Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime). This enactment amends the Criminal Code to create offences in connection with the theft of a motor vehicle, the alteration, removal and obliteration of the VIN, vehicle identification number, the trafficking of property or proceeds obtained by crime and possession of such property or proceeds for the purposes of trafficking and to provide for a new prohibition and the importation and exportation of such property or proceeds.
As my colleague, our critic in this area, pointed out in his speech half an hour ago, the NDP supports the bill, a bill that is long overdue. In fact, it would have been passed had the government not been so busy calling an election last fall. The Prime Minister passed legislation setting fixed terms for elections, which would have been this October. Then he went back on his promise and called the election, which effectively killed all the bills on the order paper at the time. Therefore, the government has only itself to blame for no action being taken on the bill. It could have easily been passed had he not called the unnecessary election last year.
The issue of auto theft is a very complicated issue, an issue that has been around with us for a long time. In Manitoba, particularly in Winnipeg, we had a front line view of the problem, having three times the theft rate of any other place in Canada. While it was a long time coming, and there were a number of reasons why things turned out the way they did, three or four years ago the Manitoba government developed what turned out to be a very effective approach to deal with the whole problem. This is basically our argument on some of the approaches in crime legislation with which the government deals.
The NDP is willing to support items that work. If the government can show us that something works, then we will probably say it is a good idea. We did not support the mandatory minimums on a crime bill last week. We know from the history. For over 25 years the United States have tried it and it has not worked. It has ended up in a huge development of prisons and the crime rate is as high as ever. Clearly that is not an approach we want to follow. It has be demonstrated that it does not work. We would like to deal with issues in a way where we can develop programs that works.
On September 13, 2007, the Premier of Manitoba pressed Ottawa for tougher sentences and action on auto theft. Representatives from the Manitoba NDP government, Attorney General Chomiak, the Liberal leader, the Conservative leader, the mayor of Winnipeg, the mayor of Brandon and a number of people came to Ottawa to meet with the then minister to advocate for tougher action on this whole area of auto thefts.
Manitoba's approach to reducing auto theft and youth crime is focused on a number of issues. One of the big issues we are involved in is the whole idea of prevention. We believe if we can prevent the crime from happening, it is a much cheaper and more effective way of dealing with it than trying to deal with the consequences of the crime after it has been committed. In the last nine years we have set up a number of lighthouse programs for young adults. There are roughly 50 of them now in operation. There are friendship centres, education pilot projects and, as I had indicated many times before, the vehicle immobilizers program.
With regard to the immobilizer program, it was not established in isolation from the other programs. There was an operational gang suppression unit that concentrated on the most high risk criminals. Car thieves are classified by level one, level two, level three, level four and special attention was paid to the highest level, the level four, offenders. We are only talking about maybe 50 people.
The gang suppression unit of the police targeted these individuals. It visited them every three hours or so to find out where they were. A number of approaches involving police activities were provided to try to deal with this problem. That was one of the ways it was dealt with, but then the immobilizer program was also brought in.
When the immobilizer program was brought in, the Manitoba Public Insurance announced it and for a period of 10 months it was basically a voluntary program. It gave what I believe was an $80 reduction in people's insurance rates for the first year and then $40 afterward, but they had to pay for the immobilizer. The uptake on that program was not extremely high.
Sometimes there are programs in government that we think should work. When we try them out, they do not work as well as they should. It boils down to a bit of tinkering to make them work correctly. We knew we had the right program, but it was not working, probably for the reason that people had to pay for the immobilizer.
After 10 months, the Manitoba government made an announcement that it would make the program mandatory. It identified a number of cars that were at the highest risk of being stolen based on theft statistics. It announced that as of September 1, 2007, people could not renew their insurance unless immobilizers were installed. The installation was free and the customer would receive an $80 reduction in insurance and a $40 reduction in each subsequent year.
It was that action, combined with the gang suppression unit's activities, that caused a huge drop in auto thefts in Manitoba. It was not only the immobilizer program alone that did it. It was the combination of working with police. We also understood that we had to go to Ottawa to ask for tougher laws. It is a multifaceted approach to deal with auto thefts.
We know the problem over the long term will solve itself. The federal Liberal government back in 2003 announced that effective September 1, 2007, all new cars sold in Canada would need factory-installed immobilizers. However, it would probably take 10 to 15 years before we would solve the problem.
Clearly, from a Manitoba point of view, we applauded the federal government for announcing that in 2003 and for the Conservative government bringing it in September 1, 2007. However, we were not prepared to wait those 10 to 15 years for the problem to solve itself. While we were happy with that, we wanted to deal with the other more immediate problems of auto thefts today.
Members have compared the Manitoba auto theft rates with Montreal. In Montreal the recovery rate was only about 30%, which would indicate that there is criminal gang involvement, where vehicles are stolen and exported to other countries for resale. In Manitoba the recovery rate was about 80%. Therefore, we could conclude that people were joyriding, that they were using the cars to get from point A to point B.
It is true that a lot of that is going on and the cars they are stealing are usually older, but the fact is we have had an alarming increase in the number of stolen vehicles involved in police chases. The vehicles are involved in police chases that invariably end with serious accidents that have resulted in a number of deaths. Auto thieves have stolen cars, become involved in high-speed cases and ended up killing a number of people. Last year we had a situation where so-called joyriding thieves actually tried to run down joggers on the road.
We saw this as a very serious problem that needed an extremely aggressive approach. It was only when we took the mandatory steps to force people to put in immobilizers in order to insure their car, at the insurance corporation's cost, that we had compliance and saw an almost immediate drastic drop in the car theft rate.
That is an idea that should be transplanted to other jurisdictions. I am wondering why that has not actually happened at this point. The member from B.C. asked about the bait car program, and I told him we did look at that. We do not have a monopoly on good ideas here; there are other ideas, like the bait car program, that could be used.
Manitoba looked at the bait car program and for whatever reasons decided it was either too expensive or, as some may know we have cooler temperatures for parts of the winter, perhaps the bait car would not work properly at 40 below in January.
Nevertheless we did adopt a GPS program, which has been used successfully in Nova Scotia for a number of years. We have tested that for over a year now, and there was some slippage with it. I think it has worked out okay. We outfitted a number of high-risk car thieves with a tracking device. They were followed around and monitored, and evidently that was helpful.
It seems surprising that we can have a system that works in one place and we cannot replicate that with any kind of swiftness across the country. I look at the whole history of the auto thief program, and 20 years ago consumer groups were asking the auto industry to install immobilizers. The car industry resisted. It did not want to do it. It did not want to do it because it was going to add $30 to the cost of manufacturing the car. It had all kinds of time and money for putting in extra cup holders and all sorts of other features that would not add to the safety of the vehicle the way putting in an immobilizer would.
It was not until 1997, I believe, that the Ford Motor Company started installing the number one approved immobilizer of the different types that were available. Then again, it only installed them in the high-end, not the lower-end vehicles. It was something that was necessary at the end of the day, but it certainly took a long time for the auto industry to start an effective immobilizer program.
Now a couple of the other car companies use a different standard, and the standards are at odds with one another. The Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation will not give a discount to people with immobilizers that are not of the highest standard. Constituents of mine have insisted they had the right immobilizer on their car, but found out they did not. Several kinds of immobilizers are available and not all of them meet the standards.
I have the definition of what is required with respect to meeting the highest standards. Approved immobilizers have to meet a national standard, Canada ULCS338/98. Immobilizers of this standard meet a number of requirements for immobilizer technology. Transponder base technology is the key to this.
The transponder is a radio frequency chip located in the key or key fob. When the chip is near the ignition it sends a signal to deactivate the immobilizer thereby allowing the vehicle to start. The vehicle will not start without the signal. When someone walks away from the vehicle with the key or key fob, the immobilizer is armed and the vehicle cannot be started.
By contrast, some non-approved immobilizers have the deactivation system in the steering column. In addition, many non-approved immobilizers only disable two systems in the vehicle, while approved immobilizers must disable three. Thieves have become skilled at defeating less effective systems, and as a result, theft of these vehicles is on the rise.
If the immobilizer is installed according to the proper standards, it cannot be defeated. Until a year ago, there were zero car thefts because of Ford's high standard.
A number of people in my constituency were quite incensed about the whole idea of installing an immobilizer in the first place. They feel that it is not their responsibility to protect their vehicle. They feel that people should behave themselves and be law-abiding, as they were when they grew up. They feel they should be able to leave their cars unlocked in front of their house with the keys in the car, as they did in the 1950s. People did not steal things in those days.
My constituents are quite incensed, and they have been phoning my office to complain about putting an immobilizer in their cars to prevent people from stealing them. They feel we should lock people up and the problem would be solved. We know that locking people up is not the correct approach. They will come out of jail as better criminals unless we have preventative programs, training programs, educational programs and incentives.
The previous Conservative government in Manitoba tried making auto thieves pay for stealing cars. Legislation was introduced, maybe it has been passed by now, requiring parents to pay for damages caused by their children. I heard the other day that some other jurisdiction is looking at this right now. Young people who are stealing cars are not concerned about paying for damages.
We also looked at the idea of having the auto corporation put on liens to make sure car thieves could not renew their driver's licences. Most of them do not have a driver's licence, so the lack of a licence would obviously not stop a person from stealing a car and driving in the first place.
We looked at a prohibition against car thieves getting a driver's licence. We were hoping young people would think twice about stealing a car because having a licence is important to them. Some people might actually have been deterred from stealing a car because of that.
I am not saying we should not do these things, but the last thing young people are worried about when stealing a car is whether they are going to get a driver's licence on time or they are going to have to pay for the damages they cause.
Another big area of auto theft is that thieves are not only stealing cars for joyriding, they are stealing them in order to commit more crimes. We have found that people steal cars, go out and break into houses and then use the vehicles to transport stolen goods they then sell.
This is a very complicated and huge area. If we were to work together to try all the different aspects that work in different jurisdictions, we could actually get a handle on this, albeit about 20 years later than we should have.