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House of Commons Hansard #138 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was firefighters.

Topics

The House resumed from October 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-64, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (vehicle identification number), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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3:50 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak about Bill C-64, an act to amend the Criminal Code (vehicle identification number).

In 2004, there were nearly 170,000 thefts of motor vehicles in Canada. Despite a slight decline in the last few years, the number of motor vehicle thefts in Canada remains high.

According to the law enforcement authorities and other justice system stakeholders, criminal organizations contribute substantially to the frequency of motor vehicle thefts. This is often the case because this sort of theft is a low-risk, high-return activity. It is an activity often used to raise funds for these organizations which are involved in various other criminal activities.

The government has tabled this important bill as a measure which specifically targets, on the one hand, the involvement of organized crime in the commission of this offence, and on the other, the way in which the commission of crimes is facilitated.

This targeted amendment would make it an offence to wholly or partially alter, remove or obliterate a vehicle identification number without lawful excuse and under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle.

The offender would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years upon conviction by way of indictment. In a case of summary conviction, the offender would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months and a fine of $2,000, or either of the two.

A vehicle identification number is required on vehicles in Canada and is intended to distinguish one motor vehicle from another similar vehicle.

The VIN is made up of alphanumeric characters representing various information such as the vehicle model, the year, the manufacturer, and it is affixed to the vehicle at various locations. In a sense, the VIN gives the vehicle a distinct identity; it is a vehicle DNA.

The objective of organized car thieves immediately after a vehicle is stolen is to rid the vehicle of its stolen nature by providing it with a false or unknown identity. One of the steps in this process by which a stolen vehicle obtains a false identity is through the act of tampering with a vehicle identification number. Organized crime has certainly been noted as being involved in this type of criminal activity.

A survey conducted by Statistics Canada indicates that 60% of organized crime groups in Canada deal in the illicit theft and trafficking of stolen vehicles, while an additional report by Statistics Canada notes that approximately one in five vehicle thefts in Canada may be linked to organized crime groups or theft rings. Therefore, based on the most recent vehicle theft numbers in Canada organized crime may be involved in up to 34,000 motor vehicle thefts each year in this country.

In addition to research and statistics, law enforcement has also highlighted the involvement of organized crime in the cycle of theft, reidentification and resale of vehicles.

The 2004 annual report put out by the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada has specifically identified the involvement of a number of criminal organizations in organized vehicle theft in Canada. This report has noted that vehicles stolen by organized crime groups, like outlaw motorcycle gangs, tend not to be recovered as they are often exported overseas, transported for interprovincial resale, or stripped for the sale of parts.

The report goes on to recognize that organized crime has been involved in stealing luxury vehicles, changing the serial numbers and selling the vehicles in Canada, Europe and southeast Asia. Furthermore the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has recognized this criminal activity and has specifically called on the government to create an offence prohibiting the alteration, obliteration or removal of a VIN.

The chiefs of police have noted that “the elicit domestic and international trade in revinned vehicles and the impact of organized auto theft on private and corporate citizens in Canada clearly warrants this proposed amendment to the Criminal Code”.

Finally, the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft has noted in a report on organized vehicle theft rings that over the past several years there has been a decline in the number of stolen vehicles being recovered. According to the report, this decline is the result of increased involvement of organized crime in vehicle theft as large numbers of vehicles stolen in major centres are surgically stripped for parts for resale, or identified for resale, or exported to international markets.

In considering the addition of this new offence, it is important to reflect upon how the proposed VIN tampering offence will fit within the existing Criminal Code framework. In fact, this offence would complement the existing offences in the Criminal Code used to combat auto theft, including theft over $5,000, which carries a 10 year maximum term of imprisonment on indictment; possession of property over $5,000 obtained by crime, which also carries a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment on indictment; the taking of a motor vehicle without consent, which is a straight summary conviction offence; and finally, the offence of flight from a peace officer, which carries a five year maximum term of imprisonment on indictment, a 14 year term if bodily harm is caused and a lifetime term of imprisonment if death results.

Furthermore, a five year maximum term of imprisonment on indictment as this bill proposes qualifies this offence as a criminal organization offence. Therefore, if it is found to have been committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, the courts are currently directed in the Criminal Code to consider this as an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Needless to say, a VIN tampering offence would add a unique tool to the already significant tool kit in the fight against motor vehicle theft. It is also important to recognize that the current Criminal Code offence of possession of property obtained by crime provides that evidence that a person has in his possession a motor vehicle with a wholly or partially removed or obliterated VIN is, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, proof that the motor vehicle was obtained by crime.

This new VIN tampering offence would therefore build on the existing possession offence and specifically criminalize the intentional tampering. Currently, those who engage in VIN tampering are often charged with the related offence of possession of property obtained by crime. Although a significant period of incarceration is available for the commission of this offence, it does not fully describe the criminal activity these organized vehicle theft rings are involved in. It is not only the theft and possession of the stolen property which should be criminalized, but also the act of concealing the identity of the stolen vehicle. Therefore, there is a gap in the Criminal Code which this amendment would fill in a meaningful way.

A conviction registered under the Criminal Code for altering, obliterating or removing a vehicle identification number would also more clearly and accurately help to indicate a person's involvement in an organized vehicle theft ring. This information would be of value to the police and crown prosecutors in subsequent investigations and prosecutions.

Since this bill is not proposing to amend an existing offence, but instead is seeking to create an additional offence for the behaviour not currently captured under the Criminal Code, those who engage in VIN tampering, if the evidence is available, will likely now be facing numerous charges as opposed to the one offence of possession of property obtained by crime.

The existence of multiple convictions arising out of the same set of facts will result in a more severe global sentence. For example, currently under the Criminal Code, offenders are subject to a 10 year maximum sentence for possession of property obtained by crime. If this bill is passed,then the same offender, when the evidence is available, could face a 10 year maximum term of imprisonment for possessing stolen property in addition to a five year maximum term if convicted of VIN tampering. Those who are fighting auto crime on a daily basis would therefore welcome this addition.

Experience has shown that criminal law legislation is complemented by targeted law enforcement strategies, technological advancements and community education. In this regard I would like to compliment the successful bait car program being run in British Columbia. Enforcement and education will certainly continue to play a vital role in fully addressing motor vehicle theft in this country.

With regard to technological advancements, it is true that in many cases vehicles are stolen for the thrill of it or used to commit further crimes. In this regard a significant advancement was made by the government in March 2005 with the regulatory amendment regarding vehicle immobilization systems brought forward by my colleague the Minister of Transport.

This amendment requires that by September 1, 2007 all new vehicles weighing less than 4,536 kilograms, except emergency vehicles, must be equipped with an immobilization system. These immobilization systems will certainly prove to be effective in reducing vehicle theft in this country by making it a more difficult crime to commit.

It is also important to recognize that the broader issue of motor vehicle theft has recently been raised by our provincial partners. It is vital for the government to examine whether the existing Criminal Code offences are being applied to their fullest potential and whether there are other viable ways in which vehicle theft could be addressed.

That is why in January of this year at the suggestion of the province of Nova Scotia, federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice agreed to refer the matter of the Criminal Code amendments affecting the categorization of theft of motor vehicles and increased penalties for those who steal vehicles and drive recklessly to a coordinating body of the senior FPT officials for study. Provincial and federal officials are working collaboratively on this review.

In conclusion, this proposed amendment fills an existing gap in the Criminal Code. It targets the role of organized crime in the theft, disguise and resale process and provides appropriate punishments. This new offence, in combination with other existing Criminal Code tools, technological advancements, and law enforcement strategies and community education will work together to combat the underworld of organized vehicle theft in Canada. Therefore, I certainly encourage all members of the House to support Bill C-64.

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice outlined the issue of auto crime. It is a very serious problem in Canada. He said that 60% of organized crime members are involved in auto crime. It is a huge problem that is connected with organized crime. We need to appropriately deal with this as a government because it is our responsibility to provide appropriate sentencing and appropriate legislation.

The parliamentary secretary believes that Bill C-64 has appropriate sentencing. He also said that it provides a more severe global sentence and that Bill C-64 will be used to combat auto crime. I am concerned. The announcement sounded good and his speech sounded good, but when we scratch the surface or maybe even look at the track record of the government, does the bill provide what he says it does, or is the government misleading Parliament?

The government is telling us that Bill C-64 has an amendment that makes it even better than what Chuck Cadman's bill proposed. Chuck had dealt with ICBC and his knowledge on auto theft was from an insurance perspective. The issue was very important to him. He knew what changing VIN numbers was all about. He was very concerned about the issue because he represented Surrey, the auto theft capital.

The government has added to Chuck's bill the phrase “and under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle”. That makes it the responsibility of the Crown to prove that the indicted person changed the VIN number with the purpose to conceal. How is the Crown going to do that? How can the Crown say that the person deliberately changed the number to conceal it? It is only God who can read someone's mind.

The Liberals are creating a piece of legislation that is not enforceable. It sounds good, but in reality it is a watered down, phony Liberal bill created to mislead Canadians.

Why would the Liberals put the onus on the Crown to prove the intent of the offender? What is the track record? The parliamentary secretary indicated that the maximum sentences are six months to life. What is the typical sentence? It is conditional sentencing. People are given probation or they serve their sentences at home. No one gets maximum sentences. What is the track record and why would he mislead--

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4:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course as an individual who has practised some law in my life I know that the onus always falls upon the Crown to make the case. In this case it would be the same. There is the onus on the Crown. I do not think that onus is undue.

I think this is a situation where in fact if a person is found in a wrecking yard dealing in ordinary parts as part of their business, the inference generated would clearly be that they were in that business, that it was a common occurrence, whereas if a person went into what is called a chop shop operation, where in fact there are no identifying characteristics of that property as being related to an ordinary type of business, I think the inference is rather obvious.

The crown prosecutors are very skilled at doing this work. We give a great deal of support to the provincial crown attorneys who have to prosecute these cases. I believe they do an excellent job. I am certain that they will have the capacity to do that within this bill.

To deal with the member's second question about the types of penalties, obviously we cannot talk about the types of penalties that will be ultimately received under this bill because the bill is just coming into force as and when this Parliament decides that it is appropriate. At that time, of course, we will see what the ultimate outcome is.

What we are doing is adding one more tool to the broad toolbox of opportunity for prosecutors and those in law enforcement to take forward and use in ultimately achieving successful prosecutions against those who are engaged in this type of business. We will certainly leave it to them. I believe that our law enforcement officials are capable, as well as our provincial prosecutors, and I am sure they will do the best they can with us having this extra tool for them to use in going after those who would steal cars.

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4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand to address Bill C-64 as the justice critic for the official opposition.

Before I deal specifically with this bill, let me say that I made a note of the parliamentary secretary's comments about the weight category and the immobilizing system that we will be required to put into a motor vehicle.

I noted that there does not seem to be any difficulty with the Liberals weighing a motor vehicle and then determining whether or not there should be an immobilizer, but they had the audacity to stand up the other day and say it would be too difficult to prove whether somebody could traffic drugs within 500 metres of a school. They said that would be too difficult for prosecutors to figure out, yet to get the weight of a motor vehicle in order for there to be an immobilizer did not seem to be any problem.

I think this again basically points out that this government is not particularly serious about addressing certain key problems. It will go after certain pet projects regardless of the difficulties that might be involved, but when it comes to taking forceful, effective steps against criminals, this government will bend over for the criminals every time.

Bill C-64 is professed to be an embodiment of Chuck Cadman's Bill C-287, which he tried to bring forward in the House in November 2004, asking for the support of the government. Of course the government turned Mr. Cadman down.

Looking at this from a purely political perspective, the government is saying that it should get something that looks like what Mr. Cadman wanted, but it also wants to make sure that nobody is actually effectively prosecuted or actually goes to jail for doing this, so it will make this look like Mr. Cadman's bill although it has some very serious deficiencies.

The government and the parliamentary secretary have said that this bill is going to address a gap in the law. That is clear. There is a gap in the law. Mr. Cadman understood that perfectly, coming from the motor vehicle theft capital of Canada. He understood that there was a serious gap in the law.

So what have the Liberals done? The Liberals have taken Mr. Cadman's bill in an attempt to address the gap and then created a loophole in order for criminals presently escaping through the gap to simply escape through a loophole that has been created in the legislation itself.

Speaking as a former prosecutor myself, I know that prosecutors do the best they can with the tools they are given, but why we do not give them the right tools? Why do we not give them the proper tools when they are asking for them? I can tell members what prosecutors are saying: that this bill creates the loophole that Chuck Cadman's bill was supposed to address, both substantively in terms of addressing the gap, and now the loophole.

Motor vehicle theft is a significant concern for Canadians and it is clear that nothing has been done about it over the last decade. For my home province of Manitoba, recent Statistics Canada figures from 2003 indicate that it has the highest rate of auto theft in the country, at 1,148 per 100,000 people, totalling 13,206 auto thefts that year.

Throughout the 1990s under this government, auto theft in Manitoba increased by over 250%. That was despite the fact that provincial governments attempted to do what they could in terms of prosecuting. Special units were brought forward to apprehend these individuals. More resources were brought forward, everything, but the main thing they could not do was change the Criminal Code. That was the problem.

We know that very few individuals commit most of the motor vehicle thefts, yet the issue of repeat offenders receiving mandatory jail sentences has never been addressed. One individual steals hundreds of cars in the course of a year and simply continues to receive probation, house arrest or some other kind of nebulous disposition under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I do not have to make up those kinds of statistics. We can all look at what is happening in the courts every single day. The courts keep saying that we should speak to our parliamentarians about the reason they are giving such meaningless dispositions because, they say, that is what Parliament has told them to do.

So what I am saying to the government is that as we are taking steps to fix the law, why do we not actually fix it rather than pretend to fix it? What interest is there in our society to keep on seeing motor vehicle thefts increase at the rate at which they are presently increasing?

One of the biggest problems is inadequate sentences. I know that the Liberal justice minister says mandatory prison sentences do not work, but one thing that we do know about mandatory prison sentences is that when these individuals are in jail, they are actually not stealing cars. They are actually being stopped from stealing cars. So for those who are responsible for stealing cars--and some of these young kids are stealing cars every day of the year--if we actually put them in jail, there would probably be one less auto theft per day. Some of these young individuals steal literally hundreds of cars in the course of a year.

There are many innocent victims of auto theft. The vehicle owner, the insurance company and subsequent owners who unknowingly purchase stolen vehicles or stolen auto parts all experience a loss. The 2003 study for the Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated that the direct dollar losses from motor vehicle theft in Canada are estimated at about $600 million per year. Local organized crime organizations are drawn to the industry because of the enormous profit potential and the relatively low risk of detection. The parliamentary secretary pointed that out. Increasingly, motor vehicles are not recovered when stolen.

It is not just kids doing this anymore, although they are dangerous enough in terms of using these motor vehicles. It is not just organized crime individuals who use these cars for break-ins all over the place. I know that in my province and in the city of Winnipeg this happens all the time. We also know now that organized crime groups are actually taking the cars for resale elsewhere. These cars never show up again. It is a booming industry that this government needs to shut down.

Motor vehicle theft does not only involve property loss, and I have talked about the property loss, but it has a significant impact on injury statistics. From 1999 through 2000, 56 people died as a result of auto theft. Studies indicate that vehicle theft is a serious road safety issue, resulting in a number of fatalities per year.

In fact, one police officer told me of a particular meth addict who is always stealing cars. His way of avoiding the police is taking the stolen car and driving it headlong into oncoming traffic on a freeway knowing that the police will not chase him because of the danger to innocent lives. However, even those few minutes in which this individual is racing down a freeway the wrong way are, I would suggest, a significant issue.

These kinds of occurrences are no longer exceptional. People are doing this because they know the police are restrained from high-speed chases. They know that the police act in a responsible manner.

What police expect of us as parliamentarians is that when they catch these individuals there should be appropriate penalties put in place so that they will not put other people's property and lives at risk.

The government refused to support Mr. Cadman's legislation. It did not come to him at that time and say, “Let us amend this. Let us make this work”. It simply said no. This really indicates that the government had no intention of ever following through on the real legislation that Mr. Cadman proposed. So while the government dithered on real legislation, hundreds of thousands of cars were stolen, millions of dollars were lost and, indeed, innocent lives were lost.

The government has finally taken notice of this bill for purely political reasons. Currently, the action of obliterating, altering and removing a VIN is not a specified criminal act. Section 354(2) of the Criminal Code treats tampering with a VIN in an evidentiary context, establishing that in the absence of evidence to the contrary a tampered VIN is proof of property obtained by crime. There is no law for the direct prosecution of a person engaging in the physical act of VIN tampering. This was the gap that I think the parliamentary secretary pointed out. It is a gap that needs to be addressed. Bill C-64 attempts to address this gap by creating this new criminal offence.

If the government brought forward the bill that Mr. Cadman wanted, I do not think we would have any problem supporting that bill. We would have to examine it again, but generally speaking we have always been supportive of Mr. Cadman's efforts in that respect, but we are concerned about this bill.

The new offence would be punishable for up to 5 years imprisonment. This is the same old story. We provide a substantive offence. Even in this case, I do not know if 5 years is a substantive enough offence when it usually is organized crime that deals with this kind of VIN tampering. The fact that we are limiting it to 5 years indicates that the government does not take this crime seriously enough. The other point is the government has not excluded house arrest for this type of offence. Criminals can still get house arrest for this offence, and that is not acceptable.

I would like to quote Mr. Cadman's explanation of his bill's purpose. He stated:

A conviction under the proposed law would clearly separate persons involved in auto theft rings from auto thieves who steal for destination driving or the short term use of the vehicle in the commission of a crime. The criminal record of the person convicted would set out that the person was involved in VIN tampering and this information would assist in future investigations of repeat offenders. The use of progressive sentencing for repeat offenders would be facilitated because the information concerning past actions would be readily available.

We do not see the idea of progressive sentencing to punish those who are repeat offenders. There is no acknowledgement here that Parliament needs to send a message to those few individuals who are constantly stealing vehicles on a daily basis.

Mr. Cadman was right to legislate a bill which clearly criminalized the tampering of VIN. Currently, the charge does not reflect the actual actions of the suspects and it is impossible to use progressive sentencing on repeat offenders, which Mr. Cadman advocated. Again, the government has left this matter out of the bill.

Today, investigators must arrest and charge suspects who engage in VIN tampering with possession of property obtained by crime. Clearly, that is not adequate. VIN tampering is not the same auto crime category as a 16 year old caught stealing a motor vehicle. We have the potential to differentiate crucial elements involved in auto theft and we should empower our peace officers with the powers they need to clamp down on auto theft.

Not only are we missing the boat in terms of sending a clear message to the more serious organized crime elements in this bill, there is another substantive problem and that is what the government has added to Mr. Cadman's original Bill C-284. This addition adds to the difficulty of the crown prosecutors job of proving the offence. The phrase that the government has added is “and under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle”.

This makes it an offence for somebody who alters or removes the VIN on a motor vehicle without lawful excuse. It already has given the individual the opportunity to demonstrate that he or she had a lawful excuse. They the government adds a superfluous element that now it becomes incumbent upon the Crown to prove that. That is the additional element “under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle”.

As a former prosecutor, I know that the government's bill, if passed, will put an onus on the Crown that is far too high and is not constitutionally required. When the police catch someone and prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the crime, there was nothing in Mr. Cadman's original bill that did not say the Crown did not have to prove every element of the crime. It has to prove every element of the crime.

Once the Crown proves every element of the crime, then it falls upon the individual to demonstrate that he or she had no lawful excuse. That is a standard practice in Canadian criminal law. There is nothing unconstitutional about that nor is there anything wrong with that. As long as the Crown is required to prove every essential element of the crime, then it is open for the government in its legislation to require on a balance of probabilities that the individual must demonstrate that he or she had some lawful excuse.

The government has added this, quite frankly, to the detriment of an effective prosecution.

I want to state for the record that if this bill should pass or if the government wants our party or my vote in order to pass this bill, let us take out that superfluous clause which does nothing to advance the interests of law enforcement. Indeed it only hinders law enforcement and is not constitutionally required.

The Conservatives will stand up for Mr. Cadman's original proposal, which called for the onus of proof to fall on the accused on a balance of probabilities once the Crown had proven all essential elements of the crime. That is what Mr. Cadman wanted. That is reasonable in Canadian law. Why then has this added phrase been put in there? Essentially, it is because the government has absolutely no desire to crack down on the problem of organized crime tampering with VIN. If the government were serious about, it would drop that phrase.

The Conservatives will continue to stand up for the rights of victims over the rights of criminals. While Mr. Cadman's original bill addressed the gap, I can only repeat again that this bill attempts to pay lip service to the gap and creates a loophole which will leave the law in exactly the same state as it is today.

Why are we going through this entire effort, if there is no advancement in this fight against what is such a scourge in our country today?

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4:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, the Royal Canadian Mint.

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4:30 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the hon. member agree with me at least on a couple of occasions with respect to my speech. That is somewhat encouraging. However, what really troubled me in this whole process is when the hon. member indicated that Bill C-64 was not tough enough.

I took the occasion to look at Bill C-287 and its penalty provisions. I then looked at the penalty provisions of Bill C-64. Unless I am mistaken, they are identical.

When we are dealing with sentencing, could the hon. member tell me what he means when he says it is not tough enough?

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, in my opinion there are two issues that need to be addressed.

First, the issue of conditional sentences is still present here. Even if it is only on summary conviction, conditional sentences should not exist. If the parliamentary secretary is correct that this bill is intended to deal with organized crime and not simply the crimes committed by a 16 year old kid going on a joy ride, why then are we tackling the most serious types of crime by organized crime with a sentence that is punishable by less than five years of imprisonment? That is my particular concern.

I would suggest a more appropriate response in this case. If we are targeting organized crime, there has to be two elements. The first element is to recognize that on repeat offences there needs to be increased penalties, including certain mandatory minimums and a greater maximum than five years.

If my colleague is saying that he is agreeable to that type of progressive sentencing for repeat offenders and is looking at the issue of moving the limit from five years to ten years, I would suggest that we may even have more in common than my colleague indicates.

However, the primary concern I have about the entire bill, aside from the issue of sentencing, and I will review Mr. Cadman's bill with respect to sentencing, is the creation of the loophole which renders the original intent of Mr. Cadman's bill ineffective.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member referred to, under clause 1 and under section 377.1 of the Criminal Code, what he considered a superfluous clause, which states, “and under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle”.

I have not consulted a lawyer on this one, but I will take a wild guess that if we eliminate that last clause from the “and” on, it basically then says that everyone commits an offence who wholly or partially damages, removes or alters part of the VIN.

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4:30 p.m.

An hon. member

A lawful excuse.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

The member says that it is a matter of lawful excuse, but if I do that inadvertently, there still is of an argument of whether there is a lawful excuse. The idea of the bill is to protect the identity. If I did not like the optics of that number on the dash of my car or something like that and did this, I would violate the spirit of the bill.

Would it be sufficient simply to eliminate the last clause or would there have to be something in the bill that would deal with a case where the lawful owner did something for a purpose which may not in itself have been the intent to conceal the identity of the vehicle, but rather to do it for some other reason?

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, the original bill does in fact address that and provides the owner with the lawful excuse. If we are talking about, for example, someone working in the autobody business, taking parts apart and discarding a VIN, that owner has the right to do that. He has a lawful excuse.

The issue then is what does the added phrase do. The added phrase now puts it in addition to proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual did in fact alter the VIN, and the Crown has to prove that. Then the Crown has to bring evidence that the circumstances give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle and that is always the problems.

That is the kind of nebulous situation that we get into, when an accused can then simply sit and say that under these circumstances, there is a reasonable inference. Not once do the accused then have to, after the Crown has proven every essential element of the case, actually get up and say that they had a lawful excuse; they owned that motor vehicle and they could do that.

The original bill did provide that kind of defence to a lawful owner, but in this particular case, it creates an additional element that will be very difficult for a Crown attorney to demonstrate.

I am prepared to listen to a possible amendment by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice which would address that problem, but it is not necessary at this point to put the onus on the Crown to prove the subjective mental intent, essentially, of the accused. That is what I am concerned about in this case. We will find in these kinds of cases that the judges will say that it is reasonable to infer in these kinds of circumstances and acquit.

We need to ensure that once the Crown has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt, if the accused wants to be acquitted, then he or she must take the stand and provide that lawful excuse. That is not unconstitutional. That is not inappropriate. We do it in many circumstances.

If the wording were to be altered in some way in order to satisfy the parliamentary secretary, I would be willing to consider that, but the phrase that has been added here, in my experience, would just create a large loophole that would effectively render the bill powerless.

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Provencher has indicated that he is not pleased with the sentence of up to five years and that perhaps it should be as high as 10 years. Every member from all sides of the House who talked about how serious this type of offence is said that it goes beyond just joy riding, that it is organized crime.

The member for Provencher gave examples of fatalities. There has been talk about how much it costs Canadians with respect to auto theft. As many as 170,000 vehicles are stolen annually. All of these things describe very serious crimes. I might also add that the member for Provencher has expressed concern that there does not seem to be any real minimum type of offence. One could conceivably go for house arrest.

I ask the member for Provencher to comment on the provision which says that not only is there an indictable offence but there could be a summary conviction offence. This was mentioned in the previous exchange. Can the member for Provencher think of any examples where someone would be charged with a summary conviction offence?

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a very good point and this contributes to my confusion over the bill. Maybe it is in the drafting. If the intent of this bill is to address not simply joyriding by 16-year-old kids but really address organized crime, and if it is organized crime that is essentially altering VINs, why would there be any summary conviction offence in this context?

The member makes a very good point. It begs the question of why this exists? Most of the kids who steal a car and send it barreling down a back lane with a brick on the gas pedal and without a driver are not worried about taking the VIN off. They are out to cause vandalism. They are out for a joyride. They are out to cause destruction. That is a very different thing than what this bill is supposed to be addressing.

That is perhaps my point. Why is there not some kind of progressive sentencing in terms of dealing with repeat offenders, if what we are trying to do is tackle organized crime? Quite frankly, if it is organized crime we are trying to tackle, let us raise the maximum and ensure that for repeat offenders there are mandatory minimum prison sentences.

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4:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-64 addresses a gap that we have in the Criminal Code which is clear why our former colleague, Chuck Cadman, raised the issue. It deals with the issue of tampering or altering in some fashion the vehicle identification numbers of motor vehicles. The approach he took is somewhat similar to what is in the government bill before us today, and would go toward making the alteration of the VIN number a crime under the Criminal Code and that definitely is something that we need to address.

We have heard from other members that 170,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada in 2004. We all know that there are different types of people who steal vehicles. The bill addresses the theft of motor vehicles by organized crime more than the other two groups which would be the person stealing for what I euphemistically describe as joyriding, or the person who steals it for the use in the commission of another vehicle.

In the vast majority of both of those cases, there will be no attention paid to changing the number since the purpose of the theft is for other reasons. We are told by our police forces that approximately 60% of all vehicles stolen are stolen by organized crime gangs. They are the ones we are really after with regard to this amendment to the Criminal Code.

There is a term in the bill which says how the alterations can occur, but the key word is alters rather than removes or obliterates because the purpose for the resale of the vehicle, once it is stolen, is that a VIN has to be there in most cases. A good number of these vehicles are moved out of province and in a large number of cases, out of country, but when those resales occur, there has to be a VIN on them in most cases in order to have a purchaser accept the vehicle.

There can be a number of times when the purchasers themselves are involved in criminal activity, but in most cases these resales are to people who are innocent third parties and have no idea that the vehicle has been stolen. The reason they know that it has not been stolen is because the VIN has been altered and appears to be accurate reflecting the ownership.

Assuming the bill gets through second reading of the House, it will go to the justice committee. Our party will support the bill for that purpose, but I want to signal to the government at this point, as we have heard already from the Conservative Party and its justice critic, concerns about the first subsection. I share with the member for Provencher concern over why it is necessary to add the additional wording after “without lawful excuse”. It appears to be placing an unnecessary burden on the Crown of another element of the offence that would have to be proven in the court and proven beyond a reasonable doubt in spite of the type of wording.

I look forward to some explanation from the justice department lawyers as to why they felt it necessary to put this in because as I see it right now, and again this is from my experience in the criminal courts, that does not appear to be necessary. We have other offences within the Criminal Code where the terminology “without lawful excuse” exists without additional wording and those Criminal Code charges are of long standing, going back probably to the start of the Criminal Code and have certainly been used repeatedly in any number of criminal charges that have been successful.

The second point I would make with regard to my reservation about the bill addresses the sentencing component. Like my colleagues from the Conservative Party, I am not a believer in the use of minimum mandatory sentences, just the opposite, in fact. I am not promoting that in this case but we need to look at what we are really trying to do here.

We are trying to get at organized crime stealing vehicles. In the course of that activity they need to alter the VIN number in order for their resales to be carried out. If that is the target group of this amendment to the Criminal Code, it seems to me that we should be putting in clauses, as we have done in a number of other sections of the Criminal Code, to address to the courts a mandatory direction that if the individual who is convicted of this crime is identified as being a member of an organized crime gang, that would be an aggravating factor in the sentencing.

We have to recognize as well that in the vast majority of cases if people are going to be convicted of this charge, they are also going to be convicted of theft but they may also be convicted of being a member of an organized crime gang, which is a separate offence. If those convictions are before the court, then I suggest to the justice department that it would be appropriate that their involvement in an organized crime gang would be a fact that the court should be made aware of and that the court should be mandated to take that into account as an aggravating factor in the sentencing process so that the conviction would result in a sentence that would be closer to the top end of the maximum that can be apportioned in the circumstances rather than at the lower end.

On the other hand, there are 16-year-olds who take vehicles and alter them. We have to appreciate that a lot of people think of the VIN number as being a number that is buried somewhere inside the engine component of a vehicle. That is not the reality. The VIN number is oftentimes on or under the dashboard. It is easily accessible and so there may be very unsophisticated, first time criminals altering it, maybe for the purpose of resale. Our courts would look at that fact and then maybe decide there is a potential for rehabilitation and would not want a mandatory minimum because the person was not involved in organized crime and therefore it would not be an aggravating factor.

We are at a stage where the NDP will be supporting this at second reading and referred to committee where the two areas I have expressed concern over can be addressed with perhaps amendments from the government or the opposition parties.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I do not mean to interrupt the debate on a point of order but there have been discussions among all the parties and if you seek it I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That in relation to its study on Air Liberalization and Airports System, 6 members of the Standing Committee on Transport be authorized to travel to Washington, D.C. from Monday, October 31 to Wednesday, November 2, 2005, and that the necessary staff do accompany the Committee.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-64, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (vehicle identification number), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-64. I very much have enjoyed the commentary of the previous speakers. It raises that even a bill that is only one clause long and refers to amending the Criminal Code can raise some very important issues, such as sentencing, the unintended consequences and the like

However, on balance I think members will find, as we have in the speeches already, that there is all party support for this, not just because it happens to be coming from one of our former colleagues, Chuck Cadman, but because this fits in with the demands of Canadians to ensure that we fill some of these loopholes.

Bill C-64 would make it an offence to wholly or partially obliterate or remove a vehicle identification number. Canadians will understand that VINs are very unique to all cars and are there for identity purposes, but that car theft in whole or in part is a very serious problem.

In this bill, the punishment for the offence, if it proceeds with indictment, is a five year maximum term of imprisonment, or if proceeded with by summary conviction, a six month term of imprisonment and/or a fine of $2,000. This is not a matter to be taken lightly.

Just for the interest of the House, the term motor vehicle is defined in the Criminal Code and therefore would mean a vehicle that is drawn, propelled or driven by any means other than by muscular power and does not include railway equipment, so we are talking about basically motorized vehicles.

Motor vehicle theft is certainly not a victimless crime and I think that probably all members in the House have had experience in their own ridings and communities. When we talk about the theft of personal property, whether it be from outside or within the home, this is an invasive activity that tends to undermine the safety and security of our communities and creates a lot of consternation. Obviously, we should not consider this to be a victimless crime.

In addition, it has considerable impact on the vehicle owners. There are insurance matters, law enforcement, health care and correctional issues. The consequences and the ripple effect when this kind of thing occurs is staggering.

A report put out in 2000 indicated that the cost to the insurance industry alone from motor vehicle theft claims was in the range of $600 million in the year 1998. We do not have any more recent figures but when we consider the magnitude of that we understand that just because there is insurance and it may be covered, we do not get something for nothing. Obviously, through the insurance premiums we pay, they are geared to the lost records that are incurred with regard to the areas being covered. In this regard this is a major component of the cost of premiums for insuring vehicles.

Vehicle theft can take many forms. It can be a crime of opportunity, thrill, addiction or it can be even more sophisticated, requiring distinct roles and responsibilities, networks and combinations of criminal offences. We have certainly seen many movies on this subject matter itself. I can recall seeing one very recently where the big idea was to steal 60 cars in one night. To see the tools, they obviously did a lot of research, but it is amazing how efficient organized crime can be when it comes to vehicle theft.

One of the ways in which organized vehicle theft is facilitated is through the act of removing a vehicle's existing identity, and that is what this bill is all about, the vehicle identification number.

The first stage of this process involves criminals who work the streets seeking specific models or luxury vehicles. The next stage of the process involves intermediaries, or so-called chop shops, who will take the cars and modify them, disguise them or chop them up for parts. The process requires the vehicle be stripped of all existing labels and plates. It is the kind of thing that is so efficient it is absolutely amazing that it could happen so often without being noticed in communities.

I guess it should not be a surprise to us when we consider the situation of grow houses and the prevalence of grow houses in communities across Canada that seem to be able to operate without detection for very long periods of time, all for the benefit of organized crime.

The primary focus of the bill is to give some of the tools that are necessary to address the situation where the unique identify of a vehicle is disrupted.

Organized vehicle theft is lucrative and comparatively low risk. It also is increasingly international in scope. We have seen many stories where ship containers are being filled with certain cars that are very attractive to international destinations. If we were to look at some of these shipping yards, we would understand why it has been so difficult to detect this. This bill would be extremely important for the law enforcement side.

An example of this elaborate criminal activity was provided in a 1998 report where it was explained how a Vancouver area organized crime group operated by stealing vehicle identification numbers from salvage yards in Vancouver. It would then travel to Toronto, steal the cars that fit the make of the stolen vehicles and then apply the stolen vehicle identification number from the Vancouver vehicle onto the Toronto vehicle.

As we can see, there is some sophistication here, which makes this particular offence quite serious because it is facilitating major activity with regard to organized crime.

One report notes that theft rings need only put out money to pay for the theft of a vehicle and the cost of shipping, which together generally costs less than 10% of the value of the vehicle itself. Obviously, it is an extremely lucrative business and there is a lot of incentive for those who would participate in this criminal activity.

There are a few limited situations where some people may legitimately alter the vehicle identification number in the execution of their lawful work, and the intent of the bill is not to deal with that. We have had discussions through the debate today about the possibility of having an amendment where we are dealing with whether or not there is a need to identify the motivation, whether the motivation for alteration was with regard to taking away the identity of the car.

We also must ensure that those persons who have a legitimate reason, which is part of the bill in terms of requirement for having a lawful excuse, to incidentally tamper with a vehicle identification number, will be protected from criminal prosecution.

The offence, as designed in Bill C-64, accounts for these legitimate behaviours, such as inadvertency, by requiring that the tampering be committed under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did not so conceal the identity of the motor vehicle. The member for Provencher raised some concern about this aspect .

I suspect, being where we are in the legislative process, that work will be done to consider whether or not an amendment or some language amendments may be required to make absolutely sure that the bill is functional in the way that it was contemplated.

The particular circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference are not spelled out in the legislation, nor should they be. They are open-ended to allow for crown prosecutors to lead evidence of intent, such as the application of a replacement vehicle identification number, altered vehicle documents, or fraudulent resale to an innocent buyer. Ultimately, this is a finding the court would make based on the evidence presented by the Crown.

Ultimately, motor vehicle theft is occurring at a very significant rate. I am pleased, however, to note that the rates have decreased slightly in the last year according to the latest reports. This is due in part to the numerous successful law enforcement strategies which are being employed across the country. For example, targeted law enforcement has been extremely successful in the bait car program operated throughout Vancouver, which is run by the Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team, also known as IMPACT.

Essentially, bait cars are vehicles that are equipped with GPS tracking technology, as well as visual and audio recording devices. When an offender attempts to steal a car, an alarm is triggered at the monitoring station. Police are notified and are able to safely disable the vehicle, make an arrest and use the recorded evidence of the theft in the prosecution.

The fight against auto theft, organized or otherwise, will require similar creative law enforcement techniques if it is to be ultimately successful.

The situation is clear. Members of criminal organizations are reaping large profits on the backs of legitimate motor vehicle owners.

Therefore, I certainly hope that all members will support the bill, and to the extent that there are any concerns whatsoever, we take the time necessary to make whatever amendments are necessary so that we can pass this bill in honour of our late colleague, Chuck Cadman.

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5 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to a number of the speakers today with respect to this bill. I have a little bit of background in law enforcement.

The issue is about the addition to what Mr. Cadman originally proposed. Has the member opposite given consideration as to whether this particular bill is not also useful in other criminal activity besides the theft of a motor vehicle?

I ask that question with the understanding that certain models of the same year of vehicle are worth considerably more money if they are purported to be a model different from a base model. We could be talking in terms of $50,000 to $100,000 for the vehicle.

By adding what we have here “to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle”, is only applicable if one is trying to steal the vehicle and put it off as another vehicle of similar value. I am wondering if the hon. member would give me his opinion. What it does is it allows the individual to make that change. If we take it out, the individual has no lawful excuse to change the number other than to enhance the value.

That is not a victimless crime. Certainly there is organized crime and there is crime that is organized. There are people out there altering VINs for the purpose of enhancing the value of the vehicle.

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5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I gave an example in my speech where it was found that some people were taking a VIN off a Toronto car and putting it on the same make of car in Vancouver.

As the member described, it could have some unique characteristic which gives it a different value. Clearly, the bill does apply in that case. I suspect that the point the member raised is in fact covered by the bill in its present form.

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5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise again in the House and speak to what is being touted as the government's bill to honour our former colleague, Chuck Cadman.

I remember a few months back being at the funeral honouring Chuck. The Prime Minister was there along with many of us to honour and remember Chuck. There was a promise made at his funeral that the Prime Minister would bring Chuck's bills before the House to honour him. That made many of us very happy because Chuck had introduced numerous bills over the years. Of course his wife, Dona Cadman, and his family were there, so it was wonderful to hear that the Prime Minister was going to do that in Chuck's memory.

Chuck in dealing with auto crime had presented some bills in the House. Bill C-413 was introduced in March 2003 and then was reintroduced in February 2004 and Bill C-287 was introduced in November 2004. Unfortunately the government never did support those bills of Chuck's regarding VIN altering.

Today we have been dealing with Bill C-65 on street racing and Bill C-64 on vehicle identification altering. However, our excitement that the Prime Minister was going to do the right thing was short-lived. There was a comment made by the justice minister that these bills were invoked in the name of Mr. Cadman saying that they were intended as an appropriate tribute to his legacy.

Chuck Cadman worked very hard to make Canada a safer place and to fight for victims' rights. He did an incredible job. Some of us here still have that passion to work for Chuck. It is unfortunate that Chuck did not see those bills passed while he was with us.

On October 1 a local newspaper, Now , ran an article titled “Chuck's bill likely to be law”. The community was excited that Chuck's bills were going to become law, that the Prime Minister was going to keep his promise. People were excited. Then we looked at the bills and found that they were not Chuck's bills at all. The government was using Chuck's name and had altered and watered down his bills. We became very disappointed.

Dane Minor was Chuck's campaign manager and worked for years with Chuck. He wrote a letter to the editor about Chuck's bills becoming law. It stated:

I read this article with a growing sense of disgust. Several weeks ago the prime minister announced on the front pages of national and local papers that his government would pass Chuck's private member bill into legislation as an honour to Chuck. My immediate reaction was a positive one. It would be a fitting memorial to Chuck. Then the justice minister announced his watered down version. This isn't Chuck's bill in either intent or design. It is a cynical attempt by the Liberals to use Chuck's good name while doing little or nothing to change the existing laws.

One of the things that drew Chuck into the political arena in the first place was a visit by a former justice minister to supposedly discuss the Young Offenders Act with Chuck. The man blew into town, spent five minutes getting his picture taken shaking Chuck's hand and went back to Ottawa saying meetings with victims showed his government cared about victims and the faults of the YOA. Chuck was disgusted and it was incidents like these that led him to become a MP to truly change things.

This “new” legislation from the Liberals is the same type of political stunt. [The] Justice Minister...said his government tweaked both bills to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and address “operational deficiencies”.

There is a word here I will not repeat.

Chuck had one of the best legal advisors in Ottawa on his staff and his bills were well within the Charter. The ultimate ridiculousness of [the justice minister's] version was the reason for removing penalties for repeat offences: “because the police across this country don't have tracing or tracking records so we would know if it was a first, second or third tracking offence.”

If the Liberals truly want to honour Chuck Cadman I suggest they pass his laws as written and actually give the police the resources to find out how many previous offences there were. If they don't have the courage to do that, at least have the decency to stop using his name in a self serving bid to gain political points.

That was from Dane Minor's letter. I phoned Dona shortly after that. I asked Dane if it was okay to read the letter in the House and he said yes. I asked Dona if she was okay with that and she said yes too. She asked the House not to present Mickey Mouse watered down bills but to pass Chuck's bills the way Chuck had written them. They were good bills. If we pass the Liberal bill, all it does is protects the criminals. That is what I heard from Dane and Dona.

For years I was involved with dealing with auto theft. Like Chuck, I spent a number of years working for ICBC and I dealt with crashes and auto crime.

I found some very interesting statistics on auto crime. The typical auto thief is a 27-year-old male. He is addicted to crystal meth. He has 13 prior criminal convictions and he is stealing the vehicle to commit another offence.

There are auto thieves who are stealing the car for a joyride. Some steal cars for transportation to get from point A to point B, some to their court hearing. There are some kids who steal vehicles. There are vehicles being stolen by organized crime. Primarily the number one offender is the typical thief who is addicted to crystal meth and is stealing it to commit another crime.

The bill presented by the government as a bill to honour Chuck, this watered down version which I do not support because of why the Liberals have done it, is to deal with the changing of the vehicle identification number. That can be done in a number of different ways and it is connected with auto crime, with organized crime.

It is a small minority of the vehicles that are being stolen. Last year there were 170,000 vehicles stolen. The Insurance Bureau of Canada says that it is costing Canadians over $1 billion a year. When we include the police costs and the loss to Canadians it is $1 billion a year for auto theft. A portion of those are vehicles that are being stolen to change the VIN. What kind of theft is that? What do they do with the vehicles? Why are they changing the vehicle identification numbers?

Some of them steal the car to sell it for parts. We have heard that. That is a percentage of them. They will take the car apart and sell the pieces. A lot of the new vehicles, in fact most of them, have a VIN attached to every panel and every fender. Every component in the car will have the VIN hidden on it. That is something we may want to consider.

If we are talking about amending the bill to make it a bill that would work, we are talking about altering on a vehicle but it could be a vehicle or components of a vehicle. That is a big problem. The car is stolen and then parted out because the thief thinks that the parts are not traceable. Another way that organized crime operates is to steal an expensive vehicle, alter the VIN and then sell it.

I have constituents in my riding of Langley who bought a motor home. It was their dream to buy a motor home. They bought it from a reputable dealer, or so they thought, and it turned out to be a stolen vehicle, a vehicle that had an altered VIN. My constituents had taken out a mortgage. They were going to sell their house. The motor home was going to be their home. It was a beautiful $140,000 motor home. It turned out to be stolen. It was taken from them.

The province of B.C. refunded the PST because of the fraudulent VIN. My constituents had done the due diligence. They did a check on the vehicle and everything was fine. They had it checked out, but it turned out to be a stolen vehicle. The VIN had been changed to the legitimate VIN of a vehicle that was not stolen.

This is all too common. Thieves will steal the registration from another vehicle. The registration has a VIN. The thieves will put that legitimate VIN from a vehicle that is not stolen onto the stolen vehicle so the buyer does not realize it is a stolen vehicle. My constituents bought the vehicle. Unfortunately, it was taken back. The police found it.

I wonder if I am going over my time, Mr. Speaker, because I am getting some heckling from my honoured colleagues across the way. I would ask them to be patient.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

An hon. member

Take your time.