Mr. Speaker, I want to make a few remarks about three aspects of the bill because I want to put on the record the fact that the House has considered and was aware of these things when we passed the bill.
I first want to say that my party and I are supporting the bill. It is quite true that the provisions of the bill have been in the legislative hopper for a number of years now, it being recognized that automobile theft was a significant economic crime here in Canada, but realizing, of course, that throughout the Criminal Code offence of theft and the offence of joyriding were already on the books and being used to enforce the problems of car theft.
However, some car theft rings now have turned this into a major international business, victimizing people in Canada and around the world. Therefore, it was necessary to take a broader and more comprehensive look at the issue of auto theft and this bill is the result.
One of the things I want to point out is the question of a shift of the burden of proof in relation to this offence. Most of us will understand that in the Criminal Code the burden is on the state to prove that the individual has committed a criminal offence and we do not criminalize somebody by saying, “Hey, Mr. Citizen, you prove you are not guilty”.
Clause 4 of the bill states that:
Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse...removes or obliterates a vehicle identification number....
That is saying that if people were to remove a vehicle identification number, it is a criminal offence unless they have a lawful excuse. What is a lawful excuse? I would have thought that people could simply say that they owned the automobile and that they were entitled to do with it whatever they would like to do in terms of how it is described, identified, painted or whatever.
I cannot recall another instance where in setting up a criminal offence we have shifted the burden to citizens to provide a lawful excuse before they are convicted. This might have read a lot better if it had said that it is an offence to obliterate or remove a vehicle identification number with fraudulent intent. That would have been more consistent with the way we currently operate under the Criminal Code.
I am not at all sure that shifting the burden is fair or constitutional, but I did want the House to know that the House and the committee had an opportunity to discuss this. It is not clear that we have an answer, but it has been noted and it will be for others to determine the appropriateness of that innovation where we place upon the person charged with the offence the burden of showing a lawful excuse for something that would otherwise be pretty normal.
The second thing concerns the definition of vehicle identification numbers. It states that it is:
...any number or other mark placed on a motor vehicle for the purpose of distinguishing it from other similar motor vehicles.
My first reading of that led me to think that included a licence plate. On reading it and discussing it with other colleagues, they felt differently. I am not fully convinced but I did want the House to know that a “number or other mark placed on a motor vehicle for the purpose of distinguishing it from other similar motor vehicles”, in the views of members but not me, does not include a licence plate.
So I will leave that resolved at least by the majority here in favour of the licence plate not being included in that definition.
Third, on the issue of mandatory minimum, the commercial for this offence says there is a mandatory minimum contained in the bill; and yes, there is. However, I want to point out that it is not in every third offence that a mandatory minimum will apply. That is because it is only where the third or subsequent offence is proceeded with by indictment that it involves a mandatory minimum sentence.
So there could be a third, fourth or fifth circumstance where, in the discretion of the crown attorney, the prosecutor, the Crown will not proceed by indictment, it will proceed by way of summary conviction, and therefore, by the wording of these new provisions, a mandatory minimum will not apply.
The last thing I want to point out is that there have been some references in the bill to the new automobile trafficking, export-import provisions of this bill. These trafficking provisions are actually quite important because they fill a void in the ability of the state to intercept, monitor, surveil and deal with the issue of exporting stolen cars, or even importing stolen cars. It is a lot tougher to import them.
We have referred to our enforcement mechanism as being the Canada Border Services Agency, the CBSA. I have to say that it is pretty easy to pass a new statute and say that we have an enforcement agency. In fact, the CBSA is not set up or resourced to be a border police agency. Maybe they should; maybe they should not.
It is a border service agency and its three functions are to do immigration processing and verification, food inspection, and tax collection, including dealing with smuggling. That is what CBSA was set up to deal with.
Yet we are passing a bill that seems to be suggesting that the CBSA will now have what would otherwise be police enforcement objectives and goals to accomplish. At the justice committee, we did not look at resourcing or the mandate of CBSA. This is part of a bigger issue involving CBSA. That agency is going to need some scrutiny and some help from the policy-makers to make sure it is properly resourced for all of the functions we expect it to do.
In this case I have a feeling that we are passing a law and saying to CBSA, “Over to you”, when CBSA does not do police work. They do CBSA work in the three categories I mentioned. I should add that they also process goods leaving Canada where there are restrictions placed on the processing, which is why these trafficking provisions in the bill will enable CBSA to play a role in interdicting the export of stolen Canadian automobiles.
The last thing I want to say is that this bill passes another amendment to the Criminal Code. There must be half dozen to a dozen of them in the pipeline. Most of us around this House should by now recognize that the biggest bang for our buck, the most effective tool in dealing with crime, is investigation and enforcement.
We cannot just get rid of a crime problem by passing a law. Even if we pass the law, while it manifests denunciation of these anti-social acts, we only get the guy after the offence has been committed, and then there is the arrest, the investigation, the prosecution, the sentencing, et cetera.
We as a society have to get out in front of these things, and that is why investigation and enforcement is so important. It is the key element of all the many elements involved in crime prevention and reduction of crime.