they do not patrol there because the MPA already has its own security guards. The MPA does not intervene because the police can do it and the police do not intervene because the MPA has its own security guards, so that is just great.
As for customs, the CBSA is responsible for controlling goods for export. CBSA agents can open containers. However, in October, we learned from the Journal de Montréal that there are only five border agents to inspect the containers in Montreal, which makes the task practically impossible. Yes, the CBSA is responsible for overseeing exports, but its mandate is more focused on imports. It also needs to look at what is coming into the country. That is understandable. Do changes need to be made to the CBSA's mandate to ensure that exports are better monitored? I think that is something we need to think about.
Another reason why it is easy to export stolen cars is that anyone can rent a container by filling out a simple online declaration form for the shipping company. We could do it without any problem, just as a small business could. Anyone can change their form up to 48 hours after shipping, so that obviously makes it possible for thieves to cover their tracks once the goods are already on their way to Europe, the Middle East or Africa.
Finally, criminals use numbered companies to fill out those forms. They often use the same or similar serial numbers to defraud the CBSA on their export declaration form.
It should be easy for the Canada Border Services Agency to spot, easy to see that a vehicle serial number comes up repeatedly. At least, Le Journal de Montréal was able to do just that and identify the issue using a simple Excel document. However, for some unknown reason, it seems too difficult for the CBSA.
As early as the fall of 2015, an Auditor General's report stated that export control at the border is ineffective and that only one in five high-risk containers was inspected. Now, we are being told that there are almost no inspections and that, even when there is a concern that there may be high-risk contents, only one container in five is searched and checked. It is easy to understand why there are a huge number of stolen vehicles passing through the port of Montreal without anyone noticing.
I asked the customs union to come testify before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C‑21. The union told us that a lot of illegal or stolen material is shipped in containers that travel in and out of Canada not only by water, but also by train, and that the agency performs almost no inspections. At the time, the government dismissed the criticism out of hand, saying that it did not consider this information important.
What Le Journal de Montréal's investigative bureau reported, in a nutshell, is that only five officers at the Port of Montreal conduct searches. They rely on a temperamental cargo scanner that is constantly breaking down. The agency refuses to second an investigator to a special stolen vehicle export squad. The same serial numbers come up again and again. Critical information is not being forwarded to port services or police in a timely manner, and the agency apparently omits to report high-risk containers to its partners.
We see that many organizations are involved, but, despite that, nothing is getting done.
I would be very pleased to answer my colleagues' questions and I hope the summit being held next week will contribute to finding solutions to address this scourge.