Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Newton—North Delta to participate in the debate on Bill C-64, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to vehicle identification numbers.
Bill C-64 would make it a criminal offence to alter, remove or obliterate the vehicle identification number, commonly known as a VIN, on a motor vehicle. The current Criminal Code has no offence that deals specifically with VIN tampering. However, under section 352.2 of the Criminal Code, a tampered with VIN can be proof of property obtained by crime.
Auto theft in B.C. is epidemic. As the member who spoke before me mentioned, we had 37,500 vehicles stolen last year. The RCMP has labeled Surrey, British Columbia, the car theft capital of North America. On a per capita basis, more automobiles are stolen in Surrey than in any other North American city, more than Toronto, more than Los Angeles, and even more than New York City.
Over 6,000 cars are stolen each year in the communities in Surrey. Sixteen cars will be stolen by the end of any given day. Since the time we began speaking on this bill today, some cars have probably already been stolen in Surrey.
Local newspapers jokingly refer to car theft as Surrey's fastest growing industry, but it is no joking matter. Almost all the vehicles stolen are used to commit other crimes.
Stealing a vehicle is one thing, but the thieves then involve that vehicle in other crimes or sometimes in joyriding, often with fatal consequences. So far this year seven people have died in British Columbia as a result of auto theft.
The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia estimates that auto offences cost Surrey drivers $13 million annually.
The RCMP claims that it has done all it can to stop car thieves and now it is up to the courts. We have a court system that is a revolving door. The car thieves take advantage of our weak laws, our laws without teeth, and of the loopholes that exist within the system.
The courts refuse to treat auto theft as a serious crime. The RCMP auto theft task force complains that thieves receive virtually no punishment but a slap on the wrist. In fact, when the punishment is not severe, that becomes a motivation to commit the same crime again. There is no deterrent in place.
Meanwhile, the same individuals are arrested over and over again. One man arrested last summer in Surrey was already facing seven separate trials for auto theft. Another thief was pulled over while driving a stolen car to his court hearing on auto theft charges; he was going to court on auto theft charges and he stole a car to get there. In fact, once a thief stole a car and another thief stole his stolen car.
This crime is so rampant that about half of the 13,000 cases handled by Surrey provincial court last year involved car theft. Ninety per cent involved repeat offenders.
Most car thieves are supporting drug addictions. This was graphically displayed earlier this year when an RCMP bait car equipped with a surveillance camera caught a Surrey car thief on film. The thief was high on crystal meth, which is a serious problem in Surrey. According to a survey, 10% of school students under the age of 18 have used crystal meth. The government is sitting on its hands doing nothing to prevent it or stop it.
The thief, high on crystal meth and waving a gun, sped through our city streets. The image was later seen on news broadcasts across the country.
My former colleague and neighbour in Surrey, member of Parliament Chuck Cadman, sought to address auto theft and assist police by introducing Bill C-413 in March 2003.
He reintroduced his private member's bill in February 2004 and then again in November 2004, as Bill C-287. These two bills, neither of which moved beyond first reading, sought to make it a criminal offence to tamper with vehicle identification numbers.
Now, in introducing Bill C-64, the justice minister invokes the name of Mr. Cadman, saying that the bill is intended as an appropriate tribute to his legacy.
I would like to mention what happens when private members' bills are introduced. Of course we have made some progress in the House, in that at least one private member's bill or motion is votable in the House, but during the days when I was a member of Parliament representing the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance, when a good idea used to come from a private member, the government would completely mitigate it, reducing the volume, criticize it and oppose it vigorously.
Then, after opposing it, the Liberals sometimes had the audacity to reintroduce the bill if they thought was a good idea. The Liberals have stolen many of my bills, including those on foreign credentials, protection for firefighters and whistleblower legislation. They opposed the bills, but when we continued to raise our voices they stole the bills.
In this case, the government opposed the bill, which they now try to own on their own terms. First they criticize and oppose and then they steal the bill, mess it up and reintroduce it.
However, there are two major differences between Mr. Cadman's bills and the government bill. Bill C-413 and Bill C-287 put the onus on the person charged to explain why he has a vehicle with a stolen vehicle identification number. In contrast, Bill C-64 requires the Crown to prove that a person caught with a stolen vehicle knows that it was stolen.
Bill C-413 and Bill C-287 amended section 402 of the Criminal Code, which deals with fraudulent transactions. In contrast, Bill C-64 amends section 377 of the code, which deals with property offences. It is the same section which now indirectly covers vehicle identification number tampering.
Like Bill C-65, the proposed legislation is a watered down version of Mr. Cadman's initial proposal. In order to better reflect Mr. Cadman's initial desire to create a useful tool for our law enforcement agencies to tackle auto theft and organized crime, the legislation should remove part of subsection 377.1(1) so that the onus is placed on the people caught with an altered vehicle identification number to explain themselves, as was the original intention of Chuck Cadman.
While the Insurance Bureau of Canada is pleased that the government is finally moving on vehicle registration numbers, it is seeking specific amendments to the Criminal Code that would impose tougher penalties for auto theft, including mandatory minimum prison sentences, to send an even stronger message that auto theft is treated more seriously than property crime.
According to an Insurance Bureau spokesperson:
Right now, auto theft is seen by criminal organizations as a relatively low-risk, high-profit activity to raise funds for additional activities. Far from being a victimless crime, auto theft is an inherently violent criminal offence that has a devastating impact in communities right across the country in terms of fatalities and injuries, not to mention the cost to insurance policyholders. The evidence of the impact of auto theft is clear.
Statistics from the Insurance Bureau show that the rate of car theft is 64% higher than it was a decade ago. I do not know how the Liberals can stand there and say the crime rate is falling. Either they do not know the figures, they are manipulating them or the calculations are done differently over there. Statistics from the Insurance Bureau show that the rate of car theft is 64% higher than it was a decade ago.
While the rate of recovery of stolen vehicles in the early 1990s was 95%, today it sits at 60%. The decline in the recovery rate can be attributed to the proliferation of organized vehicle theft.
Organized criminal groups make a profit by exporting stolen vehicles to foreign countries or selling their parts. Because the parts of a car are sometimes worth more collectively than an intact car, many stolen cars are delivered to chop shops. These shops specialize in stripping cars, disposing of identifiable parts and selling others through a national network. Chop shops can meet the demands for parts more quickly and typically more cheaply than legitimate parts dealers.
Like the most recent trend in human identity theft involving frauds such as credit card fraud, bank fraud or other financial frauds, the trend is the same in auto identity theft. A VIN is just like DNA, but the thieves can remove it skilfully.
It is hard work. Thieves know that the vehicle identification number is unique and different on every car. First, they copy the vehicle identification number from the Internet, from car dealerships or from cars in malls or junkyards. They make perfect duplicates of the vehicle identification number plates and paperwork. Finally, they steal a similar car and replace its VIN with the copied one. Now the car has been cloned. The stolen car can no longer be identified as stolen; it has a new identity. This crime is highly profitable and very low risk and the chance of getting caught is slim to none.
Experts estimate that there are currently about 50,000 cloned cars in North America, but the number is growing by leaps and bounds. This type of crime only further emphasizes the need for a vehicle identification number tampering law.
I will conclude by saying that it is time this Liberal government did something about auto theft. The Conservatives have consistently supported the efforts of Chuck Cadman in tackling this issue by supporting him on this bill. The Liberals, on the other hand, did not support his bills when he was a caucus member of the Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance or the Conservative Party. They only decided to support the legislation after Mr. Cadman voted to save the Liberal government in the confidence vote on May 19 of this year.
My riding is next to the Surrey North constituency. My constituents are mad. They are very upset that the Liberals are trying to gain politically by using Chuck Cadman's name while watering down his legislation. If the Liberals really wanted to honour Chuck Cadman or his legacy, they should have introduced the bill with the same wording and with the same intent that Mr. Cadman had in mind.
I have a friend, Dane Minor, who was a very close friend of Chuck Cadman and is still a good friend of the Cadman family. He worked with Chuck from the beginning when Chuck helped to found CRY. He had known Chuck for a long time and knew him well. He said in a letter, and I do not have a copy of his letter with me, that he was encouraged when he first saw that the Liberals were reintroducing Chuck's bill in the House, but when he saw the content of the bill, he said that he was mad as hell. He is disappointed that the Liberals are using Chuck's name on a watered down version of the bill.
Legislation making it a criminal offence to tamper with a vehicle identification number could provide law enforcement with another tool to use in its battle against auto theft. It would also serve as a deterrent to criminals. Other countries have had similar legislation in place for years. It is about time that we did the same, but in the right way.
Bill C-64 is not as good as the private member's bill on which it is modelled. I recommend that it be amended suitably. If it is, the bill should help tackle organized crime and auto theft by giving enforcement agencies another tool.
I used to be a member of the subcommittee on organized crime. I had the opportunity to have lots of meetings with the Vancouver Port Authority, the RCMP, the border patrol and many other law enforcement agencies. They told the subcommittee that organized crime is on the increase to the extent that if they have 10 leads on different organized crimes, they do not have enforcers to even follow up with one of those leads.
The criminals have state of the art technology, whereas our law enforcement agencies are struggling to maintain their old equipment, thanks to the cuts made by the Liberal government.
We have to give our law enforcement agencies the tools, resources, manpower and the equipment so that they are light years ahead of the organized criminals. Unfortunately, they are light years behind the state of the art technology that organized criminals are using. Whether it is a marijuana grow op, crystal meth, ecstasy or any kind of drugs that infiltrate the younger society, the government has absolutely no control over it. The hands of the law enforcement agencies are tied. As my colleague mentioned, the Liberals have taken the handcuffs from the criminals and put them on the hands of the judges.
I urge the House that until the bill is amended, we should look into it and make every effort to make it strong. Again, the Liberals should use the original bill the way it was designed if they really want to honour the legacy. Otherwise they should stop using the name of Chuck Cadman.