Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise once again to speak to Bill S-9, as it is now called. I have spoken on this bill under other numbers in the past.
I listened very intently to all of the speeches this morning. I want to begin by pointing out that auto theft is something that has been with us for a number of years. It goes back to the 1970s, but I do not think it became a public issue until sometime in the 1980s.
Essentially there was a long delay. I think governments of all political stripes were asleep at the switch for a considerable amount of time, when in fact they could have moved a little earlier than they did.
It is comforting to know that auto theft numbers are dropping because of efforts made by various governments, for example, the Government of Manitoba and the government in Ottawa as well. It was in 2003 that the federal government announced that, effective September 1, 2007, all new cars sold in Canada would have to have immobilizers.
So if we do the calculations and recognize that the average car is on the road for perhaps 15 years, it will be around 2021 before the problem actually solves itself. I do not think we should have to wait that long for the problem to solve itself.
The fact of the matter is that the federal government, as far back as Brian Mulroney but certainly under the 13 years of Jean Chrétien and the Liberals, in any one of those years could have acted and could have enforced the requirement for the mandatory installation of immobilizers, which they did effective September 1, 2007.
Just so members know how effective these immobilizers are and can be, for example, the Ford Motor Company in its 1996 version of the Ford Windstar, on sale in the fall of 1995, the higher end models of those vehicles had factory-installed immobilizers. That was sort of the beginning of immobilizers in mass-produced cars. There may have been some around previously in higher end vehicles.
Gradually over time more and more of these immobilizers became factory-installed. There was an after-market product available to be installed, but there were some problems with them. I checked several years later with the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation, perhaps as little as two or three years ago, and was told that no vehicle with a factory-installed immobilizer had been successfully stolen.
Now, they are damaged because the thieves break into the vehicles and, when they cannot steal the car, of course there is still resulting damage to the vehicle. At least they are not running away with the vehicle, taking a potentially lethal object out on the road and perhaps running somebody down or being involved in accidents with the vehicle.
We knew early on that this was a very solid solution to the problem. The question is, Why did the government not act? When I checked back a few years ago with the Insurance Bureau of Canada data and information, I was not surprised but I did read that there was information available that immobilizers could have been factory-installed in vehicles for as little as $30, I believe I read, but it could be a little more than that. It is not a significant expense.
The United States government could have enforced these and made them mandatory. The Canadian government could have done this.
When police started to report rising theft rates of automobiles, and statistics started to show that people were being injured and killed because of auto theft, it would have been prudent for the government to take this issue more seriously and attempt to nip the problem in the bud by forcing immobilizers to be installed at the factories. But that was not done.
In the 1990s, the Conservative government of Gary Filmon in Manitoba attempted to tackle the problem by several means. It did not get to the point of dealing with immobilizers. It was looking at things that, in the end, proved not to work. It planned to sue the offenders and hold off giving them their driver's licences.
Bear in mind that, at least in Manitoba, authorities had determined that level four offenders for car theft numbered around 50 people. In other words, 50 people were stealing most of the cars. The theory was that if we concentrated on those 50 people the numbers would be reduced.
Most of those 50 people were very young. Some were as young as 13 or 14 years old. Trying to sue them would be an impossibility. Holding their driver's licences back did not mean much to them. Making the parents responsible was another attempt by the Filmon government. It passed legislation holding the parents responsible for these kids.
In the end, I do not think the government was able to gain any significant restitution or result from these efforts. Nevertheless, it was an attempt to respond to the problem. The government of Manitoba was still not there in forming a gang suppression unit, immobilizers, or any of the best practices that seem to have helped to solve the problem.
When the NDP government of Gary Doer came into power in 1999, it had a lot of issues to deal with. It was not overly quick to deal with this one. I believe it was 2005 when the provincial government announced an immobilizer incentive program.
I remember that the government was planning to theft-proof 90% of Winnepeg vehicles within five years. The government was going to guarantee a price of $280, taxes included, for the purchase and installation of immobilizers that met Canadian standards. The customer had to pay $140, half the installation cost, to the insurance corporation, which was a government-owned corporation in Manitoba. The government provided interest-free loans and was going to give an insurance reduction of $40 annually.
Guess what? Almost nobody took up the program. After a while, six months to a year, we found that people were not participating.
Finally, the government decided it had had enough and mandated the installation of the immobilizers free of cost, which was $200. The government made it a requirement that immobilizers had to be installed before vehicle registration and insurance could be renewed, thereby ensuring that it was going to be done. Also, there was a reduction in insurance.
One would think that people would be lined up by the hundreds to get this done, given that this program was free and there was going to be an insurance reduction. But the reality is that people complained. People did not want to get their free immobilizers installed in their vehicles. They felt it was their right to drive around without the fear of their car being stolen.
There is this strange train of thought out there. Many people retain a more or less 1950s mentality, and think they should be able to leave their house doors and car doors unlocked and that no one should steal anything. These people are not dealing with reality. The majority of people realize that they are required to take some precautions and lock their vehicles and homes.
Thieves target certain models of cars. Since September 1, 2007, all new vehicles have factory-installed immobilizers. That means that during the last three years of vehicle production all cars had immobilizers installed at the factory.
Manitoba has taken vehicles methodically, group by group, and worked its way down from the highest-theft vehicles to the lowest. Over time, there is a smaller pool of vehicles available for theft. That has been reflected in lower automobile theft rates. Manitoba had an immediate reduction in the first year. The province had a long way to go, because it was the auto theft capital of Canada by quite a long shot. In fact, Manitoba was almost double the national average in auto theft.
The province had a lot of work to do, but it had a good base to start from. Auto theft was cut down substantially. Once, a couple of years ago, no thefts occurred during a 24-hour period. One day in a month a couple of years ago, Winnipeg actually had zero car thefts. Manitoba has started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
This problem should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. When governments see a problem, they should be proactive, not reactive. The problem should be studied early on. We should have started studying this problem in the eighties to determine how best to solve it. Putting an immobilizer in a vehicle is a simple solution.
The other part of the approach was to set up a gang suppression unit with the police department, and that has worked very well. The police know who these level four offenders are. They are roughly 50 people. The police targeted these 50 people, and most of them are now in jail, where they are unable to steal cars.
A number of others who are out on bail wear a monitoring device obtained from Nova Scotia, where it evidently works well. There have been incidents of car thieves cutting off their ankle bracelets and escaping, but by and large it has been a decent program. Manitoba set up a pilot project for a year, and I believe it is still going on. So it appears that the pilot worked out okay and is achieving some results, in spite of the odd hiccup along the way.
Manitoba also looked at the bait car program, which is an interesting program that works in some parts of the United States. It also works well in B.C.
However, Manitoba, for one reason or another, decided not to proceed with the bait car program. It could be because we have very cold temperatures for a large part of the year. Vancouver has warmer temperatures to work with. However, to each his own. Evidently, the bait car program worked reasonably well in Vancouver, and that is fine if it is getting results.
The Manitoba government then decided to chase this tough on crime government for some action on crime. To that end, Premier Doer led a delegation to Ottawa on September 13, 2007, and he included in his delegation the attorney general, the opposition Conservative leader, the leader of the Liberal Party in Manitoba, and the mayors of Winnipeg and Brandon. He also included a number of other people.
The province's approach to reducing auto theft and youth crime focuses on four broad areas. One is prevention, with programs like lighthouses, friendship centres, and education pilot projects as well as initiatives like vehicle immobilizers. Another is intervention, with the highly successful turnabout program and intense supervision for repeat offenders. A third is suppression, with more targeted funding for police officers, corrections, and crown attorneys dealing with auto theft. The final area is consequences, which includes lifetime suspensions of driver's licences for repeat offenders.
In addition, the premier cited the success of provincial initiatives dealing with drinking and driving, which helped reduce related fatalities and injuries by 25% from 1999 to 2003. There were also changes that Manitoba was asking the federal government to make.
No other province, to my knowledge, was doing this at that time. The NDP government of Manitoba was actually getting tough on crime. It was coming to Ottawa to talk to the pretend tough on crime government, demanding that the federal government provide stronger penalties for youth involved in serious crimes, especially auto theft. The province wanted to allow first degree murder charges for gang-related homicides. It wanted to eliminate two-for-one remand credits, which the government, to its credit, is doing now. It wanted to classify auto theft as an indictable violent offence, and it wanted to make shooting at buildings and drive-by shootings indictable offences as well. In addition, Manitoba requested the federal government to examine the issue of drivers who refuse to take a breathalyzer test, with a view to strengthening existing laws.
I ask the member for Sudbury, my colleague, does that sound like a party and a government that is soft on crime? The Manitoba NDP government was asking for things that the tough on crime government here in Ottawa cannot seem to get done at all. It has accomplished only two of the five requests from the provincial government. It is clear that the government that is tough on crime is the NDP government of Manitoba. It is tough on crime, but it is also smart on crime, because it relies on best practices. We do not run off for whatever is politically popular at the time. We proceed with what works, what gets results.
I have explained to the member about immobilizers, how we were able to pilot that program and get drastic results in auto theft reduction. I also explained the gang-suppression unit, which isolated and identified those 50 people.
I have not started even one word of the notes I brought with me today. I am extremely disappointed about that, but I am sure that there will be questions.