Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate on Bill S-9. As we already know, this bill is called An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime), or the tackling auto theft and property crime act. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada moved second reading of this bill, which we have already started debating.
This bill would create offences in connection with the alteration, removal or obliteration of a vehicle identification number and would also create the offences of knowingly selling, giving, transferring, transporting, sending or delivering property that was obtained by crime. The term “knowingly” is very important, because it shows that the individual who sold, transferred or gave property—a vehicle—must know that it was obtained by crime. Lastly, the bill would create the offence of knowingly being in the possession of property that was obtained by crime, for the purpose of trafficking. The Crown would have the burden of proving that the person in possession of the vehicle knew that it had been obtained by crime for the purpose of trafficking.
This bill creates a separate offence for motor vehicle theft, proposes a mandatory minimum prison sentence of six months for a third or subsequent offence and gives the Canada Border Services Agency the authority to identify stolen goods and keep them from leaving the country.
We, the Liberals, are in favour of this bill. We want it to be sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights so that we can hear from witnesses and stakeholders who have thoughts and expertise on the goal of this bill, which we agree with.
We feel that this is a good beginning, even though it is not a comprehensive solution. We believe that some witnesses will also say that it is a step in the right direction and a good start but that it is not a cure-all and it will not fix all of the issues related to vehicle theft and trafficking.
The Liberal Party has always supported legislation that aims to effectively reduce crime and make communities safer. The fact is that vehicle theft rates are going down. The Liberals did not make this up. However, vehicle theft is still a major problem in cities like Montreal and Winnipeg. I am from Montreal, and I have colleagues and family in Winnipeg. So I know what I am talking about. I also had the opportunity, as justice critic in the official-opposition Liberal caucus in 2007-08, to speak with Manitoba's justice minister about this issue as well as youth criminal justice. The minister showed me studies indicating that Winnipeg was close to becoming the vehicle-theft capital of Canada. He told me that this was a serious problem, one that led youth down a criminal path.
Bill S-9 is not perfect, but it is a good start because it updates the Criminal Code, which shows that the government is taking this issue seriously.
That being said, we will see significant reductions in crime rates only if the government invests substantial resources in evidence-based crime prevention programs.
Our party does not play political games with the Criminal Code. Unlike the Conservatives, the Liberals strongly believe that we must fight crime with good laws, not with crude slogans and petty political manoeuvring.
If the government really intended to tackle auto theft and property crimes, the Prime Minister never would have killed Bill C-53, which it did by violating its own fixed election date law in 2008, nor would it have torpedoed Bill C-26 by proroguing Parliament last winter.
This is the third time the Conservative government has introduced the same bill. After the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament in December 2009, it took the government five months to reintroduce exactly the same bill. The Liberals tried to speed it through the House before, and they will do so again this time.
As I said, we are pleased that the government, which torpedoed its own Bill C-26, has introduced Bill S-9, which is an exact replica of its predecessor. We are disappointed that it took the government so long—five months—to reintroduce it. There is no excuse for that.
We are pleased to see that the wording in this bill is harsher than Bill C-53, the first incarnation of this bill. The government has finally decided to add a separate offence for auto theft to the Criminal Code.
As I said, the first auto theft bill introduced by the Conservative government in 2008 did not create a new, separate offence for auto theft. At the time, Liberals, police officers, police corps and provincial governments—the Conservative government's counterparts—criticized this approach. They criticized the government for failing to create a separate Criminal Code offence for auto theft. The government has finally done so in this bill, and we are pleased that it has finally fallen into step with law enforcement in Canada.
Thus, with Bill C-26, the government created a separate offence for theft of a motor vehicle, and this offence is also included in Bill S-9. The mandatory minimum sentence for this offence is six months' incarceration for a third offence or in the case of an indictable offence.
This is important because all studies show that motor vehicle theft in certain cities is quite well organized. The evidence from various police forces, including municipal and provincial forces and our national police force, the RCMP, has clearly indicated that to be the case. When someone is on their third such offence, it becomes quite serious. The criminal justice system must therefore send a clear message that this kind of criminal behaviour is unacceptable.
The new offences provide for a broad definition of trafficking. This would cover selling, giving, transferring, transporting, importing, exporting, sending or delivering property obtained by crime or offering to do any of those things.
Thus, the new legislative provisions would target all the middlemen involved in moving stolen property, from the initial criminal act through to the ultimate consumer. That is very important. Of course it happens in other cities, but we know that in Montreal and Winnipeg in particular, most motor vehicle thefts are committed by organized crime groups. This means there is a network of individuals whose only goal and mission is to steal cars. The orders often come from outside Canada, with requests for x number of certain models, for instance, Lexus vehicles from a given year, Chevrolets from a given year, specific models and colours of BMWs from another year, and so on. The crime of motor vehicle theft is driven by the network.
So, with these offences and this definition, if the proposed Criminal Code amendment successfully passes in both houses of Parliament, this would allow our police forces to pursue not only the person who committed the actual theft, but also all the middlemen who were knowingly involved in the transaction and allowed the sale, transfer or gift of property or a stolen vehicle, when that individual knew the property or vehicle was stolen.
Let us look at the two proposed offences. Both offences carry heavier 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 up to a maximum of 14 years in prison. If the value does not exceed $5,000, there would be what is called a hybrid offence, which would carry a maximum prison sentence of five years on indictment or six months on summary conviction.
The bill also introduces a prohibition against the importation or exportation of property obtained by crime that would trigger the administrative enforcement powers of the Canada Border Services Agency, allowing the agency to bar the cross-border movement of stolen goods. In the case of auto theft, CBSA officers would be able to investigate, identify and detain imported vehicles or vehicles about to be exported and search databases to determine whether or not the vehicles are stolen.
I would like to add a few words on the statistics and data that we have on stolen vehicles in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, the number of stolen vehicles has decreased almost every year since 1996, by 20% according to 2006 data. Auto theft has major repercussions on car owners, on other victims, on law enforcement and on the insurance industry. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, auto theft costs insurance companies and the general public almost $1 billion a year. That is big bucks.
I do not own a car, but some of my friends and family have been victims of auto theft. I can say that this can be quite disruptive to a person's life by the time they settle things with the insurance company, get a new car and so on.
In 2006, approximately 160, 000 cases of auto theft were reported to the police, or about 438 per day. There tend to be fewer thefts in eastern Canada than in western Canada. According to data from Statistics Canada, Prince Edward Island has the lowest incidence of auto theft, while Manitoba has the highest. The incidence of car theft in Manitoba is almost three times the national average. Montreal, however, was the Canadian city with the highest incidence of auto theft and the lowest number of recovered stolen vehicles in 2007.
I am from Montreal and although I do not own a vehicle, I do know many people who do. Some of them have had their cars stolen. There are criminal networks in Montreal that steal cars for export, filling specific orders. Such car theft is a made-to-measure business.
Here is how a number of stakeholders have responded. The Manitoba Minister of Justice, Dave Chomiak, the mayor of Winnipeg, Sam Katz, and the Winnipeg police, all of whom I have met with, are in favour of this bill. The Insurance Bureau of Canada also supports it.
Mr. Rick Linden, a professor at the University of Manitoba noted that the bill was a good step, but that significant reductions in crime would only occur if we also invest significant resources in evidence-based crime prevention programs.
The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers is against the bill because it believes it will restrict judicial discretion. The Canadian Association of Crown Counsel is also against it because it believes it will increase the workload of an already overburdened justice system. And yet, the government has failed to announce any new money for its implementation. This is a crucial point. The new offences created by this bill have long been awaited by the Liberals. We are in favour of the bill and its desired outcome. However, we realize that once these offences are passed and come into effect and the desired outcome is achieved, the government will have to allocate additional resources and funding to support the initiatives. The measures will ensure that the police and various stakeholders in our justice system can adequately deal in a court of law with those accused of having committed auto theft. Unfortunately, we have not heard the minister state clearly that the government intends to earmark new money in its next budget to cover these additional costs.
I will conclude my speech by saying that this is a good start and a step in the right direction but not the whole solution. We would like to see the government set aside more resources in order to ensure that our law enforcement system can handle these new offences and that our justice system, courts and prosecutors have the means at their disposal to deal with them.