Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the bill and to let the public know why our members will support the bill.
Bill C-26 has a number of elements that poke at different aspects to the scourge of auto theft. The first element of the bill is to create a separate offence for auto theft. This has been kicked around for some time since 2008. One of the criticisms of a predecessor bill was that there was not a separate offence, but now there is, so this is progress. The offence would carry a mandatory prison sentence of six months for a conviction of a third or subsequent indictable offence.
It will not need to be repeated for members like the member for Abbotsford, the member for Fundy Royal and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who are members of the committee and know this, but there is a difference between a summary conviction offence and an indictable offence. The indictable offence is the more serious offence. It generally carries sentences of two years or more. Therefore, the law intends to impose is a six month conviction for a third indictable offence involving auto theft.
I had the pleasure recently of visiting the Winnipeg area and talking to individuals involved in law enforcement. It is very clear that auto theft is not something that we pick up off the cuff. It is a bit of an expertise-driven occupation. People in places like Winnipeg, Montreal, Abbotsford and other communities across the country are very good at it and they tend to be repeat offenders. It is a commercial business for many of them.
As they get better, the Insurance Bureau of Canada representatives, law enforcement officials, car manufacturers, after market car parts suppliers attempt to catch up with them, but one thing is certain. If these recidivists, specialists in auto theft, are put away after their third conviction by indictable means, then they will not be out doing more auto theft. The evidence we saw in Winnipeg was very clear. Statistically officials can prove that when the known top 30 to 50 car thieves serve time at Her Majesty's pleasure in a facility, then auto thefts go down. Therefore, that part of it is good.
The second part of the bill is the vehicle identification number, VIN, tampering. This is the alphanumeric number and letter combination inside the windshield of every vehicle and in many cases on almost all the important parts of one's motor vehicle. Tampering with the VIN is an offence. We studied it at committee at length. Other than putting some protection in the act to cover the truly innocent person tampering with a VIN, we could find no reason why anyone would tamper with a VIN unless there was fraud involved and theft was a goal. That itself would become an offence, which would help police officials do their job.
The other part of the bill is that the trafficking in stolen goods, particularly stolen motor vehicles, would be an offence. The general offence of possession of property obtained by crime in the current Criminal Code carries a maximum of 10 years for property valued over $5,000. The proposed legislation will give law enforcement or prosecutors new tools to combat those who participate in any part of the trafficking in stolen motor vehicles. There will be a wide definition of trafficking, as indicated by my friend from Abbotsford, which will include the selling, giving, transferring, transporting, importing, exporting, sending of, or delivering of goods or offering to do any of this, and that will trigger the offence of trafficking.
It is intended that this would capture the middlemen who are involved with stolen property. We recognize in today's modern, sophisticated, organized crime culture and business practice that it goes from retailer, wholesaler, distributor, exporter, importer, much in the same way that Wal-Mart probably organizes itself from manufacturer to point of sale contact.
That is why the offence has to be wide in order to catch everyone. It is not one person. Stealing a car, putting it on a boat, transporting it to a foreign location and getting paid on the dock in South America or wherever does not involve just one person. It is a chain of distribution with which we must deal.
The last aspect is something I asked the chair of the justice committee about, and that is the prohibition against importation or exportation of property obtained by crime. While that may not be necessarily groundbreaking, what is important is CBSA officials will have added powers to investigate, identify and detain imported vehicles or vehicles about to be exported and search databases to determine whether those vehicles are stolen. Those are the broad strokes of the bill.
The theft of autos has become a prolific business for organized crime in our country. We have heard about Winnipeg and Abbotsford, but I want to talk briefly about Montreal. Committee members heard that when organized crime was established in a city, it took on the subsidiary of auto theft and made it an expertise-driven crime. We learned that in cases like Montreal, where organized crime seems to be more involved in auto theft than in the western cities of our great country, the amount of vehicles recovered was lessened.
Attempted and actual auto thefts tend to be similar in a place like Montreal, but, to pick on Winnipeg for a moment, the number of attempted auto thefts might be higher per population of 100,000 than in Montreal. However, the actual number of vehicles recovered is also higher. It indicates that auto theft in a place like Montreal, driven almost wholly by organized crime, is for the profit attached to the procurement of vehicles, chopping them up and the exportation or reselling of parts and/or whole vehicles in and around the Montreal area.
On the other hand, in western Canada the experience seems to be more tilted toward vehicles being stolen to further other criminal activities. The Winnipeg Police Association says that many attempted thefts, because many vehicles are recovered, are merely for the purpose of being a mode of transportation or carriage to further implement a crime in a place like Winnipeg. That allows criminal organizations to have getaway cars and vehicles for committing offences and not having them traced back to their vehicles. We have some sort of quixotic idea that young teenagers in a James Dean like setting go out joyriding. Across Canada that is a very minuscule number when it comes to auto theft.
Another piece of the evidence we heard in committee was that the number of youth involved in attempted auto theft in a place like Winnipeg was much higher than in other large centres in the east. This indicates that organized crime is encouraging young members of gangs to steal motor vehicles for further criminal purposes and then abandon the vehicles so they might be recovered.
I say all of that because it is important to have a regional context and a different context for the scourge of auto theft and to react appropriately.
The bill would attack the situation we see in Montreal. There is no question about that. If organized crime can be pinned down, and if these sentences can pick up the middlemen and the repeat offenders, then that is certainly very good progress.
We support the bill, but I do want to put up a red flag or the marker down here. Since so many young offenders are involved in Winnipeg and some other western cities, this legislation may not have the same immediate impact in combatting auto theft.
Let me get back to the image of cities.
I am a former mayor and I know that almost every city councillor and mayor is concerned with his or her city's image. Sometimes things are beyond a council's control and sometimes they are within its control.
As a former mayor of the city of Moncton, I know that citizens' concerns reverberate and are passed on to city council. Complaints reflect negatively on a city's image. No municipality wants to be known as the auto theft capital of the country, the province or the region. That is not a distinction that municipalities like to have.
Anything we could do to amend the Criminal Code through provincial regulations or through public safety programs and public education programs would be important.
The IBC has been telling people to lock their cars or not park their cars in certain areas. Initiatives as simple as this start at the municipal level. The FCM has been very adamant about having an anti-auto theft policy for all its member cities, and that is at the base level of each municipality.
Organized crime has become a Fortune 500 new business category. We need to be more sophisticated in our response to this new burgeoning business.
Thus, I think it is important that members of this House and the general public know that, despite the rhetoric heard on the major television networks like CTV and CBC, and from the Conservative Party spokesperson, we cannot do it all within this Parliament. That is impossible.
We are sitting here in 2009. I have been here since 2006. We are finally getting around to saying that auto theft should be a specific crime, that obliteration or removing of VINs should be a crime, and that we should give border agency officials more power to stop the exportation of stolen vehicles.
What is controversial about that? Nothing. Why was it not done before? Well, the delay has a lot to do with the mood, the temper, the temperament and, dare I say it, the prorogation of this Parliament many times. I think a three and a half year delay on something that communities are looking for is inexcusable.
I also want to take a shot at the government in that there have been many suggestions coming up from officials from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The government should listen to the FCM. It should have a better relationship with the FCM. If it has a member who gets on an open-line show who openly criticizes mayors and councils, the way the member for Nepean—Carleton has done on numerous occasions, some of them who might be former councillors, former mayors or former members of FCM might take that person aside, take them to the woodshed and say, “Don't say that, that's not good for municipal relations”. How can FCM work well with the government when it is being criticized for just standing up for what it believes in?
The important thing about auto theft is it is not a victimless crime. The member for Abbotsford spoke very eloquently about his own experience, which up to this moment I did not know had occurred. It is a violation to the person, having a home entered by a burglar or a car stolen. I remember my uncle, who is deceased now, when he was a provincial court judge. His son's RV was stolen. He had been 30 years on the bench and was fairly hardened. He was mortified and violated, especially from the fact that his dentures were in that RV. When the RV was recovered, he was somewhat more grateful.
It touches a judge, a member of Parliament, all Canadians. That is the point. We must show compassion. We must move this law along. We must show compassion for people who have had auto theft visited upon them.
It is a $1.2 billion business. It includes things like, as IBC would say, the collateral losses in health care costs, court, policing, legal and out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles. In some cases the police authorities will tell us, especially in western Canada, and particularly in Winnipeg, there have been incidents where the stolen vehicle is used to run down someone, to injure someone. So the vehicle itself becomes a weapon.
We know from the Insurance Bureau of Canada that each and every householder, and that includes all of us in here who have motor vehicles, who have insurance, is paying about $37 more per policyholder because of the incidents of auto theft.
The municipalities have been doing a very good job. They have been talking about public education. It is simple to say that when people leave their car, it should be locked, but how many people here or watching have left keys to the vehicle inside the vehicle because they have a second set? That is certainly a no-no. How many people here, because there was a space available, have parked under a tree or in a dark alley? That is a no-no. Never leave a parking lot claim stub in your car when parking at an airport or other large parking lot. Getting car parts marked is something that they suggest can be done.
If parking in a private garage, make sure the garage is locked when leaving. Make sure the garage at home is not accessible. Prevent having a car towed by thieves. This is the evidence we heard about the gangs in Montreal, of organized crime. Immobilizers, which is a very high-tech response to moving a vehicle that is locked, are lauded in some quarters as being very effective. If the car cannot be moved or the wheels cannot be moved without alarms going off, it might make it very difficult to steal a vehicle. What we hear from the police authorities is that in Montreal, for instance, they have such organized units that they come up like a regular towing company and just take the vehicle away without engaging any of the drive mechanisms and without moving the wheels.
To prevent it from being towed, park with the wheels sharply turned or apply the emergency brake. That may not stop the gangs in Montreal, but it might stop other smaller level gangs that have less sophistication.
I want to close with two things. There was a CBC story from Winnipeg. I feel a great empathy for great officers out there, like Officer Pellerin and Officer Sutherland. They have been tracking auto theft for some time in their careers at the Winnipeg Police Force and on behalf of the Winnipeg Police Association.
There are two elements to these last two points. Sometimes, without naming chiefs, mayors or leaders in any way, there is an under-reporting of some crimes. We can imagine that if we are sitting in Winnipeg, Abbotsford or, in the old days, New York, we would want to underplay statistics to improve our civic image. I will close on this. It would be important to have statistics that are accurate. We want to make sure that there is a reporting of statistics that are accurate.
However, here is the story from Winnipeg. There was a long-awaited milestone achieved in Winnipeg when, for the first time in decades, there was not a single auto theft during a 24-hour period. I come from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. The whole area has about 100,000 people. If a car is stolen, I suspect that it happens maybe once a month.
That is not the smallest place that is represented in this Chamber. I am looking around and I see members from rural parts of Canada. I bet an auto theft in, for instance, the member for Fundy Royal's riding might be a big event. I have seen the parliamentary secretary's second vehicle and I am sure it will never be stolen, but it is a big event and it touches everybody in every community. Imagine it being a big deal in Winnipeg to not have a car theft for 24 hours.
We have to do something. I think this bill will help in that regard. It is also important to help municipalities. Officers Pellerin and Sutherland told me about their very good relationship with their new chief, Keith McCaskill, and Attorney General Chomiak. Things are improving in Winnipeg and Manitoba. However, they need the officers and resources that have been promised again and again by the government. They need support at the municipal level for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to affect its policies.
As a final note, we have to be clear that fudging numbers at the federal and municipal levels is not occurring. Juristat and other Canadian agencies rely on local agencies to feed them numbers. It is incumbent upon the government, public safety and justice to ensure that the feed into the statistical line of information is correct and that we do not have instances such as drive-by shootings not being recorded as organized crime offences.
We will support the bill. Let us get it out of here. Let us get it to the Senate. Let us make it law and let us help cities.