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House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vehicles.

Topics

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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 The Manitoba delegation included Attorney General Dave Chomiak, who has since been replaced by Attorney General Andrew Swan; Conservative opposition party leader Hugh McFadden, who is still the opposition leader; Jon Gerrard, the Liberal leader; and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.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's speech on this. I was here yesterday when he spoke to this as well.

He talked about the Conservatives tabling bills and then proroguing the House. Now we are back to square one, wasting all the time in which we could have passed these bills.

I am sure my colleague will agree that the government loves to talk about how tough it is on crime. It also talks about building more prisons. The government just closed the prison farms. That cost taxpayers more because it was a lot cheaper to keep the prison farms going than to build new prisons without putting the resources in place. I would like my colleague to talk about that.

First, when legislation is put forward, we need to ensure it will withstand legal and constitutional challenges. Second, we need to ensure the proper resources exist, whether it is with police services or in rehabilitative processes. Maybe he could elaborate on how important it is to have those resources in place when such bills are tabled.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the closure of the prison farms is something that confounds even Conservative voters. I am familiar with many Conservatives in Conservative areas of the country who shake their heads when they hear it. In fact, they find it hard to believe the government would close down all six prison farms that have been active for many years in Manitoba and Kingston, Ontario. Rather than closing these farms, we should be looking at expanding the prison farm system.

I hope the government has learned a lesson from the last time it prorogued the House. I have suggested many times that the Conservatives look back to the six years of the Lester B. Pearson minority government and do some study of that period to see the many programs that were brought in, such as the unification of the armed forces, the Canadian flag, medicare and many other substantial things that were done in a minority Parliament, and quit the divide and conquer wedge politics issues they seem to practice, so far reasonably unsuccessfully. This practice has not given them a majority. Nor has it increased their polling numbers, which go up a little and then drop.

Perhaps the brain trust over there is in transition. Perhaps the Conservatives are looking at a longer period between now and the next election. Maybe we will see a new attitude on their part to try to work with the opposition and get some bills through. If they show some leadership in that area, they will see co-operation on our side of the House. However, members on this side are very reluctant and resistant to a government that simply yanks our chain whenever it feels like it and brings in bills with all its great speeches about being tough on crime, for example. Then on a whim it prorogues the House and everything goes back to square one again.

There is a price to pay for a government that acts like that, and it is paying it. Perhaps it is planning to go in a new direction, but time will tell whether it does.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, the previous speaker is always so well prepared when addressing issues, and this was no exception. Still, there is an issue that I find intriguing, and I would like some answers. He has probably noticed the same thing that I did, even if he did not mention it.

In Canada, auto theft varies greatly from region to region. It is rather difficult to determine if it is more common in rural areas or in urban centres. For example, since 1999, Manitoba's rate of vehicle theft has been the highest in the country. In 2006, 1,376 thefts were reported. During the same year, 507 thefts were reported in Quebec, 303 in Ontario and 187 in New Brunswick. In Western Canada, the rate is somewhat higher, with 725 thefts in Alberta, for example.

I think that shows that passing legislation does not necessarily change behaviour, but enforcing it does.

Does the member have any idea why the rate is so high in Manitoba and why it varies so much across Canada?

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the fact is there has to be a comprehensive approach to the problem and I see this legislation as designed toward the criminal gangs and organizations. Statistics show that criminal gangs largely operate out of the bigger centres, Toronto and Montreal, where they are entrenched and where they deal in high-end vehicles.

In Manitoba, for example, in most auto thefts the cars are recovered. The indication there is that these are just joyriders if we find the cars. Thieves take them from point A to point B and drop them. Then they steal another car.

It is like in Holland years ago where thieves could pick up a bicycle whenever they needed one. A person would use the bicycle to get from point A to point B, drop it off and leave it for the next person. Then when a person needed another one, he or she simply picked it up. That seems to be the attitude.

We have less statistics as far as professional organized crime dealing in high-end vehicles. I have the statistics, but I do not have them at my fingertips. However, it is almost the reverse. In Manitoba it is more like 70% for joyriders and 30% for high-end vehicle theft versus Montreal and Toronto where it would be 70% for professional gangs and criminal organizations dealing in the theft of high-end vehicles for export perhaps and 30% for joyriders.

In Manitoba it is more of an urban issue than a rural issue. That is reflected in the insurance statistics that we have. Being a government-run insurance corporation, our statistics are kept separate. I know Quebec has a limited government program as well. However, when we look at the Insurance Bureau of Canada statistics, they do not reflect British Columbia, Saskatchewan or Manitoba because they are government-run schemes in those provinces.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

October 6th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am sharing my time with my colleague from Charlottetown, and I am pleased to do so.

I am pleased, once again, to speak in support of Bill S-9, but I have to admit it is somewhat in frustration that Parliament is yet again debating this important legislation.

We have heard from others here today that Bill S-9 is identical to Bill C-26 from the last session of Parliament, which was killed when Parliament was prorogued last year. I am struck by the fact that it was May 5, 2009, when I spoke in favour of Bill C-26, which was, as of yesterday, 17 months to the day since that bill had been introduced.

We on this side have consistently supported legislation to effectively reduce crime and to enhance community safety, including motor vehicle theft. We have heard from the previous speaker that this is an issue of particular concern to those who live in Winnipeg and Manitoba. It is a very serious issue.

Some may recall that in September 2007 a delegation from Manitoba came to Ottawa, met with members of the government and the opposition party. It was a very significant delegation, made up of the mayor of the city of Winnipeg, the mayor of Brandon, members of the aboriginal community, members of the police force, leaders of the opposition parties in Manitoba and several victims of crime. They asked for motor theft to be made an indictable offence.

As a result of that, I introduced my private member's bill on motor vehicle theft in March 2008, which was originally known as Bill C-526, and in the last Parliament I reintroduced it as Bill C-237. While I support the bill, I am somewhat saddened that it has taken so long for the government to act and to move forward on what is a very pressing issue for Manitobans.

After the delegation was in Ottawa, I made a point of doing a broad-based consultation within my riding and within my community on the issue of property crime and, most specifically, auto theft. I had several meetings with the police in district 6 in Winnipeg. I met with young people, some of whom were in the process of rehabilitation. I also met with victims of crimes, with business owners and with a broad-based representation in the community to understand what had been done. I heard of some of the initiatives that the provincial government had undertaken to reduce the number of auto thefts. We heard earlier about the immobilizer prevention programming, the intervention programming, suppression programming and the consequences for young people, which often includes a lifetime suspension of a driver's licence for repeat offenders.

I also heard very clearly that there was a role for the federal government to act, and that is why I introduced Bill C-526. Unfortunately my name was further down on the list and we did not have the opportunity to debate it in the House. The bill proposed that a person who committed a motor vehicle theft for a second or subsequent offence would be guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a prison term not exceeding 10 years and would require a mandatory minimum sentence of a year.

I am not, for the most part, someone who endorses mandatory minimums. I think prevention in all its various manifestations is equally important. However, there has to be consequences for the offence. There also has to be prevention programming. The provincial government does it, but it is also incumbent upon this federal government to undertake more support and resources both for the provinces and what they do and for the community groups directly in the work that they do.

I am struck by the irony of the government putting forward tough on crime legislation while at the same time not providing the supports to communities that deal with young people in distress, or reducing the supports, or narrowing the criteria of the support so that the violence is not curtailed.

This bill is not perfect, but it is indeed an important start in taking this issue seriously by updating the Criminal Code. Significant reductions in crime will indeed occur if we also invest significant resources in evidence-based prevention programs, and I underline evidence-based prevention programs. We need to see what works and build upon it, not decide on an ideological basis that we want to do x or y and then make the program fit the criteria.

If the government were truly serious about tackling auto theft and property crime, the Prime Minister would not have killed Bill C-53 when he broke his own fixed election date in 2008, and he would not have prorogued Parliament last winter, killing Bill C-26. Seventeen months later, I am speaking to the same issue.

This is the third time the government has introduced the bill. It took the government five months to reintroduce it in the exact form after the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament. We tried to expedite it in the past and we on this side will continue to do so again.

We are glad that this bill is more robust than Bill C-53 and that the government chose to make auto theft a unique offence in the Criminal Code. The separate offence did not exist in Bill C-53.

We know that according to Statistics Canada the rate of motor vehicle theft has declined almost every year since 1996. Data for 2006 confirms that motor vehicle theft has fallen by 20% since 1996, but motor vehicle theft has a major effect on vehicle owners, third party victims, indeed law enforcement agencies and certainly the insurance industry. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, it costs insurers and the public close to $1 billion a year.

Statistics Canada numbers show that Manitoba has the highest rate of auto theft, which is nearly three times the Canadian average. We also know that Montreal has the most stolen vehicles and the fewest recovered in any city.

When I speak to this issue, while I support and want to see this bill implemented, this time in a timely fashion, I also want to underline once again the importance of prevention programs.

When I met with a group of eight young people in Winnipeg who had been in trouble with the law, they expressed to me the absolute importance of having prevention programs available. That week, while we were meeting, community clubs in the city of Winnipeg were being closed down for lack of resources, lack of infrastructure.

We cannot give with one hand and take away with the other hand. It is important that there be a coordinated policy of prevention that will reduce overall the auto theft in the city of Winnipeg, provide opportunity for young people and provide opportunity for the residents of the city.

Having said that, it is important that this bill be implemented and moved through this House and through the Senate in a timely fashion. I would ask all colleagues to co-operate in doing so.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, we are dealing with auto thefts here and perhaps the member could explain why this particular legislation is needed. I know that with auto theft generally and the trafficking in stolen vehicles, there are plenty of elements of the Criminal Code that already deal with these matters, such as the conspiracy to steal, organized crime and all of the other provisions that are available.

Would the member comment on why this particular bill is needed and how it will better address the problem, particularly as we see that the number of auto thefts have been going down considerably in the last 15 years?

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, the importance of this bill is that it is specific to auto theft. There are provisions in the Criminal Code, but this bill is specific to auto theft and very much responds to the requests of the leadership in the province of Manitoba and in the city of Winnipeg.

The police very clearly identified a bill of this sort as what the police determined to be one of the biggest deterrents for young people.

I talked to young people who were in a rehabilitation program about auto theft, and it was one of the more interesting things I have done as a member of Parliament. Their response was that they were in the rehabilitation program and were taking the training program in order not to go to jail. Obviously the prospect of incarceration was certainly a deterrent for them, and it resulted in their making a real effort to turn their lives around.

The bill also gives powers to the Canada Border Services Agency, which I think is important in this case so that it can identify and track down stolen vehicles.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague just mentioned the Canada Border Services Agency. I think it is important for us to look at legislation that will actually change laws in order to deter violations such as this one. Car theft is a big one.

All too often we see bills being put forward and passed without any thought to how we actually ensure that there are proper resources in place.

I worked for the Province of Ontario. We saw Mike Harris change the legislation and put nothing in place in the interim to help protect the most vulnerable.

On this note, and given the fact that she did mention the Canada Border Services Agency, if we are going to provide such legislation we also need to make sure that there is more money available for the Canada Border Services Agency so that its agents can do their job. Maybe the member could elaborate on the importance of that.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, the member raises an important issue.

If one is going to provide the powers to the Canada Border Services Agency, it is equally important that the government provide both the financial and human resources to do what is required.

In the case of auto theft, this bill will allow the Canada Border Services Agency officers to investigate, identify, detain imported vehicles or vehicles about to be exported, and to search databases to determine whether or not said vehicles are indeed stolen.

It is important that the databases be maintained and kept up to date, and that there be the important resources available to do what is required in this instance.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, let me say at the outset that, like my learned friend, the member for Winnipeg South, I will be supporting the bill when it comes before the House for a vote.

However, I am disappointed because I have supported the bill before, and before, and before. It has come to a point that I feel like that mouse on the treadmill; I am just going around and around. Sometimes we think if we go faster we will get off the treadmill. I am hopeful that the bill may see the light of day, but I am certainly not sure of that.

The bill came before the House three or four years ago. At that time I indicated to the House, as did my colleagues on this side, that we would support the bill. Our hopes and our desire was that the bill would be enacted into law and it would be now in full force and would have been in full force now probably for two or three years.

That was not to be because at that time, which was in October 2008, the Prime Minister called an election. He violated his own fixed date election legislation, which is somewhat ironic. It is cynical that people watching us see that we are imposing legislation to tell people not to steal automobiles but the Prime Minister had no problem at all in violating his own fixed election dates act .

When an election is called, everything is cleared from the table. We are back to square one. The bill dies on the order paper. It is as if it never had been before Parliament.

We had the election and Parliament resumed sitting, but the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament when he faced a non-confidence motion. He did not have time to reintroduce the bill. After the first prorogation, which was in late 2008, Parliament did resume and the bill was reintroduced. I believe it was Bill C-53. At that time I indicated to the House, as did my colleagues, that we would be supporting the bill. At that time we were hopeful that the bill would become law.

However, that was not to be because in January of this year, the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament. Things were getting wobbly on some of the Afghan detainee issues. Instead of facing the House and answering questions, he decided that he would prorogue Parliament. He would shut Parliament down. When the Prime Minister does that, everything on the order paper disappears. All the bills that have been introduced, debated and gone to committee all disappear from the order paper and we start again.

We came back in March of this year and on June 10 the bill was introduced for the third or fourth time. Again we are here debating it. We can see the unproductivity of the House, which is why I sound somewhat cynical. However, such being the case and as disappointed as I am, I am perhaps for the fourth time supporting the bill. Hopefully the bill will be enacted and become the law of this country.

It specifically relates to car theft which is a serious issue in certain parts of the country. It more or less deals with organized crime in some of the major urban centres. It specifically targets those groups, especially when we are talking about the sentence, when we are talking about the tampering of the VIN, the vehicle identification number. We are giving more powers to the officials at the Canada Border Services Agency when it comes to dealing with people who traffic in stolen automobiles.

It tightens up the law. Car theft is a problem, although I should point out as previous speakers have pointed out that car theft has actually decreased in Canada. I believe it has gone down approximately 20% since 1996, which is a good thing. That does not suggest that we do not have a real problem. We do have a real problem in certain areas of the country. That is why this bill will give the police officers and crown prosecutors more powers as they deal with car theft generally.

I have reviewed the bill carefully. We have to be careful that it really goes after either the organized element that is out there, which it does, or repeat offenders, the people who have had their first, second or third chance.

We do not want to imprison those I call first-time teenage joyriders, and most of the car theft in my community is of that nature and most of the cars are recovered. When it does happen it is very unsophisticated. Someone leaves the keys in the car and somebody takes it, usually for a joyride. When the car is recovered it is sometimes badly damaged, sometimes not. Sometimes that is done by a first offender, sometimes a very young offender. Those particular cases deserve some leniency. Cases involving an organized ring that takes cars and removes their VINs or strips them altogether do not deserve leniency. Neither do people who have done this three or four times and, for the protection of society, should be put behind bars.

The bill is specific. A few changes have been made in this bill from the previous bill, so it has been refined and improved.

I would like to give one message to the House today. Let us get the bill enacted. Let it become part of the law of Canada. I do understand that it has general support in the House, but it had general support before. I hope that in 18 months' time I will not be up speaking in the House on the very same legislation, whatever the new number will be, dealing with the same issue because it never was enacted into law.

I have a couple of specific points.

I believe the alteration of the VIN is important. It is a significant issue in the bill. It is really not covered now, or at least not that I am aware of. It would create a separate offence. Anyone who alters a VIN is a very sophisticated operator. This is not done by the unsophisticated element in our society. It is organized crime, and it usually involves high-end vehicles in urban centres. The VIN is stripped down and the car is moved out of the country. In some cases the car is stripped down altogether for parts. That is a serious offence in my mind and is one that should receive serious punishment under the law.

The bill would give additional powers to the Canada Border Services Agency, and this is important. It deals specifically with the theft of automobiles. As one of the earlier questioners rightfully indicated, there is provision in the Criminal Code for theft over $5,000. This bill deals with auto theft with specific sanctions.

We have been dealing with a lot of crime bills, but we do not seem to get them through the House, because of the actions of the Prime Minister. Hopefully we will not have prorogation in the next month. We would like to see this legislation become law.

I am being somewhat repetitive when I say there are whole elements missing in this debate. That has been stated by previous speakers. We have seen time and again cutbacks made to programs that deal with crime prevention.

The primary deterrent to a person who commits a crime is whether or not that person thinks he or she will be caught. That goes right back to resources, police, prosecutors and others.

We are talking about spending $9 billion to build new prisons for those convicted of an unreported crime. I do not know how an unreported crime can become a crime, because a crime is a crime when a person is convicted. I know that there are victims who do not report crimes, but a crime does not become a crime until there is a conviction. That is a whole other issue. We are talking about spending $9 billion of taxpayers' money for new prisons for unreported crime, but we are talking about doing it at a time when we have a $54 billion deficit, which is a serious issue.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to respond to an earlier question from the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, because I did not have the exact numbers when I was answering. In fact, it is more extreme than I thought.

In Manitoba, the recovery rate of stolen cars is 80%. That means that eight out of ten cars are recovered within a day or two, which would indicate joyriding as the motivation. Only 20% then, it is assumed, would be expensive vehicles that are being sold through criminal organizations. However, in Montreal it is even worse, in the reverse. The recovery rate is only 30%. That means 70% of auto thefts in Montreal are more than likely professionally done by criminal organizations.

I want to point out something else as well. Manitoba had been a dumping ground for used cars, and when the government changed the rules a few years ago to stop odometer rollback, that solved the problem by making it impossible to register a vehicle without the mileage on the odometer. It stopped the problem. So having tough laws is good, but I agree with the member that there has to be enforcement as well.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

I really do not have much to add, Madam Speaker. Those statistics are interesting, but what the member did not state is the condition of the 80% of vehicles recovered. Are they recovered at the bottom of a lake? If that is the case, it is relevant too.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member rightly talked about the number of times this bill has come into the House and how we have heard the same speech from the government over and over again. It is a colossal waste of House and committee time to do the same bill over and over again.

I thought the hon. member would be interested in commenting on the fact that this is an S bill, S-9, a Senate bill. The Senate, an apparently unelected, unaccountable institution, started with first reading of this bill on May 4 and had second reading May 6. The bill went to committee on June 3 and it was reported on June 3. Third reading was on June 8 and it was reported to the House immediately after. That is pretty efficient on the part of an unelected, unaccountable Senate.

I would be interested in the hon. member's comments on how it is that the institution across the way, as it is euphemistically known, can proceed with a piece of legislation that pretty well everyone in the room agrees with in such an expeditious fashion, yet the justice minister and the Prime Minister do not seem to be capable of moving a piece of legislation forward in any kind of expeditious fashion. They seem to prefer to make the same speeches over and over again.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

I believe the short answer to that question, Madam Speaker, is that the Prime Minister and the justice minister are probably not taking this issue as seriously as they ought to.

The member is right that it did go through the Senate in two weeks, which is unusual. Usually justice bills would originate in the House, but this is somewhat different. This bill came from the Senate and once it got through the Senate came to the House as Bill S-9. Hopefully that means that it will become law. Let us all roll up our sleeves and get this bill enacted so that we will not be talking about it anymore.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, this is the fourth time that this bill has been introduced in Parliament. I do not know if anyone said it was an urgent matter at the time, but they were ignored.

It started out in 2005 as Liberal Bill C-64. They were stopped short because an election was called, which they did not appreciate. It then became Bill C-53, and was shelved by an election or prorogation. It then became Bill C-26 and we now have Bill S-9, which was introduced by the government in the Senate in order to speed up its passage.

I believe that everyone recognizes that the government is responsible for the recent delays. That contradicts what we hear on a regular basis from the Minister of Justice in this Parliament, who says that the opposition is dragging its feet and that the opposition systematically opposes the legislative program it wants to present.

First, that is not true; second, the opposition's philosophy about some matters is diametrically opposed to that of the current Minister of Justice. We do not want our country to follow the example of the United States and become a country with one of the highest rates of incarceration. We know that half of all inmates in the world are found in U.S. prisons and it is obvious that this has not produced the desired results. There is a considerable difference in our philosophies. When a criminal justice bill that will really improve things and address an urgent problem is introduced, we are ready to collaborate. The minister knows that. Why did he not move more quickly before?

That said, now that he has introduced it, we will get the bill passed quickly because I note that there are no objections from the other two opposition parties, nor do we have any.

Nevertheless, I would like to make some comments. First of all, I must point out that auto theft has declined since 1996. I think the members who spoke before me said it is down by 20%. I think that corresponds to the statistics I have. Clearly, the nature of auto theft has changed somewhat over the years and now our legislation requires certain adjustments.

For instance, one thing that really surprised me when I consulted the most recent Statistics Canada data on the subject is that the incidence of auto theft varies considerably across the country. For example, Newfoundland and Labrador reports only 131 auto thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. Prince Edward Island reports 115. Nova Scotia reports 263, which is very high for the Maritimes. In New Brunswick, the number is 187. Quebec reports 507 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants, which is quite high. The number of auto thefts per 100,000 inhabitants in Ontario is 303, and in Manitoba, it is 1,376.

We have heard some reasonable explanations so far. I can come back to some and add to them, in order to understand. Personally, I do not say this to humiliate Manitoba—as we have been unfairly humiliated—because in Quebec, we do more to tackle corruption; we tolerate it less and we prosecute the offenders. Therefore, it is in our newspapers more often than in other places, but it does not mean that we have more corruption than other places, nor does it mean that the entire population is corrupt. In any case, we can look at it hypothetically.

In Saskatchewan, the number of auto thefts per 100,000 inhabitants is 663, in Alberta it is 725 and in British Columbia, it is 682. As we can see, the incidence is higher in western Canada. Once again, this clearly shows that the Parliament of Canada, which creates legislation for the entire country, does not necessarily have the power to make the changes needed to address crime. It was my experience, as a member of the Quebec government, that crime must be fought locally first, with local police forces and our own policies.

It is our duty to amend legislation when needed and that is what we are doing.

Statistics vary a great deal according to the province and the size of the city. I am all the more sympathetic to Manitoba when I know that the city in Quebec with the highest theft rate is the one that I have the honour of partially representing. Part of my riding is in Laval. In Laval, there are 852 car thefts per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to Montreal where there are 723 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. That is quite high.

I understand that the rate is higher in Toronto than in Montreal because of Montreal's port. In Montreal, there are orders from foreign countries for four-wheel-drive luxury vehicles with air conditioning and other accessories. These vehicles can be shipped out of the country quickly through the port of Montreal, something that is not an option for car thieves in Toronto. This certainly plays a role in organized crime, which makes crime prevention more difficult, but not impossible.

Another significant number: the stolen vehicle recovery rate is 75% in Toronto and 56% in Montreal. This also clearly illustrates that organizations that steal luxury cars are able to offload them quickly because of the port, or so I am told by the police.

When I was young, another common reason for stealing a vehicle was joyriding, which is far less common today. Cars were not stolen for the thrill of stealing, but to cruise around and try it out. We all need to understand that boys are fascinated by cars. At least, that has been my experience. Young girls think about the utilitarian side of a car, but young boys think about how much fun it would be to drive one. That is why, quite often, the only crime a young person ever commits is having helped steal a vehicle. Young men are fascinated by them.

How do we combat this? I think that we have done it over time. It is far more difficult to steal a vehicle now. We have taken measures to make it more complicated to start a car. In earlier days, among young people, both delinquent types and those not overly involved in crime who had never committed a violent act and who were respectful, it was a source of pride to know how to start a car without the key and things like that. That is another explanation.

Perhaps the members from Winnipeg can tell me if they agree. When there is a large population of youth from not-so-rich families, there are perhaps more youth who are tempted and fascinated by automobiles, as are all young boys. If their fascination is not satisfied by their family's vehicle, they will be more tempted to steal vehicles simply for the joy of riding around in a car, being in control and driving it.

We are taking advantage of the opportunity to change the legislation. First, a minimum sentence of six months has been added. People may think that the Bloc Québécois has an ideological stance against minimum sentences. We are not against minimum sentences, but we recognize the circumstances under which a minimum sentence can be effective. Most of the time, the minimum sentences that have been proposed are not effective. I am sure that not even 10% of the members in the House know how many minimum sentences there are in the Criminal Code. If I gave them a test and asked which offences have a minimum sentence associated with them, less than 2% of them would pass. And I am being generous.

So how can we expect criminals to know what the minimum sentences are? These sentences have no impact on criminals' behaviour because they do not know what the minimums are. I have always said so. The most striking example is the importing of marijuana in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when I began practising law. Marijuana was starting to spread. It all came from outside the country, because the marijuana that grew here was not hallucinogenic at all. The minimum sentence for importing marijuana was seven years. This was when marijuana use went up the most, so someone had to import it. We found that this minimum sentence, which was the longest in the Criminal Code after the minimum for murder, did not deter anyone. Minimum sentences generally have no deterrent effect, except under certain circumstances. The minimum sentence in this case is smart because it is for subsequent offences and because the offender is informed.

As a lawyer, I always informed my clients that if they were caught a second time, a minimum sentence would apply. That can act as a deterrent. If I had been appointed as a judge, I would have made a point of informing offenders when I had to sentence them for a crime for which a minimum is provided in the event of a subsequent offence. That way, an individual who might commit the same offence again is aware of the minimum sentence. That acts as a deterrent.

That is what we are talking about here. There is a reasonable minimum sentence of six months for a second offence. The minimum sentences that the members opposite come up with are always paradoxically flawed. Logically, a minimum sentence should apply to the least serious form of an offence, so that the maximum sentence can be handed down for the most serious form of the offence. But the people who come up with minimum sentences think about the most serious cases, which is why they want a minimum sentence. However, because they are motivated by the most serious cases, they set very long minimum sentences.

We have seen this in the United States, where there are many minimum sentences. Moreover, this is one of the problems with minimum sentences. In this case, there is no such problem. I feel that a six-month sentence for a third offence is reasonable. It can certainly act as a deterrent. As hon. members can see, the Bloc's objections are not ideological, but are based on rational knowledge, experience and criminology.

A new offence has been created—tampering with the vehicle identification number. I am surprised it is not already an offence. Someone who alters a VIN obviously does not have honest intentions. I really believed it was prohibited. No matter, it will be in the future.

A presumption is created: if an individual owns a vehicle with an altered VIN, he is presumed to have obtained it illegally. I believe that this is a reasonable presumption, but it does not always hold true. One can always provide a defence, if it is a good one. If it raises a reasonable doubt in the judge's mind, he will not accept the presumption. It seems to me that something is amiss if we own a car with an altered VIN, unless we dealt in good faith or were victims of the person who stole the car, changed the number and sold it to us. We apparently bought the car lawfully, and went to register it with the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec. That is a good change.

There is another new offence concerning trafficking in stolen vehicles. I have always thought that there could not be trafficking in a stolen car without possession of a stolen car. However, this is not a bad change—

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member.

I would ask the members in the back of the room to continue their conversation outside. It must be difficult to make a speech with a conversation going on in the background.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, how humiliating. I thought I was interesting enough for them to pay attention. Fortunately, others are listening to me.

It is impossible to traffic a motor vehicle without also being in possession of stolen property. It is true that trafficking may be worse than simple possession, for example, purchasing a stolen television. The crime of trafficking is much worse. I have no objection to adding it as an offence, because that makes more sense. In practice, judges handling cases of trafficking in stolen vehicles would take into account the fact that the criminal was in possession of stolen property.

The bill also adds the offence of importing and exporting. This is the same thing. When we understand the purpose, it is clear that it is a good idea to add it, because it enables the Canada Revenue Agency and customs officials to intervene.

I think it would be a good thing if the bill contained a provision to supply border crossings with a list of stolen vehicle registrations so that it would be easy to check. Technology should make this relatively simple. It could be very useful.

We will probably never put an end to these types of crimes, but we could considerably reduce the prevalence. Changing the legislation is 10% of the work. The rest must be done at the local level by police forces or the industry.

The industry has tired of asking us to create tough legislation to prevent its products from being exploited or stolen. That said, the industry is responsible for making these crimes more difficult to carry out and for making it easier to find stolen vehicles.

Now, thanks to GPS, it is easier to find stolen vehicles, so the cost should go down.

In Montreal, a company launched a new initiative. Vehicle owners could pay a fee to have a device installed in a secret place in their vehicles. Stolen vehicles could be found using the cellular phone system.

GPS, a rapidly evolving technology, has become standard in luxury cars. I think that this technology should be used as widely as possible, especially since we know which models are the most commonly stolen. Oddly enough, the incidence of luxury car theft is lower, probably because there are fewer of them. The Honda Civic, Dodge Caravan, Acura Integra, Audi TT—a more unusual and luxurious model—and Dodge Shadow top the list. These are very common models, and they are the most popular with car thieves.

I believe that prevention and enforcement by police are two important aspects. I also believe, and I say this with all due respect to those who prepared it, this bill is much more balanced in terms of what it is proposing, much more comprehensive also, and much more responsive to the problems it is designed to address than the bills that the Minister of Justice regularly brings forward, in which I always detect an undercurrent of propaganda and sensationalism.

I am being very candid in saying this because that is not my party, but it is clear to me that, originally, this was Bill C-64, which was introduced by the Liberals. Very often, we have a meetings of the minds on legal issues, even though we definitely do not on other issues. Our approach to fighting crime is not about grandstanding; it is about taking meaningful, productive action.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, as has been mentioned many times here, we have been through this drill a couple of times on this bill and the government keeps getting in the way of progress.

The member from the Bloc went through the list of the most popular vehicles and talked about having manufacturers onside. Could he give me his thoughts on improvements in standards in terms of this bill and what the government can further do?

Often the government talks about cracking down on crime. Could I hear his thoughts on how we are going to make a dent on the mitigation of crime in general, other than just cracking down on it, as the government likes to do, and putting people in jail? Could the member talk a bit about prevention when it comes to auto theft?

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member knows my favourite subject.

I support the prosecution of criminals and putting convicted criminals in prison when necessary, for a period of time that will make them less dangerous and rehabilitate them as much as possible in preparation for their release.

I would point out that it is not the severity of the law that discourages or reduces crime, but rather something else, specifically, police action and prevention. We have so many examples when it comes to motor vehicles. It was really easy to steal cars when I was 20 or 25. Certain protective measures have been added, such as locking the steering wheel and adding all kinds of things to vehicles that make them harder to steal, which has reduced the number of auto thefts.

In my opinion, if something could be added that would allow authorities to track down vehicles quickly, we would get better results. I would like to be clear on that. It is frustrating for us, as federal legislators, because it is not up to us.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for my hon. colleague who speaks on behalf of the Bloc. He is certainly quite knowledgeable and he has spent a fair bit of time on the justice committee.

He spoke briefly about minimum mandatories, the numbers of minimum mandatories and whether members of Parliament, let alone criminals, knew about minimum mandatories, et cetera. One of the truisms of minimum mandatories is it increases the prison population, not to any discernible effect on the rate of crime. It would be reasonable to anticipate that this bill would increase the prison population.

In his capacity as the justice critic for the Bloc and as a long-standing member on the justice committee and as a former practising lawyer in Quebec, has he any idea whether the government has shared any data as to what the impact of this bill might be on an increase in the prison population?

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, in this case, no, I do not anticipate an increase, because I think it will actually be used to discourage the right people from continuing. So it should not have much of an impact on prison populations.

The main reason that minimum sentences increase prison populations is very simple. It is because judges are forced to hand down prison sentences, even though they know in their hearts and in their consciences, and after examining 24 or 25 criteria in the law for sentencing, that certain individuals should not go to prison.

All kinds of people who should not go to prison are sent there anyway, and that is why the United States has 730 or 732 prisoners for every 100,000 inhabitants. In Canada, that number is about 100 to 115 per 100,000 inhabitants, as it is in all civilized countries like ours, such as those in western Europe, for example.

But in this case, the law is well targeted. I hope it will be applied with the same professional conscience that guided me when I was a lawyer. I think judges need to think about this. I have seen it. The judges were not saying that, but they should have. If they say so, there will be fewer auto-related crimes and therefore fewer people in prison for such crimes.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to know what my colleague from the Bloc Québécois thinks about prevention. We have to find out how to punish people who commit the type of crime we are talking about today, but we also have to recognize who they are. For the most part, they are young people.

In my province, Manitoba, a large number of these young people are victims of fetal alcohol syndrome. They come from underprivileged neighbourhoods in Winnipeg or elsewhere, where they go through traumatic experiences that make them more likely to become involved in this type of activity.

A number of my colleagues and I feel it is important to adopt an approach that recognizes the characteristics of the people involved in this type of crime. I would like the hon. member's opinion on that.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, these characteristics are quite diverse. Young boys will always be fascinated by cars. Boys are eager to get their hands on a steering wheel. When they live in a family where they will never have that opportunity, they are tempted—with their friends—to find a way to drive a car. In that case, the best prevention is to make it difficult to steal a car. Young people take pride in beating the system.

In the Montreal area, there is a more serious problem. There are fewer young people. This phenomenon still exists among young people, but there is also a problem of organized crime. These are people who receive stolen vehicles and dispose of them quite quickly. There are other measures we should be using in those cases.

I think the hon. member is right when she says we should work on the root causes of crime. Education and fighting poverty can help. To get people out of poverty, we have to give them hope. A host of measures is needed to tackle all kinds of crime. We cannot address this issue in 30 seconds. Nevertheless, everyone knows what we are talking about. Better education and promoting physical activity such as sports can have a positive effect on reducing poverty.