Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue my presentation on Bill S-9, which was Bill C-26 last year. This is another bill that was killed when the House was prorogued. We will have to spend a lot of valuable parliamentary time going through the various stages to get it back to where it was when the government prorogued.
My files on all of these government bills are quite substantial now, as we have been going through these bills a second time and a third time in some cases.
I have in my files a press release issued on September 13, 2007 by the Manitoba government of the day with respect to Bill C-26 regarding its mission to Ottawa to press for tougher sentences with respect to auto theft. For the tough on crime Conservative government, it must come as a bit of a surprise to know that an NDP government was even tougher on crime and three years earlier.
On September 20, Premier Gary Doer, who has since been appointed ambassador to Washington, led the Manitoba mission to Ottawa to press for urgent national action on auto theft and tougher sentences for serious youth crimes. The Manitoba delegation included Attorney General Dave Chomiak, who has since been replaced by Attorney General Andrew Swan; Conservative opposition party leader Hugh McFadden, who is still the opposition leader; Jon Gerrard, the Liberal leader; and Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz who will be mayor for at least two more weeks. I am not familiar as to whether the rest of the members of the delegation are still in their respective positions. Nevertheless, this was a concerted effort on the part of a provincial government to lobby Ottawa politicians to do something about auto theft in this country.
The Government of Manitoba was not sitting back resting on its laurels and demanding another government to solve the problem, as so often happens in the political world. The province, simultaneously with the request, had a program of its own. The province's approach to reducing auto theft and youth crime focused on four broad areas, one being prevention, which is an important part of all of this. It provided lighthouse programs, friendship centres and education pilot projects, as well as initiatives like vehicle immobilizer, which I have spoken a lot about that in the House over the last two years.
The second area was intervention. The government provided programs, such as the highly successful turnabout program which involved intense supervision for repeat offenders.
The third area was suppression, with more targeted funding for police officers, corrections officers and crown attorneys dealing specifically with auto theft. In fact, Manitoba set up a task force that identified the top 50 level 4 offenders, the most serious offenders, and singled them out for special attention. They were watched on an hourly basis. In addition, there were consequences. Repeat offenders faced a possible lifetime suspension of their driver's licence.
In addition to all of this, the Manitoba government adopted a program that has been reasonably successful in Nova Scotia. It involved monitoring car thieves and forcing them to wear ankle bracelets. This initially was a one year pilot project but I believe it has been extended so it must be reasonably successful.
The Government of Manitoba also tried the bait car program. One of the government members in this House spoke positively about the bait car program in British Columbia. For whatever reason, however, the Manitoba situation did not mandate the bait car program.
I am not certain what the reasons were for that but I would suggest that perhaps it was because of all those days where the weather in Manitoba is minus 40, as opposed to the nice temperatures and moderate climate out in Madame Speaker's province of British Columbia. The British Columbian government chose to pursue the bait car program, and I do not fault it for that. If it gets results, that is what we want to see. In Manitoba, we decided to go with the immobilizer program and the gang suppression unit and we were able to reduce our car thefts very substantially over a very short period of time.
The point here is to look at best practices. That is essentially our entire criticism of the government when it comes to crime. We hear it with the speakers from the Bloc, the speakers from the opposition and the speakers from the NDP constantly. There is a recognition, at least in the opposition, that governments should look for best practices. They should look for what works in other parts of the world, and not just blindly follow ideology and implement programs, for example, from the United States that have a 25 year track record of not having the desired effect, of not working.
That is all we are telling the government. We are prepared to support the government in positive approaches to the problem but we want to ensure that whatever money we are putting into the program is well spent.
What we have here is that three years have gone by and still the government has not done what the Manitoba government delegation was asking for, which was to provide stronger penalties for youth involved in serious crimes, especially those involving auto theft; allow first degree murder charges for gang-related homicides; eliminate the two-for-one remand credits; classify auto theft as an indictable violent offence; and make shooting at buildings and drive-by shootings indictable offences.
Three years later, the government is now starting to get around to implementing some of the requests of the Manitoba government. So much for its tough on crime approach and its suggestions that somehow the NDP is soft on crime.
I will now deal with some of the macro issues here that should have been identified 20-some years ago.
As I had indicated yesterday, when I look around I see a lot of grey hair in this Parliament. There are people here with a lot of experience. In former careers, they were provincial members, city councillors and mayors. There is a lot of collective experience here. The fact is that most of us remember that in the 1970s and early 1980s, it was still possible to leave our cars unlocked on the street and find them still there when we went to look for them. Auto theft was not really a problem in those days.
There are two types of auto theft that we are dealing with here. In the larger cities, like Toronto and Montreal, the issue with auto theft is more criminal activity. Criminal gangs are stealing high-end vehicles, changing the VINs on the vehicles and chop shops tearing these cars apart and selling them for parts or exporting them out of the country. That is the type of activity that perhaps is growing but, if we were to look back, I think we would find that it was still a problem many years ago and probably much easier to do in the 1970s and 1980s.
Our problem here with the big numbers is the joyriders, the young people who steal the cars for no other reason than to just simply take them out and go from point A to point B. Another group of people steal a car with the intention of committing burglaries. They just steal a car whenever they feel like it and go and break into houses. Some other joyriders have been in races with the police. They have killed people, sometimes deliberately running people over. They have had car accidents with police. They have even put bricks on the accelerators and sent the cars into buildings just for fun. These are the types of activities going on, which makes it very hard for the police to deal with the problem.
Had we been on our toes 20 to 25 years ago, governments would have seen those statistics coming up each year and would have mandated the car companies to factory install immobilizers.
It was not until 1997 that the Ford Motor Company started to install immobilizers in its higher end vehicles. When I looked at the statistics a number of years later, at least in Manitoba, no vehicle with an immobilizer had been stolen. The proof is in the pudding. The more vehicles that have immobilizers the less cars are being stolen. Therefore, there is a lesser pool of cars for people to be stealing.
I need to correct myself. It was the Liberal government that announced the anti-theft immobilizer program in all new vehicles built after September 1, 2007 for sale in Canada in July 2003, but it was the current Conservative government that actually implemented that requirement. It is great that it did this but it should have been done years before and years before the Insurance Bureau of Canada indicated that the cost of requiring factory installed immobilizers was something like $30, $40 or $50 a car. Can we imagine the small cost that this would be given the huge cost that society has paid because this mushrooming problem?
Now it will take at least 10 years to get all these old cars off the road and the problem, of course, will solve itself. However, it will take another decade and it will take a lot more effort.
However, in Manitoba there is the exception. The Manitoba government initially offered an incentive for people to avail themselves of the optional immobilizer program but it changed the rules a couple of years ago to make the program mandatory. As of 2007, I believe, the registration of and insurance for all cars without immobilizers could not be renewed but the government paid for the immobilizer.
While we had a voluntary program, the uptake was very poor. As soon as the government mandated it, a few people complained about having to do it. Even though it was free, they still complained. However, as long as the government made it free, people could not renew the insurance or registration until an immobilizer was installed in the car. Starting with the highest theft vehicles, because we could identify them based on the type of car, we gradually mandated that all those be brought in. We worked group, by group, by group and now we find a smaller and smaller pool of cars on Manitoba roads.
Has that solved all of the problems? No, not exactly. It has certainly reduced the costs and the rate of car theft. The fact that we are using the gang suppression program to chase the level 4 offenders has also been very positive. We have had to fine-tune the program but most people agree that we are on the right track.
I do not know why more jurisdictions do not get on board with this idea. Simply waiting over the 10 year period to allow the old cars to be gradually phased out is not being proactive. It is just accepting the fact that we will have more carnage on the roads and more costs to society. The point is that all provinces should be moving equally to make immobilizers mandatory as quickly as possible.