Madam Speaker, I rise to speak today to Bill C-293, an act to amend the Criminal Code, theft of a motor vehicle, introduced by the hon. member for Langley.
In summary, Bill C-293 would amend the Criminal Code to provide that everyone who commits theft of a motor vehicle is liable to a mandatory minimum penalty on the first offence of $1,000, or imprisonment for three months or both. On the second offence the minimum penalties would be raised to $5,000 as a fine, or imprisonment for six months or both. On subsequent offences, the offender would be liable to a minimum punishment of a $10,000 fine, or imprisonment of one year or both.
Bill C-293 would also provide that where the offence is prosecuted by way of indictment, there would be a five year maximum term of imprisonment and where the offence is prosecuted by way of summary conviction, there would be a two year maximum term of imprisonment.
I would agree with my hon. colleague that auto theft is a serious issue for all Canadians. Having said that, I am not convinced that the manner in which it is addressed in Bill C-293 is the best way to deal with the problem. I therefore cannot support the bill in its present form.
To begin with, there are numerous offences in the Criminal Code to address theft of a motor vehicle. These offences include the general theft and fraud provisions carrying a maximum jail term of 10 and 14 years respectively on indictment. Furthermore, offenders who commit what is commonly known as joyriding may be charged with the offence of taking a motor vehicle without consent. This offence carries a maximum term of six months imprisonment, or a fine of $2,000 or both.
Additionally, a person in possession of a stolen motor vehicle may be charged with possession of stolen property as a crime. Where the value of the motor vehicle exceeds $5,000, the maximum offence, as I just mentioned earlier in a question, is a penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.
All too often, some offenders take it upon themselves to flee from law enforcement in stolen vehicles, often at very high rates of speed. If this occurs and no one is injured, the offender may be charged with the offence of flight from a peace officer and this offence carries a maximum term of five years of imprisonment. Where flight results in a death, then the offender is criminally liable to a term of life imprisonment for this terrible crime. This type of behaviour cannot be tolerated and I believe that the available sentence for this crime delivers a strong message.
In some motor vehicle thefts, the offender may cause significant danger to the public through the manner in which they drive the stolen vehicle. In this regard, if dangerous operation of a motor vehicle occurs, the Criminal Code provides that where a person is injured, the offender is liable to 10 years' imprisonment. Further, if this dangerous operation results in a death, then the offender would be liable to a maximum jail term of 14 years.
Similarly, if the circumstances surrounding the theft result in criminal negligence causing death, those convicted are subject to a penalty of life imprisonment, the most serious sentence in the Criminal Code.
We must also recognize that the theft of automobiles is sometimes undertaken in a systematic manner by organized crime. In this regard the Criminal Code provides a number of additional tools that can apply when auto theft is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization. These additional tools provide for the possibility of consecutive sentencing and reduced parole eligibility.
Therefore, it is clear there are numerous offences covering the range of behaviour, each carrying significant penalties including life imprisonment, which can be used to tackle the incidents of motor vehicle theft in Canada.
I would now like to outline the policy deficiencies which, in my view, are present in Bill C-293. This private member's bill provides for mandatory minimum sentences for first, second and subsequent offences.
As we are well aware, Canada uses mandatory minimum sentences with restraint, preferring an individualized sentencing approach that gives the court the discretion to fashion a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the conduct of the offender, considering also any aggravating or mitigating factors.
Therefore, the use of mandatory minimum sentences, as found in Bill C-293, could be contrary to the established Canadian sentencing principles, such as proportionality and restraint in the use of imprisonment. In addition to mandatory minimum penalties, Bill C-293 would provide for a maximum term of imprisonment of two years when the offence is prosecuted by way of summary conviction.
Currently, the highest maximum penalty for a summary conviction offence under the Criminal Code is 18 months imprisonment, which is usually for offences involving sexual assault and the infliction of bodily harm.
Therefore, a two year maximum for the theft of a motor vehicle would provide this offence with the highest summary conviction penalty in the Criminal Code and would represent a stark departure from the current sentencing regime in Canadian criminal law. Furthermore, Bill C-293 would also reduce the maximum punishment available for someone who commits motor vehicle theft.
The most frequent charge in vehicle theft cases is theft over $5,000. The punishment for this offence is up to 10 years imprisonment on indictment. Under Bill C-293, a person committing a theft of a motor vehicle would only be liable to a maximum of five years imprisonment.
In other words, there is a serious inconsistency here in saying that auto theft is such a serious offence that it requires the use of mandatory minimum penalties but, at the same time, Bill C-293 would cut the maximum term of imprisonment for its commission in half.
As I have indicated at the outset of my remarks, I would agree with the hon. member for Langley that theft of vehicles is a serious issue. Auto theft appears, at first blush, to be single faceted, although further analysis would show that the problem is quite complex. It comprises a multitude of crimes and underlying motives, including the involvement of members of criminal organizations.
To this end, it is important that we ensure our laws are being used to their fullest potential in addressing the criminal behaviour and whether in fact there are gaps in existing legislation which need to be filled.
In this regard, in January, at the meeting of the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice, ministers discussed motor vehicle theft and the need to ensure that appropriate penalties are in place to target those who steal vehicles and recklessly threaten the lives of others.
As a result of this meeting, all ministers agreed to have their officials collectively study motor vehicle theft to determine whether a separate indictable offence is needed and whether increased penalties would be appropriate to reflect the seriousness of the crime.
Provincial involvement in the assessment and crafting the tools to tackle this form of crime is very important. We should ensure that this federal, provincial and territorial process is allowed sufficient opportunity to properly consider the underlying issue.
Finally, education, community programming and crime prevention should also play an essential role in combating the incidence of motor vehicle theft. These tools are an important element in fully responding to the criminal behaviour in Canada.
We agree with the hon. member that this is a very important matter that needs to be debated and discussed. Hopefully, through the federal, provincial and territorial ministers, and debate in this House, we will find what is necessary to better assist us in dealing with this problem of motor vehicle theft. However, today I believe that the hon. member's bill, although well-intentioned, does not meet that threshold.