Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak about Bill C-64, an act to amend the Criminal Code (vehicle identification number).
In 2004, there were nearly 170,000 thefts of motor vehicles in Canada. Despite a slight decline in the last few years, the number of motor vehicle thefts in Canada remains high.
According to the law enforcement authorities and other justice system stakeholders, criminal organizations contribute substantially to the frequency of motor vehicle thefts. This is often the case because this sort of theft is a low-risk, high-return activity. It is an activity often used to raise funds for these organizations which are involved in various other criminal activities.
The government has tabled this important bill as a measure which specifically targets, on the one hand, the involvement of organized crime in the commission of this offence, and on the other, the way in which the commission of crimes is facilitated.
This targeted amendment would make it an offence to wholly or partially alter, remove or obliterate a vehicle identification number without lawful excuse and under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle.
The offender would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years upon conviction by way of indictment. In a case of summary conviction, the offender would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months and a fine of $2,000, or either of the two.
A vehicle identification number is required on vehicles in Canada and is intended to distinguish one motor vehicle from another similar vehicle.
The VIN is made up of alphanumeric characters representing various information such as the vehicle model, the year, the manufacturer, and it is affixed to the vehicle at various locations. In a sense, the VIN gives the vehicle a distinct identity; it is a vehicle DNA.
The objective of organized car thieves immediately after a vehicle is stolen is to rid the vehicle of its stolen nature by providing it with a false or unknown identity. One of the steps in this process by which a stolen vehicle obtains a false identity is through the act of tampering with a vehicle identification number. Organized crime has certainly been noted as being involved in this type of criminal activity.
A survey conducted by Statistics Canada indicates that 60% of organized crime groups in Canada deal in the illicit theft and trafficking of stolen vehicles, while an additional report by Statistics Canada notes that approximately one in five vehicle thefts in Canada may be linked to organized crime groups or theft rings. Therefore, based on the most recent vehicle theft numbers in Canada organized crime may be involved in up to 34,000 motor vehicle thefts each year in this country.
In addition to research and statistics, law enforcement has also highlighted the involvement of organized crime in the cycle of theft, reidentification and resale of vehicles.
The 2004 annual report put out by the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada has specifically identified the involvement of a number of criminal organizations in organized vehicle theft in Canada. This report has noted that vehicles stolen by organized crime groups, like outlaw motorcycle gangs, tend not to be recovered as they are often exported overseas, transported for interprovincial resale, or stripped for the sale of parts.
The report goes on to recognize that organized crime has been involved in stealing luxury vehicles, changing the serial numbers and selling the vehicles in Canada, Europe and southeast Asia. Furthermore the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has recognized this criminal activity and has specifically called on the government to create an offence prohibiting the alteration, obliteration or removal of a VIN.
The chiefs of police have noted that “the elicit domestic and international trade in revinned vehicles and the impact of organized auto theft on private and corporate citizens in Canada clearly warrants this proposed amendment to the Criminal Code”.
Finally, the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft has noted in a report on organized vehicle theft rings that over the past several years there has been a decline in the number of stolen vehicles being recovered. According to the report, this decline is the result of increased involvement of organized crime in vehicle theft as large numbers of vehicles stolen in major centres are surgically stripped for parts for resale, or identified for resale, or exported to international markets.
In considering the addition of this new offence, it is important to reflect upon how the proposed VIN tampering offence will fit within the existing Criminal Code framework. In fact, this offence would complement the existing offences in the Criminal Code used to combat auto theft, including theft over $5,000, which carries a 10 year maximum term of imprisonment on indictment; possession of property over $5,000 obtained by crime, which also carries a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment on indictment; the taking of a motor vehicle without consent, which is a straight summary conviction offence; and finally, the offence of flight from a peace officer, which carries a five year maximum term of imprisonment on indictment, a 14 year term if bodily harm is caused and a lifetime term of imprisonment if death results.
Furthermore, a five year maximum term of imprisonment on indictment as this bill proposes qualifies this offence as a criminal organization offence. Therefore, if it is found to have been committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, the courts are currently directed in the Criminal Code to consider this as an aggravating factor in sentencing.
Needless to say, a VIN tampering offence would add a unique tool to the already significant tool kit in the fight against motor vehicle theft. It is also important to recognize that the current Criminal Code offence of possession of property obtained by crime provides that evidence that a person has in his possession a motor vehicle with a wholly or partially removed or obliterated VIN is, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, proof that the motor vehicle was obtained by crime.
This new VIN tampering offence would therefore build on the existing possession offence and specifically criminalize the intentional tampering. Currently, those who engage in VIN tampering are often charged with the related offence of possession of property obtained by crime. Although a significant period of incarceration is available for the commission of this offence, it does not fully describe the criminal activity these organized vehicle theft rings are involved in. It is not only the theft and possession of the stolen property which should be criminalized, but also the act of concealing the identity of the stolen vehicle. Therefore, there is a gap in the Criminal Code which this amendment would fill in a meaningful way.
A conviction registered under the Criminal Code for altering, obliterating or removing a vehicle identification number would also more clearly and accurately help to indicate a person's involvement in an organized vehicle theft ring. This information would be of value to the police and crown prosecutors in subsequent investigations and prosecutions.
Since this bill is not proposing to amend an existing offence, but instead is seeking to create an additional offence for the behaviour not currently captured under the Criminal Code, those who engage in VIN tampering, if the evidence is available, will likely now be facing numerous charges as opposed to the one offence of possession of property obtained by crime.
The existence of multiple convictions arising out of the same set of facts will result in a more severe global sentence. For example, currently under the Criminal Code, offenders are subject to a 10 year maximum sentence for possession of property obtained by crime. If this bill is passed,then the same offender, when the evidence is available, could face a 10 year maximum term of imprisonment for possessing stolen property in addition to a five year maximum term if convicted of VIN tampering. Those who are fighting auto crime on a daily basis would therefore welcome this addition.
Experience has shown that criminal law legislation is complemented by targeted law enforcement strategies, technological advancements and community education. In this regard I would like to compliment the successful bait car program being run in British Columbia. Enforcement and education will certainly continue to play a vital role in fully addressing motor vehicle theft in this country.
With regard to technological advancements, it is true that in many cases vehicles are stolen for the thrill of it or used to commit further crimes. In this regard a significant advancement was made by the government in March 2005 with the regulatory amendment regarding vehicle immobilization systems brought forward by my colleague the Minister of Transport.
This amendment requires that by September 1, 2007 all new vehicles weighing less than 4,536 kilograms, except emergency vehicles, must be equipped with an immobilization system. These immobilization systems will certainly prove to be effective in reducing vehicle theft in this country by making it a more difficult crime to commit.
It is also important to recognize that the broader issue of motor vehicle theft has recently been raised by our provincial partners. It is vital for the government to examine whether the existing Criminal Code offences are being applied to their fullest potential and whether there are other viable ways in which vehicle theft could be addressed.
That is why in January of this year at the suggestion of the province of Nova Scotia, federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice agreed to refer the matter of the Criminal Code amendments affecting the categorization of theft of motor vehicles and increased penalties for those who steal vehicles and drive recklessly to a coordinating body of the senior FPT officials for study. Provincial and federal officials are working collaboratively on this review.
In conclusion, this proposed amendment fills an existing gap in the Criminal Code. It targets the role of organized crime in the theft, disguise and resale process and provides appropriate punishments. This new offence, in combination with other existing Criminal Code tools, technological advancements, and law enforcement strategies and community education will work together to combat the underworld of organized vehicle theft in Canada. Therefore, I certainly encourage all members of the House to support Bill C-64.