Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-26. It is important to set this in a timeline context.
For a good number of years, somewhere between 7 and 10 years, it has been quite apparent that we have a major problem with regard to car thefts. At one point, we almost had a competition, on an annual basis, as to which city would be the car theft capital of the country. This is not something about which we did not know. It is not something about which the previous Liberal government did not know. It is certainly not something about which the current government did not know.
I will make some comments on why the government has not addressed this problem. It is true not only about these amendments to the code, but a good number of others as well. The strategy and tactic of the government calls for criticism.
First I will deal with this bill and why it has taken so long to get here. The bill had a predecessor in the last Parliament, which was tabled for first reading in April of 2008. Coincidentally, at that point, the Conservative Party and the Conservative chair of the justice committee was using one of their tactics in the justice committee, which was also used in at least in three or four other committees, of destroying the functionality of that committee.
His initial stance with regard to the issue was one that I supported. However, once it was obvious the majority of the committee would overrule him on that, he refused to allow the committee to function. Therefore, from April of 2008 until after the election, the committee did not meet. It did absolutely nothing. The predecessor to this bill, which was Bill C-53 in the last Parliament, simply sat with nothing happening on it, as did all the other work of the justice committee on all the other justice and crime bills.
There was not only this role by the Conservative chair of the committee, but then the election intervened. I am sure there was no consideration given to the bill or any other crime bills at the time when the Prime Minister decided to have an election. We had the election, we came back to work and in December the Prime Minister decided to prorogue, again I am sure without consideration to the reality of the need for legislation in a number of areas in the Criminal Code.
We finally saw the first crime bill in February of 2009. The justice committee did not get to consider a crime bill for a whole year, from April 2008 until April 2009. That was the first government bill it had any opportunity to deal with all because of the conduct of the government.
In addition to that, in terms of specific events, the government has been absolutely determined to use crime and crime issues for partisan political purposes. From the very time the Conservatives were elected, and we can maybe argue that the tactic and strategy existed even before they were elected, they would take an individual issue and introduce a bill that would have a very narrow scope and few clauses to it to deal with the issue. The Minister of Justice would have a press conference, issue press releases and create news stories around the fact that they were addressing an issue.
Then a week or two later, the Conservatives would choose another issue as opposed to doing what they should have done, which was to address all the issues of which the government and Parliament were aware. In a large number of cases, they had all party support. In spite of that all party support, they continued with this strategy, and have continued with it right up to today.
It is a strategy that I think more and more people are recognizing for its lack of credibility, if the government is really serious about getting tough on crime as opposed to being smart on crime, which it does not seem to be capable of doing.
Last week the justice committee was in Vancouver. One of the tactics of the Conservatives when they asked questions of the witnesses was to tell them what they had done. They would list the bills and then ask the witnesses if they agreed with them. Their specific tactic was to address each issue separately. In fact, I think that specific question was put to the mayor of Surrey. He responded by saying he did not agree with them. He said that a lot of issues needed to be addressed. He was speaking from a community that had been particularly hard hit by crime in the last few months. He said there was no time to wait for the government to address them one at a time.
That is the point I have been making repeatedly for the last several years, as I have watched the government turn crime and crime issues to its partisan advantage as much as it can.
We need a major revamp of the Criminal Code. This is my version of what the 2009 Criminal Code should be. I believe at least a third to a half of it could be done away with and accommodated into fewer and clearer sections, sections that would be easier for our police, our prosecutors and our judges to enforce.
The best way of doing that review of the code and bringing it up into the 21st century would have been to commission the Law Commission to conduct a review, prepare a white paper on it and get a whole new Criminal Code that would be much shorter, much clearer and much simpler to enforce. What did the government do? It did away with the Law Commission, by refusing to fund it any more. That was two budgets ago. We are now faced with this.
Now we come to this bill and to the issue of auto theft. It should have been addressed by the Liberals when they were in power a good number of years ago. It should have obviously been addressed, as well, by the current government. It should have been dealt with effectively by including it into several omnibus bills, which could have been brought forward much more efficiently.
I want to make one more point about not using small omnibus bills. I am talking about addressing five to ten issues all at once. When we follow the strategy and tactics of the government, we need to have hearings on each one of the bills. We have to call witnesses, oftentimes witnesses who would address each one of these sections if they were in an omnibus bill. Now they have to come back repeatedly. Our justice department officials have to spend all this extra time in hearings, watching each bill go through. They are there to assist in that regard. The strategy the government is employing is a great waste of time, energy and resources. It is not fair to the witnesses and it is certainly not fair to the Canadian public.
When we deal with this specific bill and the issue of auto theft, we need to look at the effect it will have. I want to be very clear that we are supportive of creating the new offence. We are supportive of creating an offence that would make tampering with the VIN number a crime. This issue was around at the time I was in law school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has taken us all this time to finally deal with it.
We are dealing with, as well, introducing a new section on the whole concept of trafficking in stolen goods. It was not in the bill of last April. I have some problems with this. It is a concept, outside of trafficking in drugs, that is fairly new. We have to be very careful as to whether it will survive, not so much a charter challenge, but a challenge as to whether the offence is clear enough and the risk that it could be struck down for that. I have some difficulty with the way the section has been drafted. We will have to take a very close look at it.
I want to echo some of the comments of my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona on what the Manitoba government has done. We heard this from members of a delegation in Ottawa last year. They probably would have been at one point in front of the justice committee, but the committee was not sitting due to the tactics of the Conservatives on the committee.
They told all the caucuses what they needed with regard to fighting auto theft. They also told us what they had done. It has been the most effective tactic in the country. My colleague said that there was one day last week where there was not one auto theft in all Manitoba. Two years ago Winnipeg was the auto theft capital of the country. There were literally as many as 50 to 100 thefts of cars on a daily basis in that city.
The statistics my colleagues from all parties are using with regard to auto theft are somewhat dated. Members are using figures from 2006 and 2007. If we look at 2008, and I believe even more so what we see at the end of 2008 and 2009, cities like Winnipeg and Vancouver have moved dramatically to reduce the amount of auto theft. They have not done this with legislation, and I am not taking away the need for the legislation. In the case of Vancouver it has used practical police tactics. In the case of Manitoba, the provincial government has used its public auto insurance to, in effect, force people to put an anti-theft immobilizing device on their car for free, if they want auto insurance. This issue came up, but I cannot remember in what other context.
Representatives of the Insurance Bureau of Canada officials were in front of the committee at one point in the last year. I asked if they proposed their private sector companies do the same thing. They said, no, that they believed in freedom of choice. In spite of this, as we heard from my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, IBC has a brief which shows the amount that auto theft costs it.
One thing the government should do is urge provincial governments, which have public insurance plans, to follow the model in Manitoba. It has literally cut auto theft by over 60% in a little over a year. That is an effective tool.
Today the chair of the justice committee spoke about Vancouver and its use of bait cars. I remember seeing one of the examples on national TV. I watched an individual being recorded, taped, all of it, not realizing he was in a bait car. The individual was subsequently apprehended, charged and convicted.
We could use those kinds of techniques, and the federal government should urge the provinces to do so. Their responsibility is enforcement.
Finally, from a practical standpoint, the government needs to comply with its promise that it will put more police on the streets. The use of the bait car, for instance, would be much more effective in Vancouver if there were more police officers there. When we were there last week, it was again confirmed that it had the lowest proportion of police officers to the general population of any major city in the country. In spite of the protestations of innocence and compliance by the government that it would put those extra 2,500 officers on the streets of this country, it has hardly met any of that.
With regard to the specifics, we agree that making auto theft a specific separate offence makes sense. It will make it easier for us to get convictions.
However, I do not want to mislead the Canadian public, as opposed to Manitoba driving down by almost two-thirds its auto theft because of its tactics around auto insurance. The figure we saw was as much as 47% of auto thefts reduced in Vancouver over the last two years from its peak, where it is now.
This section will not reduce auto theft to any significant degree. I would accord it a one to three percentile potential of reducing auto theft. We still need it because it will make it easier for our police and prosecutors to get convictions in very specific types of cases.
The need for the VIN number is a section that is really important because it targets members of organized crime. They are the ones that change the VIN numbers. They take it off if they can or in some other way alter it, and oftentimes ship the vehicle out of the country. It is very important that section gets passed.
I have made comments on the trafficking. It makes sense for us to be doing that. I am just not sure this section will accomplish it.
I do want to make one concern public at this point. The government is imposing additional responsibilities for enforcement of both export and import of stolen vehicles and stolen auto parts on the Canada Border Services Agency. There has been nothing in what the minister said when the government made the bill public in that usual press conference it always has. There was nothing about providing additional financial resources to our Border Services Agency.
Living on the border-crossing that is the busiest in the country, border officers are way over-taxed already in trying to deal with the trafficking of people, the trafficking in guns and the trafficking in drugs. That is true of our Border Services Agency at just about every crossing in this country. Unless additional financial resources and additional staff are put into it, this part of the section will be ineffective because there is no way they will be able to enforce it.
Finally, we have the concern that the Bloc has, and I want to address a couple of points to that, particularly the introduction of a mandatory minimum here after a third conviction for auto theft.
I want to be very clear that there are other sections of the bill that are clearly going after the organized crime sector, which has been estimated to be anywhere from 20% to 40% of all stolen vehicles in the country. They tend to be the high end ones, but not always.
We have to understand the way the system works. The organized crime members do not steal the cars themselves. They find people, usually young people, to do that. This section will be used primarily against young people, oftentimes people who have already been in conflict with the law in other ways, have other convictions, and oftentimes are abusers of drugs and alcohol.
In terms of what we should be doing to make these amendments most effective in reducing auto theft in this country is to be targeting organized crime. As I have said, I give the government full credit for doing that belatedly because it has taken it so long, but a good number of these sections are directed right at that. This one is not. This one will not get anybody who is a real senior member or even a mid-level member of an organized crime gang. It will be hitting those young people who are picked up, oftentimes from other sources and used specifically for this purpose. That is all it will be for.
Generally, mandatory minimums do not work and this will be another one of those cases where it will have no impact at all.