Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak in support of Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime).
Over six years ago, my late husband, Chuck Cadman, introduced legislation to address VIN tampering, auto theft and property crime. I am very pleased and I know many of my constituents in Surrey North are too, to see that this government is listening to common sense and working to protect our property and our communities.
Auto theft and other forms of property crime plague Canadian communities and make our streets unsafe. To address this serious problem, Bill C-26 proposes to create a new offence of motor vehicle theft, a new offence to address tampering with an automobile vehicle identification number, and new offences to address trafficking in property obtained by crime.
Trafficking in property obtained by crime is the marketing chain that processes the fruits of theft in other crimes like fraud. One form of trafficking in property obtained by crime is the movement of stolen automobiles and their parts. This is where organized crime is the most involved in auto theft, either through chop shops that dismantle stolen cars for parts, the act of altering a car's VIN number to hide its identity, or the sophisticated international rings that smuggle stolen high-end luxury cars from Canada to far-flung locations in Africa, the Middle East and eastern Europe.
It is also important to note that organized car theft rings employ youth. In 2002, 40% of persons charged criminally for stealing a motor vehicle were between the ages of 12 and 17.
Transport Canada reports that organized vehicle theft groups recruit youth to steal cars in order to protect the upper levels of the theft ring. They rely on the legal system to be lenient with young offenders and when apprehended, these offenders are unable to identify other members of the ring because they work in isolation and are purposely not introduced to the other members of the organization.
Motor vehicle theft is an ideal recruitment tool for general involvement in organized criminal groups. Academic research shows that youth whose first offence is motor vehicle theft are most at risk of continuing on the criminal career path.
Section 354 of the Criminal Code, the general offence of possession of property obtained by crime, which carries a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment for property valued over $5,000, is the principal Criminal Code offence that is currently used to address trafficking in property obtained by crime. This possession offence does not adequately capture the full range of activities involved in trafficking.
The proposed offences would provide for a wide definition of trafficking that would include the selling, giving, transferring, transporting, importing, exporting, sending or delivering of goods, or offering to do any of the above, of property obtained by crime. As such, this new law would target all of the middlemen who move stolen property from the initial criminal act through to the ultimate consumer.
Both proposed offences have higher penalties than the existing offence of possession of property obtained by crime. If the value of the item trafficked exceeds $5,000, anyone convicted of this offence could face imprisonment of up to 14 years. If the value does not exceed $5,000, it would be what is known as a hybrid offence, and subject to imprisonment for up to five years on indictment, or up to six months on a summary conviction. This penalty would be consistent with the existing penalty scheme of the Criminal Code.
It is also worth noting that if any indictable offence is found to have been committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, there is an additional offence that would also apply. It would be open to the prosecution to prove the additional element of a link to organized crime and obtain a separate conviction under section 467.12 of the Criminal Code. The maximum penalty for this offence is 14 years, which must be served consecutively to any other sentence for the crime in issue.
The proposed trafficking offences would also respond to the concerns of stakeholders, such as the Insurance Bureau of Canada, that have long advocated for stronger enforcement to prevent the export of stolen vehicles.
Under the Customs Act, in order for the Canada Border Services Agency to apply the administrative powers of the Customs Act to the cross-border movement of property obtained by crime, such goods must first be classified somewhere in federal law as a prohibited good for the purpose of importation or exportation. This bill would supply that classification provision.
Today, CBSA officers are only authorized to examine and detain goods entering or exiting Canada in order to determine whether or not the importation or exportation complies with federal legislation controlling the movement of goods across our borders. The CBSA mandate does not include a broad law enforcement role and its officers thus have limited authority to deal with the movement of stolen property. The express prohibition provision in this bill would allow CBSA officers to examine and detain stolen goods, which could ultimately result in the police laying criminal charges.
With this proposed amendment, CBSA officers could identify targets, conduct examinations and detain these goods. They could then search law enforcement databases to determine whether the goods had been reported as stolen and refer the case to the police in appropriate cases.
There is no offence in the Criminal Code that directly prohibits the alteration, obliteration or removal of a VIN. The proposed amendment would make it an offence to wholly or partially alter, obliterate or remove a VIN on a motor vehicle. Under the new amendments, anyone convicted of tampering with a VIN could face imprisonment for a term of up to five years on indictment, or six months, or a fine of not more than $5,000, or both, on a summary conviction.
In order to ensure that honest activities such as automobile body repair, recycling and wrecking are not captured by the offence, there is an express exemption provision in the offence that would exclude its application to legitimate motor vehicle repairs or maintenance.
A conviction for this offence would more clearly and accurately document a person's involvement in an organized vehicle theft ring as part of the person's criminal record. This, in turn, would help police and Crown prosecutors to deal appropriately with these people in subsequent investigations and prosecutions.
Finally, the creation of a distinct offence of motor vehicle theft will send a strong message to auto thieves that the criminal justice system is serious about reducing auto theft rates and putting offenders in jail.
The proposed offence has a mandatory minimum penalty of six months' imprisonment for a third offence. This is a proportionate and reasonable penalty for an extremely serious problem in Canada.
I believe that the government has brought forward a strong piece of legislation that will be of great assistance to law enforcement and prosecutors.
I would urge all members of this House to support Bill C-26 and to send it to committee for further consideration. Our communities need this legislation and they need it now.