Trudeau hints at tougher penalties for car thieves as RCMP chief warns of ‘unprecedented’ problem

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes an announcement that the government will double the carbon price rebate for rural Canadians beginning next April during a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. © THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Thursday his government is considering tougher penalties for auto theft as the head of the RCMP warned that some thefts are being carried out with “extreme violence.”

“It’s unprecedented,” RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme told a daylong national summit on auto theft in Ottawa.

“And the extreme violence that’s associated to that and what we’re seeing, it’s something that was never seen before.”

The summit comes as Trudeau faces increasing pressure to address the issue, with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre blaming the Liberals for the rise in auto thefts.

Poilievre also has floated tougher sentences and has vowed a Conservative government would increase the mandatory prison sentence to three years for anyone convicted of auto theft for a third time. His plan would also deny house arrest to those convicted of auto theft by way of indictment.

Taking a swipe at his rival, Trudeau told the Thursday gathering  that “catchy slogans” and two-minute videos won’t solve the problem.

“Organized crime is becoming more brazen, and the overseas market for the stolen cars is expanding,” the prime minister said.

“Cracking down on auto theft means bringing law enforcement, border services, port authorities, carmakers and insurance companies together.”

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique, whose service operates in a province considered a hotbed for car thefts, said the criminal penalties typically handed down for car theft aren’t strong enough.

“It’s highly profitable and there’s very low risk,” he said.

“Only in Ontario, we saw 68 per cent of those convicted serve a sentence of six months or less. We need to see stiffer penalties. We absolutely need to have a deterrence for these crimes.”

During the morning session, Carrique told summit participants how lucrative the grand theft auto industry can be. Spotters, who identify vehicles to steal, can make between $75 and $100, he said, while exporters can make up to $80,000 by exporting a stolen vehicle overseas, where its resale value can double.

“This is a very complex criminal market facilitated by criminal organizations,” Carrique said.

He said violent auto theft increased by 206 per cent in the Greater Toronto Area.

Ontario Solicitor General Michael Kerzner welcomed the prime minister’s comments.

“We want to stop the revolving door of people coming back out on our streets and doing it again,” he told the meeting. “We want to have them locked up, we want to have them in jail.”

Ahead of Thursday’s summit in Ottawa, the federal government announced it would spend $28 million to help curb exports of stolen vehicles. The Liberal government said Wednesday the money will give CBSA more capacity to detect and search shipping containers carrying stolen cars.

But Danny Smyth, president of Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, called for caution.

“Organized crime for sure, but there’s different roles within organized crime. For example, the kids — and for the most part they are young people that are involved in the theft  — I think we have to be in proportion on that,” said Smyth, also chief of the Winnipeg Police.

“You know … we’re not in a position to be locking up 18-year-olds for extended periods of time when they may not even realize what part of the pecking order they’re in there. I think we want to try to get up the pecking order a little bit and not just hammer away at the youth that are involved.”

When asked what stronger measures would look like, Justice Minister Arif Virani said Ottawa already has strong measures to address auto left.

“Right now you have provisions that are set out in the Code that deal with the offences of theft and you have offences that deal with organized criminality. It’s sort of bridging the two. It’s looking at the specific focus of carjacking, which is unfortunately a new phenomenon here in Canada, but it is something that we need to address,” he said.

“It takes an individual to steal the car but it takes a complete criminal operation to get it out of the country for sales in parts of Africa or the Middle East. When we look at organized criminality, we have to look at those chains and how to disrupt them.”

Poilievre says Canadians are ‘living in fear’

Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne also announced the government would move to ban imports of high-tech devices that have become the preferred tools of car thieves.

Ahead of Thursday’s summit in Ottawa, the federal government announced it would spend $28 million to help curb exports of stolen vehicles. The Liberal government said Wednesday the money will give CBSA more capacity to detect and search shipping containers carrying stolen cars.

Cabinet members, police and municipal leaders surround Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc as he speaks during a news conference at the National Summit on Combatting Auto Theft, in Ottawa, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)© Provided by

Earlier this week, Poilievre said Trudeau’s “mismanagement has allowed organized crime to take over the operations and the running of our federal ports and use them to transport cars stolen in places like Brampton to the Middle East, to Africa and to parts of Europe.

“Canadians are living in fear.”

The federal government says an estimated 90,000 cars are stolen annually in Canada, resulting in about $1 billion in costs to Canadian insurance policy-holders and taxpayers.

The summit wrapped with a signed “letter of intent.” At the end of the day, Smyth said, there are ideas and plans that can be implemented in the short term.

“But I don’t want to give unrealistic expectations either,” he said.

“Some of this is about resourcing. I mentioned police, for example. We’re strained right now doing other things, from gun enforcement to a lot of the public order stuff that’s going on with demonstrations and protests. We don’t have a lot of additional resources that we can pivot.”

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the government will have more to announce in the coming weeks.

Source: CBC News