Mr. Speaker, I intend to use my 16 and a bit minutes to drive home the fact that certainly the official opposition supports this bill, but there are a number of questions as we send the bill to committee that we as parliamentarians might reasonably ask the government.
I left off after my three and a bit minutes of speech before oral questions in suggesting that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and municipalities across the country have been directly and indirectly calling on the federal government to do something about auto theft for some time. As the Insurance Bureau of Canada says in its publications, auto theft is not just an insurance or policing problem, it is not a victimless crime and it is not just a properly crime. Auto theft affects cities and the way we think about our communities. Many mayors are concerned. A mayor's nightmare might be that his or her community ends up in the top 10 list of car theft capitals in Canada. No one wants that.
Unlike a lot of other major crimes that are monitored by the media, such as spousal abuse, sexual abuse, murder and assault, the root causes of which are very difficult and profound for cities and leaders to deal with, auto theft is probably something that can be affected by a community response and not just a federal government response. For example, the communities themselves could help by educating the public as to where not to park and certainly by providing better lighting. That is the minimal end of it.
However, with respect to investment in technology, the government has a very poor record. For instance, the Insurance Bureau of Canada says that investing in industries would give us certain deterrents such as immobilizers. Immobilizers are electronic devices that arm automatically when a vehicle is switched off. They prevent the unauthorized starting of a vehicle. Canada should be a leader in this technology. Instead we heard today about world-leading scientists leaving the country. that is the track record of the government.
Auto theft is a global problem. It is profitable for criminals. It is expensive for law-abiding citizens. In fact, although auto theft might not affect every small community in this country, it does affect everyone's insurance rate. The Insurance Bureau of Canada suggests that up to $35 of one's insurance premium per year is attributable to auto theft. For those of us who have never had a car stolen and paid auto insurance for as many years as we have been paying insurance, one gets the depth of the problem with respect to auto theft. It is a $1.2 billion per year cost that affects not only the people who have had their vehicles stolen, but everyone who pays insurance.
It is an economic issue which the government should be doing more about than presenting a bill. In the last Parliament, Bill C-53, the government's first stab at it, was not really carefully drafted. The Conservatives have come back with advice from the opposition and from the IBC law reform section. They have improved it to put in a separate offence for auto theft. Cheers for that.
There is some literature out there that says that this only affects high-end SUVs and high value import models, but it is not so. To give an idea of how this affects the average Canadian driver, the top 10 stolen vehicles for 2007 include models that are very popular, such as the Honda Civic, the Honda Civic SIR, the Dodge Plymouth Grand Caravan, and everyone who has ever been a van dad or a van mom knows that the Dodge Caravan is a very popular vehicle. Other models in the list are the Grand Caravan Voyageur, the Plymouth Shadow, and the Neon. These are vehicles that average Canadians drive. They are stolen and chopped up sometimes by criminal organizations, which I will get to in a minute.
The statistics indicate that there are over 1,200 instances of auto theft per 100,000 population in the province of Manitoba as a high, down to roughly less than 150 instances per 100,000 population in provinces like Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. The mayors of Winnipeg, Abbotsford, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, London and Hamilton must be very concerned that their cities are at the top of the heap when it comes to motor vehicle theft.
We on this side of the House will not be opposing this legislation. The bill will be sent to committee where we will discuss some of the statistics and some of the things that could be done in a better way to tackle the issue of auto theft.
After over three years in government and with cities like that which are not all in Liberal held ridings, and in fact very few of them are, one would think the Conservatives would understand that auto theft is a bigger problem than the bill it brought in two years into its mandate and one which was not really drafted that carefully. Finally, over three years into its mandate, the government has drafted a bill that would do something toward the problem of auto theft.
The mayor of Winnipeg appeared before committee about a year ago. He is looking for federal legislation. With the power the federal government has and the programs and policies it has access to, one would think the federal government would be doing more about auto theft.
People in the cities that I just mentioned from the ground up might push their MP, who in turn might push the Minister of Justice and those responsible for science and technology to do something about auto theft. One would think the government would present a bill that would meet no opposition. After three and a half years, there should be more to it.
The issue of how the Insurance Bureau of Canada has made this information available is quite relevant. The information has been online, for anyone who cared to look at it, for the last seven years. This has been a problem over the last seven years.
I applaud the steps in the bill in defining car theft as a separate offence, and getting at the issue of organized crime as an element, which is the next aspect of my speech. I want to start with how this affects the average Canadian.
Although we think it is important to target organized crime as it profits from the theft of autos and the chop shops and the creation of a whole industry out of the theft of vehicles, the other reality is that only one out of five auto thefts, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, benefits organized crime. The four other auto thefts are auto thefts per se. These are the items that touch every Canadian and the items the government should be doing something about.
Although I said the bill is not perfect, it is a good start in that it is updating the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code is a massive document, a panoply of rights and derogations created by maybe one of the last really good Conservative prime ministers going back two centuries. Sir John Thompson, who was from my part of the world, Nova Scotia, basically wrote or scripted or copied and pulled together the Criminal Code in 1892, I believe.
The Criminal Code has grown. It needs a more wholesome review than just the piecemeal approach that has been taken by legislators for the last 50 to 60 years. We have to look at a more catholic view of codes around the western world, the jurisdictions with common law as their source of law, and do something about reforming the Criminal Code.
As we go along we have to realize, obviously because that document is so old and such a compendium of additions over the last 100 years, that more than Criminal Code amendments could be brought to bear on issues touched by the Criminal Code. The case in point is auto theft and organized crime.
We know that one in five cars in Canada is stolen for the purpose of aiding organized crime or gangs. One of the elements in this bill which has long been suggested is to create a separate offence for tampering with the vehicle identification number. The vehicle identification number is a system of 17 alphanumeric characters that provide a unique identifier for each vehicle.
There are those who will take out the 17 digit VIN unintentionally or perhaps without the purpose of benefiting and aiding gang-related or organized crime coffers. In the code, there is a reasonable hybrid offence dealing with that. In one instance, where it has been proven to the satisfaction of the prosecutor that there was intent for criminal purposes to obliterate the VIN, it is a more serious, indictable offence. However, in the cases where that intent cannot be shown, the hybrid aspect allows a prosecutor to proceed, or I suppose by amendment at a trial, a defendant's lawyer could convince a judge that the case should proceed for sentencing purposes by way of summary conviction. I think the maximum is set at $2,000.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada is certainly in favour of such a move, but the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada recently noted:
The Insurance Crime Prevention Bureau has identified an increase in four main fraud techniques that are used by organized crime to steal vehicles. These include: the illegal transfer of Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) from wrecked vehicles to similar ones that have been stolen; a legitimate VIN is used to change the legal identity of a stolen vehicle of the same make, model, and colour, a process called “twinning.”
We would have thought that a VIN might be obliterated by someone selling a vehicle to hide the previous vehicle's imperfections. Mr. Speaker, I do not know how often you have to trade in vehicles, but you want to make sure that the vehicle you have is the vehicle it appears to be from the VIN. However, we are seeing that a vehicle in the wreck heap is actually having its VIN used for another vehicle that has been stolen, thereby purporting to confuse the consumer and perpetuate a fraud.
As in the case of possession of property obtained by crime, in this new aspect of the offence, the property must have been derived from the commission of an indictable offence in Canada or outside Canada. In addition to proving criminal origin, the prosecution would have to prove that the accused had knowledge of the criminal origin. The issue with respect to how this will hurt organized crime will have to be looked at in the discussions at committee.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights just returned from a 12-hour day of hearings in Vancouver with respect to organized crime. The discussion was wide ranging. We discussed aspects with respect to the illegal marijuana grow-ops and the currency of organized crime in that part of the world. We also know from our research looking into this bill and now supporting this bill as it goes to committee that some of the currency of organized crime is in stolen vehicles with or without obliterated VINs.
Further, the stolen vehicles are resold, but there have also been vehicles that have been stolen and chopped up into parts for export. In section 355.1 of the code, the definition of “traffic” covers a wide range of activities, including selling, offering and delivering. As we move this bill to committee, it is important for all of us to be very aware that prosecutors and Department of Justice officials themselves will have to convince us that this is a good bill of goods that we are buying here in terms of trying to use the provisions of auto theft prevention as a means also to prevent profit from going to organized crime.
It is all well and good to go on the news and say that we are fighting organized crime and present an auto theft bill. There are two goals: to prevent auto theft, clearly, and for the first part of my speech I talked about the public, the mayors and the FCM from time immemorial having an interest in having that reduced on its own; and also to reduce the cash stream, the lifeblood and currency of organized crime.
Therefore, we need to get underneath this trafficking definition and ensure that as the new law is enacted it will actually have an effect on organized crime. As I mentioned, four out of five vehicles are stolen not for the purposes of organized crime in Canada. As I mentioned, the onus is a little bit higher when it comes to obliterating the VIN number. There needs to be actual knowledge or intent. As I also mentioned, the definition of trafficking might be easier when it comes to things like drugs. There is an item in a cash consideration.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, from your days in law school, consideration can be a mere peppercorn but it also can be wads of cash. With vehicles and chopped parts, it is not that clear.
I want to say finally that, not as an old grey mayor but an old mayor, I am really compelled to do something for mayors. When we had the mayor of Winnipeg in committee a year or so ago, I felt very strongly that as legislators we had to do all that we could.
This is a nice little bill and we will support it when it goes to committee. We are doing what we can on this side to make places like Winnipeg safe. What we also must remember is that the Conservative members have the levers of power. They have the purses that short term political success brings but they can do a lot more with respect to encouraging a reduction in auto theft. One of those things is to talk to the municipalities more often.
For all those ministers to give a score card to us, but the number of times they have been to FCM, I bet, would be pretty pathetic. We will be support the bill as it goes to committee.