Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-250 which would amend part 9 of the criminal code dealing with offences against property. The proposal calls for the creation of a new offence: theft of a motor vehicle with a value of more than $5,000. It then provides for a minimum sentence of four years if convicted a second time for theft of a vehicle over $5,000.
I assume that the purpose of the legislation is to combat the very serious problem of car theft. Unfortunately the bill ignores two basic realities. First, all theft over $5,000 is already an indictable offence under section 322 and 334 of the criminal code. It is already effectively dealt with under the existing sentencing provisions of the code. More important, the legislation would do little to combat the problem of auto theft, a problem that the government is fighting on many fronts in partnership with Canadians from every province and territory.
The proposed amendment to the criminal code sweeps aside the fundamental principles of sentencing currently in place and establishes a very specific regime for an individual facing a second or subsequent auto theft. The theory is that if we catch all the repeat offenders and throw away the key for four years the war against auto theft would be won. I recognize that some convicted criminals reoffend, but imposing a mandatory four year sentence for a second offence does not make sense in light of all that we know about this offence.
Here is what we do know. The vast majority of car thefts are joyriders or individuals who use the stolen vehicle in the commission of another offence. We know this because according to the Insurance Council of Canada the rate of recovery of stolen vehicles is very high, about 70% to 80% in recent years. Further, young offenders commit almost half the reported auto thefts. How does the proposal address these aspects of the problem? We know that hard time in a penitentiary itself does little to rehabilitate offenders, so how do we address this serious problem?
That brings me to the second reality the proposed legislation fails to recognize. While auto theft has been and continues to be a serious problem, it is actively and aggressively being addressed. The problem is being attacked not only by the sanctions available in the criminal code but by every level of government, policing agency, private company, association and by individual Canadians. The existing sanctions within the criminal code and case law effectively achieve the objectives of criminal sentencing for both first time and repeat offenders.
Auto theft falls under the class of offences in the criminal code relating to thefts of property. Section 334 of the criminal code provides that the theft of property exceeding $5,000 is an indictable offence for which the individual is liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years. This provision reflects parliament's recognition that theft over $5,000 is a serious offence and it includes auto theft.
Further, joyriding is a specific offence under the criminal code to take into account the very unique nature of this crime. In addition, if an offender has prior convictions the sentencing judge, under current procedures, is bound to treat this as an aggravating factor that would result in a harsher sentence than would otherwise be imposed. A sentencing court does not stop there, however, nor should it.
The principles of sentencing in Canada require a judge to look at all the circumstances of the crime, including those of the offender and of the victim, the good and the bad, the mitigating and the aggravating. Those circumstances must be weighed in light of the fundamental principles of sentencing. The first and paramount principle of sentencing is that the sentence must be in proportion to the crime or crimes committed, and to the degree of responsibility of the offender.
Put simply, shoplifting by an 18 year old teenager versus the robbing of a convenience store by a professional criminal may both be prosecuted as theft under section 334 of the criminal code. However, to sentence both to six months in jail would not make any sense. The entire sentencing structure of the criminal justice system is built around this basic principle of proportionality. That is why, for example, there is no minimum mandatory sentence for a section 334.
The sentencing court must also consider the remaining well established objectives of sentencing: the protection of society; reparations to and acknowledgements of victims; deterrence to others; denunciation of the crime; and the rehabilitation of the offender. Unfortunately, Bill C-250 would, in too many cases, force the sentencing court to throw away these long established and useful sentencing principles.
The government clearly supports the notion that those who habitually re-offend ought to be punished to a greater extent than the first time offender. However, our current system, recently revamped in 1996 by Bill C-41, the Sentencing Reform Act, provides the necessary flexibility to accomplish this objective.
The determination of sentences therefore requires the consideration of a number of sentencing principles and objectives. In the absence of the proposal contained in Bill C-250, the existing regime enables courts to impose sentences for auto theft that are just and fair to the victim, to society and even to the offender. Many sentencing options are available which can and should be fully considered to tailor the sentence to the specific circumstances of the crime.
While the problem of motor vehicle theft is international in scope, the recent international crime victimization survey conducted in 1996 revealed that Canada's rate of vehicle theft ranked as one of the lowest among industrialized countries.
In 1995, 18 out of every 1,000 Canadian vehicle owners experienced a motor vehicle theft, compared to, for example, a rate of 33 per 1,000 owners in England, and since then we have made considerable progress. We have seen a steady decline in the rate of vehicle thefts every year to 5.3 thefts per 1,000 vehicles in 1999 according to statistics from Statistics Canada.
Recent amendments to the criminal code introduced by the Minister of Justice would make it easier to investigate and prosecute organized crime rings which would put a further dent in vehicle theft. The government is currently co-ordinating a multijurisdictional analysis of the role of organized crime in auto theft as part of our national agenda to combat organized crime.
In addition, a number of non-statutory measures have been employed over recent years to prevent motor vehicle theft in Canada, a measure that the government either initiated or partnered with other governments, agencies, organizations and individuals.
For example, we are actively involved with the provinces and numerous police agencies in the establishment of the national stolen and wrecked vehicle monitoring program designed as a comprehensive database available to the police from coast to coast. This would make it tougher to steal a car at one end of the country and sell it at the other end.
Another initiative involves car manufacturers working in conjunction with the police and insurance companies to design more effective security features for their motor vehicles. The government recently initiated the business action program on crime prevention in partnership with police and insurance companies across Canada to educate Canadians as to what they as individuals can do to fight auto theft.
All these measures are designed to reduce car theft and together with the existing criminal code provisions provide a comprehensive scheme for addressing this serious problem. While the imposition of a four year minimum sentence for a second or subsequent offence may look appealing to a few hardliners, it is simply not a realistic alternative to what already exists. It does not give the police, the prosecutors or the courts any additional tools to combat the problem. As a result, the Minister of Justice cannot support the bill.