Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to address this committee.
I am a director for the North American Export Committee, which is made up of various persons from law enforcement and the private sector in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The mission of the North American Export Committee is to bring together those entities that share a common goal of combatting the exportation of stolen vehicles.
In addition to being a director with the North American Export Committee, I'm an investigator with the Insurance Bureau of Canada in the auto theft services and I'm also seconded to the provincial auto theft team in Toronto, working under Scott Mills. The team is headed up by the Ontario Provincial Police. I am also a retired member of the RCMP and served for 31 years.
As part of my work investigating exported stolen vehicles, I have spent a great deal of time overseas in the repatriation of stolen vehicles. As a matter of fact, in June of this year I presented to the FBI training seminar in Accra, Ghana, about North American stolen vehicles being exported to the west coast of Africa.
The North American Export Committee fully supports Bill C-343 and asks that all members of Parliament approve it in its current form.
More and more, auto theft in Canada is being committed by organized, for-profit crime rings. This is evidenced, in part, by the significant reduction in the recovery of stolen vehicles. The criminals involved in these rings are dangerous repeat offenders. Bill C-343 addresses the increased severity of the problem by making auto theft a separate offence under the Criminal Code, rather than treating it as a simple property crime.
Also, Bill C-343 proposes mandatory minimum sentences, but does so only for third and subsequent offences. The export committee views this as a very reasonable use of mandatory minimum sentencing, as it targets only repeat offenders.
Auto theft is a very expensive crime. As we heard, it's costing Canadians $1.2 billion a year, and in 2006 there were 159,000 vehicles stolen in Canada. Even more troubling, though, is the human cost of auto theft. A study by the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft found that between 1999 and 2001, 81 Canadians were killed and 127 were seriously injured because of auto theft. There is no question that auto theft is a threat to the safety and security of all Canadians.
I would like to share with you a few cases that I am involved in that demonstrate the scope and magnitude of organized crime in auto theft in Canada.
First is Project Ghana, part two. ln January and February of this year, the Ontario provincial auto theft team recovered 50 high-end stolen vehicles that were destined for West Africa. These vehicles were valued at more than $2 million. While those cars were recovered before they left Canada, many others still made it out. Approximately 65 vehicles were found to be stolen from Canada and illegally shipped to Ghana. Most of the vehicles shipped to Ghana had originally been shipped from the ports of Halifax and Montreal.
Ghana and Nigeria in western Africa are major importers of Canadian stolen vehicles, second only to the United States. Organized West African car theft rings are increasing in number, and so is the volume of vehicles stolen by them. It is important to note that the Canada Border Services Agency claims they lack the jurisdiction to identify and seize stolen vehicles at the ports, so they are not doing this job of seizing vehicles at the export levels in Canada.
Next is Project X5. ln August of this year, police arrested 19 individuals involved in operating five auto theft rings in various parts of Ontario. They recovered 14 high-end stolen vehicles worth $1.5 million, as well as $55,000 in cash and more than $800,000 in drugs. The suspects also had false Ontario driver's licences, false Canadian citizenship cards, and a host of bogus social insurance numbers. The cars and the SUVs in this case were destined for West Africa and the Middle East.
Next is Project Eastbound, which was an interprovincial auto theft ring. In October 2006 law enforcement from Ontario arrested and charged 14 individuals relating to the fraudulent registration and sale of stolen vehicles to unsuspecting consumers in Quebec and New Brunswick.
This was a 14-month investigation targeting a group that was involved in the cloning and revinning of stolen vehicles.
In July 2006, members of the New Brunswick RCMP, in conjunction with the Ontario provincial auto theft team, located and seized 24 more stolen vehicles that had been identified as cloned or with false vehicle identification numbers.
In August 2006, 33 search warrants were executed in Quebec by the Ontario provincial auto theft team, with the assistance of members of the Sûreté du Québec, the Montreal Police Service, and various police agencies in the province of Quebec. At this time, a total of 26 vehicles identified as cloned or with false vehicle identification numbers were located and seized. The seized vehicles were all reported stolen between 2005 and 2006, with a value of over $6 million.
In Toronto we had a major crime task force labelled “Project Globe”. This was started in 2005 by the Toronto Police Service. Initially they had identified 75 vehicles that were unlawfully obtained by a Middle Eastern crime group. They had been stolen from various financial institutions through the use of deceptive financing. Once obtained, these vehicles were placed into containers and shipped to the Middle East, namely to Dubai, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Some of these vehicles were later reported stolen here in Canada, and there was an investigation; this is called “theft by conversion”. The total value of these vehicles was over $5 million.
The problem is escalating, and we are currently seeking approximately 100 high-end vehicles that have been shipped to the Middle East from Canada within the last six to eight months.
Organizations involved are known to be involved in other criminal activity, including terrorism, drug trafficking, robbery, carjacking, identity theft and fraud, and other criminal offences.
In July 2007 we were notified by the Hong Kong police that a number of luxury stolen vehicles from Canada, including a Ferrari, four Hummers, a BMW, and Cadillac Escalades, worth over $500,000, had been seized and recovered. They arrested two Indian males carrying Indian passports in Hong Kong, and they had connections leading back to individuals in Canada.
In August 2006 I was contacted by Interpol from Lyon, France, who advised that Cambodian customs had just seized 12 luxury vehicles that had all been stolen from Canada, most of which came from the province of Quebec. These vehicles were packed in shipping containers labelled to contain aluminum doors and windows, along with clothing. These vehicles were seized at a port in Cambodia.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that various investigations have strongly suggested that auto theft is a source of funds for terrorist groups. This has also been supported by informants and was noted in an RCMP criminal intelligence report from November 2001. The same RCMP report went on to say that high-ranking Hezbollah leaders may be driving around Lebanon in cars stolen in Canada by Middle Eastern organized crime groups.
Thieves are not constrained by political borders. Auto theft has proven to be a very lucrative business operating all across this country, the United States, and overseas as well.
The North American Export Committee is certain that Bill C-343 will give law enforcement the tools it needs to properly fight the battle against organized auto theft. As a director with the North American Export Committee, I urge you all to support Bill C-343 in its current form and send it to the House of Commons for third reading and approval.
Thank you for your time, and I'm looking forward to answering any of your questions.