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—