Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As president and chief executive officer of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, it is my great opportunity to be able to address this committee. With me today is Rick Dubin, our vice-president for investigations, who leads our industry's fight against auto theft here in Canada.
I'm mindful of the time limits we have, so I will get right to the point.
Insurance Bureau of Canada is the national trade association representing Canada's home, car and business insurers. Quite simply, we applaud Bill C-343 , are fully supportive of it, and ask that all members of Parliament approve it in its current form to make it the law of the land.
Mr. Chairman, I could end there, but given that you've so graciously allowed us ten minutes, I'll take a bit more time to tell you why this bill is as good as I think it is.
Home, car, and business insurers often serve the role in our society of being the canary in the coal mine, and by this I mean that we are on the front lines of dealing with the social and economic costs related to disturbing developments long before most other parties take notice, whether it be the rise of more frequent severe weather claims as a result of climate changes, the increasing cost of litigation that makes business and voluntary groups vulnerable to vexatious lawsuits, or the incidence of staged automobile accidents by those who prefer to abuse the insurance system. Insurers have already been grappling with the damages caused by these costly events for some period of time, and so it is with auto theft.
For a number of years we have seen not only the costs associated with auto theft rise, but the increasing implication of organized criminal activity in the stealing of automobiles across this country. Because the current penalties associated with it are so lenient and the profits are so great, auto theft has become a major focus of criminal organizations in Canada. Organized crime steals vehicles, chops them up to sell parts of specious quality, uses the vehicle identification number to change the identity of another stolen car then sold to an unsuspecting consumer, and, on top of that, exports thousands of vehicles through Canada's ports each year to Africa, eastern Europe, and the Middle East, where they can fetch a much higher price than they can at home.
In 2006, a total of 159,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada. The cost to auto insurance policyholders was approximately $600 million, as the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle reminded you this morning. Honest Canadian drivers paid on average about $40 of their auto insurance premium last year to finance the costs incurred by car thieves.
A further $600 million was spent in total by police, the health care system, and our courts to deal with the problems associated with auto theft. Ironically, so many of our resources are being spent precisely because car thieves repeatedly come in and out of the justice system. Under the current Criminal Code provisions, jail time is almost never handed out to a car thief. Indeed, our courts are in the practice of applying a catch-and-release approach to repeat offenders, treating auto theft as a largely victimless transgression.
Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you that auto theft is far from a victimless transgression. Last year we witnessed the deaths of two teenagers in a taxi, struck by a stolen vehicle in Ontario, and just recently a York Regional Police officer was killed trying to stop the theft of an airbag from another vehicle. In 2004 it was the death of Theresa McEvoy in Nova Scotia at the hands of a repeat auto theft offender that prompted citizen outrage. Indeed, an earlier study by the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft concluded that 81 people were killed in Canada due to auto theft between 1999 and 2001 alone.
Premier Doer of Manitoba certainly understood the pressing need to address auto theft when he led a delegation to Ottawa earlier this year to talk about criminal justice issues. He even brought with him a victim of auto theft--a gentleman who had been hit by a stolen vehicle--in order to underline his plea for action.
With the involvement of organized crime so pervasive in the business of auto theft today and the profits so lucrative, you will perhaps not be surprised to hear that Canadian and American intelligence authorities suspect that auto theft is a possible means by which terrorist groups are financing themselves. Indeed, Canada is an attractive place in this regard. Our per capita auto theft rate eclipsed that of the United States in the mid-1990s and now stands at 26% higher than our neighbours to the south.
Mr. Chairman, you can understand why more and more citizens and governments in this country are asking for action to deal with auto theft. Fortunately, your committee has Bill C-343 before it. This bill addresses the auto theft reoffender involved in organized crime, which engages in this dangerous activity for profit. It recognizes auto theft as a separate and serious offence under the Criminal Code, a vital step in recognizing the often violent nature of this crime. While it proposes mandatory minimum sentences, it does so only for the third offence.
I have to tell you, as an aside, that I was talking to someone over the weekend and I explained what our proposition was in support of C-343. They said, “You mean you're only going to propose minimum mandatory sentences after the third offence?” I said, “Yes, that's how reasonable the bill is.”
Indeed, this is a reasonable step to deal with the reality of repeat offenders.
Mr. Chairman, Canadians have the right to feel safe in their own communities. On that we can all agree. The growth of auto theft, however, and its increasingly violent nature, are compromising their safety. The growing presence of organized crime in auto theft is an even more troubling development and further threatens the safety and security of Canadians.
Canadians count on their parliamentarians to take action on issues that matter to them and to stay on top of changes in the world that have an impact on their lives. When money laundering by organized crime became a problem, Parliament acted. When issues surrounding privacy and identity theft became a concern for Canadians, parliamentarians took action again.
Now that the nature of auto theft has changed and is threatening the safety and security of Canadians, parliamentarians, I'm proud to say, are again taking action, and that action is before you in the form of Bill C-343.
On behalf of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, our member companies, and the millions of policyholders we serve, I urge you to vote in favour of this bill and to send it to the House of Commons for its third reading and approval.
Mr. Dubin and I would be happy to take your questions after this presentation.