Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime). This bill targets property crime, in particular auto theft which continues to cause serious harm to Canadian communities.
To this end, Bill S-9 would create a new offence of motor vehicle theft, a new offence to address tampering with an automobile's vehicle identification number and new offences to address trafficking in property obtained by crime.
Just how serious is auto theft in Canada? According to information provided by Statistics Canada, motor vehicle thefts are one of the most common types of police reported crime in Canada. In 2008, they accounted for 6% of all Criminal Code offences and 7% of all non-violent offences. In 2008, police reported approximately 125,000 motor vehicle thefts, averaging about 340 stolen vehicles per day. It is estimated that this costs auto insurance policyholders approximately $465 million in increased insurance premiums.
We also know that motor vehicle theft is one of the least likely crimes to be solved by police. Of all vehicle thefts in 2008, 12% resulted in an accused person being identified compared to 34% of all other non-violent offences.
Motor vehicle theft is a crime often associated with youth. In 2008, police reported motor vehicle theft rates were highest among 15 to 18 year olds. Youths accounted for approximately three in ten persons accused in motor vehicle theft in 2008.
Auto theft also creates immense public safety risks. As a representative from the Winnipeg Police Association testified before the Senate committee, auto theft has had tragic consequences in many parts of Canada, including Winnipeg. Mr. Sutherland, the president of the association, listed for the committee a few examples of the Winnipegers who have been killed or seriously injured by stolen vehicles since 2007.
In 2007, a jogger in Winnipeg was seriously injured by a car thief who deliberately targeted joggers by hitting them with his car door as he drove past. Two other individuals were killed in Winnipeg in 2007. A woman was killed after her van was hit by a stolen vehicle and a cyclist was killed after being struck by a stolen car driven by a repeat offender. In 2008, a cab driver was killed after his vehicle was struck by a stolen vehicle. In 2009, a man was killed when his Subaru was struck by a vehicle that was being driven by a repeat offender.
There have been other cases in Canada. In 2007, two teenagers were killed in Toronto when a stolen vehicle smashed into their taxi. That same year a York Regional Police officer was killed trying to stop the theft of an air bag. In 2004 in Nova Scotia, a young woman was killed when a stolen car driven by a repeat auto theft offender smashed into her car.
The bill proposes that the distinct offence of theft of a motor vehicle be added to the Criminal Code. It would be a hybrid offence with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment on indictment and 18 years imprisonment on summary conviction. There also would be a mandatory minimum penalty of six months imprisonment for a third or subsequent conviction when the prosecutor proceeds by indictment. This penalty is a balanced approach to repeat offences of a serious nature.
Canadians have repeatedly told us that they want appropriate penalties for repeat offenders and we believe this legislation moves us in the right direction.
Bill S-9 is also proposing to create an offence for wholly or partially altering, obliterating or removing a vehicle identification number, or 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 $2,000 or both on summary conviction.
Both the VIN tampering offence and the distinct motor vehicle theft offence would offer benefits to the criminal justice system not offered by the current offence used to cover these activities, “possession of property obtained by crime” found in section 354 of the Criminal Code. A conviction for either of these offences would clearly and more accurately document a person's involvement in an organized vehicle theft ring as part of the criminal record. This, in turn, would help police and crown prosecutors to deal appropriately with these people in subsequent investigations and prosecutions.
The House will note that the VIN tampering offence contains an express exception in subsection 353.1(3) to ensure that those individuals who must remove or alter a VIN in the course of legitimate auto repairs, maintenance or modification are not captured under the ambit of this offence.
A question was raised in the Senate committee on why this express exception is required when subsection 353.1(1) also contains a lawful excuse defence. I will take a moment to explain how the provision works.
A VIN is not located only on the dashboard of a motor vehicle. It can also be found in numerous locations such as the door, the engine block, the door frame, and on the steering wheel or steering column, to name but a few. These VINs will be affected and possibly removed entirely when parts are changed or repaired following accidents or in the course of regular maintenance or modification. It is clearly necessary that any definition of VIN tampering not apply to the numerous law-abiding Canadians who could technically fall within the scope of the definition of the offence while engaged in repairing or modifying vehicles.
The inclusion of the lawful excuse clause by itself would be insufficient to protect innocent Canadians from being charged under the provision. The lawful excuse defence is meant to apply only under those limited circumstances in which a specific defence cannot be envisioned by Parliament, even though it is acknowledged that there could be situations in which some lawful excuse could exist.
Lawful excuse is a flexible concept designed to provide an accused who bears the onus with access to justifications that, depending on the nature of the offence and the circumstances in which it was committed, may be appropriate in particular cases, although these cases will usually be rare. With some offences, it is impossible to envisage every situation that can amount to a lawful excuse for a particular offence. Whether there was a lawful excuse for certain offences is a determination that must be made on the basis of all the circumstances presented in evidence.
However, when Parliament can identify circumstances that are clearly blameless in nature but that would otherwise fall within the scope of a broadly phrased criminal offence, it should be incumbent upon Parliament to expressly set out such circumstances in the law. This way there is no uncertainty on the part of the individuals who engage in that conduct and no uncertainty on the part of the police or prosecutors about the lawfulness of the conduct.
This is why we have the express exception in the proposed VIN tampering provision. Without specifying the exceptions, there is a real risk that individuals engaged in conduct that Parliament does not wish to criminalize will be caught up in the criminal process. The exceptions complete the definition of what the offences seek to capture.
Bill S-9 also proposes to create offences to address trafficking and property obtained by crime. The proposed trafficking offences are intended to target the entire length of the marketing chain that processes the proceeds of theft and 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 most involved in auto theft, either through car- theft rings, chop shops, or re-VINing a car for the sophisticated international rings that smuggle stolen luxury cars to foreign locations.
Currently, 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 used to address trafficking and property obtained by crime. This possession offence does not adequately capture the full range of activities involved in trafficking.
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 for up to 14 years. If the value does not exceed $5,000, it would be a hybrid offence and subject to imprisonment for up to five years on indictment or up to six months on summary conviction.
In the auto theft example, the trafficking offences would capture all of the players in a chop-shop operation, whereas the offence of possession of property obtained by crime would apply only to those in possession of property such as stolen cars or car parts. In order to avoid detection and reduce the probability of multiple counts in the event of an arrest, chop shops have very little inventory at any given time. It is to be noted, however, that the trafficking offences address dealings involving all property obtained by crime, not just the results of auto theft and chop-shop operations.
I am pleased that the trafficking offences also provide the Canada Border Services Agency with the legislative tools necessary to allow them to detain property, including stolen cars about to be exported from Canada, in order to determine whether they are stolen and to allow the relevant police agency to recover them and take the appropriate action.
Bill S-9 is a comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses many of the activities that organized crime undertakes in relation to auto theft and other forms of property crime.
Bill S-9 has been studied in-depth by the Senate and in the last session by the House of Commons in its previous form as Bill C-26.
Bill S-9 is unchanged in any material respect from Bill C-26, and, in my opinion, there is no reason to delay bringing this bill into law. I would urge all hon. members to support this bill in its early passage.