Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my experience regarding auto theft with the House.
I practised criminal law for thirty years. The issue of auto theft comes up regularly. Throughout my career I saw numerous young people come before the courts on auto theft charges. I will come back to this point later, but lawyers consider there are two different offences: auto theft and joyriding. There is a fundamental difference between the two, and I think this needs to be taken into consideration when this bill is examined in committee.
In my opinion we need to let this bill, on which the Bloc Québécois will be voting in favour, go to committee for in-depth study. It is an important and worthwhile bill which addresses a phenomenon that affects our society.
My colleague from Hochelaga spoke yesterday about auto theft in major cities. My colleague has no car, so he is not at risk of car theft. In big cities, the phenomenon is different than in the regions. Let me explain. I will compare the Montreal region and the Abitibi—Témiscamingue region. Obviously it is problematic to have your car stolen in Montreal, because the insurance companies are often rather uncooperative and there are investigations. That is no fun for anyone, but there is always the possibility of taking public transit. Obviously, the situation is the very opposite if you have your car stolen in a region like Abitibi—Témiscamingue, where there is very little public transit. A stolen car causes all manner of problems and difficulties.
Unfortunately, many vehicles stolen in the outlying areas end up in Montreal or the Montreal area or somewhere else, to be disassembled. This is a reality. A stolen car is rarely found in one piece. Generally, they are stolen, taken to a chop shop, transformed or modified. Expensive major parts are taken off and resold.
Society is plagued by auto theft. We believe that the new offence that would be created in the Criminal Code could be worthwhile and should be analyzed in detail. However, we should think twice before imposing mandatory minimum sentences for auto theft. I will come back to this shortly.
I would like to talk a bit about Bill C-26. This bill would create an offence for tampering with a vehicle identification number. This will not mean much to those who are watching. I will explain.
Every vehicle has an identification number, which the dealer notes when the vehicle is maintained. The dealer looks at the identification number, which is stored in a data bank. He knows what maintenance was done on the vehicle most recently, what sort of vehicle it is and what sort of maintenance it requires. This identification number is very important. The problem is that the number is found in only one place in the vehicle. Generally, it is quite visible. It has to be so that the garage can take note of it. It is inside the vehicle, on the edge of the windshield.
In committee, we can look at whether chips could be placed in other spots inside the vehicle, on important parts such as the wheel rims, the engine or the transmission.
Would it not make sense for manufacturers to put chips in vehicles to help trace them? I know from experience that a number of dealers have begun using this sort of identification, which could be used to trace these parts if the vehicle were stolen.
Let us go back to Bill C-26. I want to point out that in 2005, the Liberals introduced Bill C-64, which became Bill C-53, which has now given rise to Bill C-26. I hope that we will be able to pass this bill, because I feel it is important to create an offence for tampering with an identification number. I feel this is important because the bill will be broader in scope. Bill C-26 also targets the trafficking, exportation and importation of property obtained by crime.
Possession of stolen property is a Criminal Code offence. It means that you have in your possession an object that you are using and you know is stolen. For example, and this is the case unfortunately for many people, their car is stolen and, for one reason or another the VIN number disappears. Quite often the vehicle is found at the other end of Quebec or Canada. The vehicle has been transformed: it has been repainted and the doors replaced. The person buying the vehicle quite often believes that the vendor selling the car for an incredibly low price is honest. The courts have intervened on several occasions with regard to wilful blindness.
If you purchase a 2007 or 2008 Audi A4 for $2,000, it is obviously a case of wilful blindness. You deliberately ignore the fact that the car may have been stolen. Someone who purchases a Mercedes, especially a recent model, for $10,000 or under can expect to be charged with possession of stolen goods.
Heaven knows that there are many very honest people and I have met some in my career. They purchase a car at a reasonable price. I was looking at the list of stolen vehicles. Take, for example, someone who buys a 1999 Honda Civic coupe for between $10,000 and $15,000. They would expect to be purchasing a legitimate car, one that was not obtained by committing an offence such as theft. All this is difficult to prove. It is complicated for the courts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person knew that the car was stolen.
Tampering with an identification number must be an offence. The vehicle identification number may be altered, modified or changed, but only by the dealer. When I read the bill I noted that this person will obviously not be prosecuted. That is not the purpose of the bill.
This bill creates the offence of trafficking in property obtained by crime, punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years. It also creates sections 355.1, 355.2 and 355.3 in the Criminal Code. The definition will be important, since “trafficking” will not have the same meaning as it does in the Food and Drugs Act. It will correspond to the definition of the term “to traffic”, in the sense of to sell, give, transfer, transport, export from Canada, import into Canada, send, deliver or deal with in any other way, or to offer to do any of those acts.
With this, we are getting at the very heart of organized crime. Motor vehicle theft is very much the work of organized crime. A great deal of organization is required to have people who steal motor vehicles and bring them to specific locations so they can be disguised, changed or even broken down into pieces.
At this time, it is very difficult to identify the mags—pardon the expression—of a Passat, Beetle or Audi A4. It is very difficult to tell the difference if there is no chip or something to identify them. So the vehicle is broken down into pieces. That is what has been happening in many scrapyards, to use the jargon of those in the business. Of course they are not real scrapyards. The store front indicated auto parts, but motor vehicle were seen being brought in. We even have photos.
With this bill, we will be putting up a roadblock for organized crime—an appropriate expression given the subject. This must stop. Section 353.1 proposes the following offence: “Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse, wholly or partially alters, removes or obliterates a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle.” This is a recent offence, and very interesting. It is one of the reasons we will be voting in favour of this bill.
I do, however, have a serious problem and it is one that will require the bill to be examined very carefully. Here we are again with minimum prison sentences. Personally, I have a big problem with that. The Bloc cannot support minimum sentencing. That is not the solution. It is never the solution. They want to impose a minimum sentence on someone who is on his third auto theft charge. We need to be careful.
There are what are called joyriders and there are real car thieves. The first group are often kids from 15 to 19 who decide to steal a car just to get to a party or to look like a big shot —which is not really the case—to get from point A to point B. There is a specific section of the Criminal Code on this. Auto theft can be a theft in the legal sense, yet if it is a joyride, it is just some kids who see a car left near a convenience store with the motor running, and decide to take it just to get to point B, which is not far away. With respect, that is not auto theft. It is a theft from the legal point of view, but it is called instead taking a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner. There is a section in the Criminal Code on that.
We will have to be careful how minimum sentencing is imposed. I am very surprised to hear the Conservatives say, and say more than once, that someone who has committed at least three auto thefts should receive a minimum sentence. The problem is not when they go into prison, but when they come out. Let me quickly explain.
To give an example, the judge has someone before him who is on his third theft. He stole a car once and sold it to a scrapyard. He did this twice and got caught.
I would be very surprised if that person did not get a minimum prison sentence. The court needs to make sure the offender understands that enough is enough and that he cannot keep stealing cars. That is usually what happens. However, imposing minimum prison sentences....
If a person commits theft at 17 and then again at 18, should we not wonder why that person is stealing cars? The court should gather more information, analyze that information, and make sure that its sentence fits both the crime and the individual.
Now, the problem is that when a judge tells Mr. X that he deserves a prison sentence and then sentences him to six months in jail, that youth can get out in three weeks and never serve the time. That is the problem. I think that we will have to be very careful when we look at this bill in committee, because we have to consider minimum prison sentences for major crimes when we are dealing with a repeat offender who neither understands nor wishes to understand. I think that judges are the ones who should sentence offenders, and I think that they are well informed.
The Conservatives need to understand, listen and analyze. People convicted of offences should serve their time in jail and not be freed after serving one-sixth of their sentence. They should not be released until they have done some soul-searching and participated in rehabilitation sessions.
The problem is that a young person sentenced to 12 months in jail can be back on the street in a month and a half. Clearly, that is a problem, and it will continue to be a serious problem. We need to re-examine the parole system. That is what we are saying. We will vote for the bill so that it can go to committee, but the Conservatives need to understand that minimum prison sentences will not fix anything. We have to tackle the parole system.