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‘The root cause’: Canada outlines national action plan to fight auto theft

The federal government has outlined what it calls its “national action plan” to combat auto thefts, which will include stronger penalties for thieves, and increased information sharing between police agencies, government officials and border enforcement.

Several cabinet members announced the plan during a Monday morning news conference in Brampton, Ont. The plan primarily includes previously announced measures to fight auto theft, including increased funding for the border and various police agencies, and proposed Criminal Code amendments

According to 2022 industry estimates released at the time, rates of auto theft had spiked in several provinces compared to the year before. In Quebec, thefts rose by 50 per cent. In Ontario, they were up 34.5 per cent.

Police services in the GTA reported an uptick of 104 per cent.

“We are adding new offences targeting auto theft and its links to violence and to organized crime,” Attorney General of Canada Arif Virani told reporters Monday.

He says the government is proposing new offences targeting ringleaders of carjacking gangs, and those who launder the money garnered through organized crime. While the national action plan was the subject of Monday’s news conference, a handful of proposals included in the plan were first introduced as part of the federal Liberals’ Budget Implementation Act, 2024, which is officially titled C-69 and has not yet passed, and in the fall economic statement.

Most stolen cars are said to be sold overseas, particularly in Africa and the Mideast. Virani says the money from stolen vehicle sales is being used to fuel criminal activity in Canada.

“Those measures will help in the fight not just against organized crime, but against terrorist organizations as well,” Virani said.

“This is largely about financial crimes and using the vehicle as a commodity to profit from,” Bryan Gast of investigative firm Equite said in an interview Monday with CTV News Channel. “Being able to choke that financing off will have a downstream positive effect.”

The ‘root cause’

The plan would also allow courts to order someone to keep their bank account open to assist a police investigation, and bar financial institutions from closing that account if criminal activity is suspected.

“Investigations need to follow the money path. That is what we are doing with these changes,” Virani said.

The federal government is proposing a new “aggravated factor” in sentencing, applied to adult offenders who involve a young person in their crimes. Virani says he hopes that will allow police to better target criminal gang leaders, rather than lower-ranked, and often far younger, members who do their bidding.

“Who is directing those youngsters? Who is directing that teenager? Who is orchestrating and providing the resources for that teenager?” he asked. “The root cause is not the actual teenager doing the theft. The root cause is the adult criminal who is leading them, or in fact forcing them, to do that crime.”

So far this year, police have seized close to 1,200 stolen vehicles, according to Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who also spoke on Monday. Generally, most carjackings are carried out by violent street gangs, the federal government says.

Meanwhile, the federal Conservatives have tabled their own anti-theft legislation wrapped in Bill C-379: the Combating Motor Vehicle Theft Act. It’s in its second reading in the House, meaning it is not yet law.

The bill would increase prison time for people found guilty of gang-related car theft for the third or subsequent time from six months to three years.

C-379 is part of a larger plan put forward by the Conservatives to combat theft, which party leader Pierre Poilievre detailed in February. 

What about manufacturers?

Critics have also pointed to car manufacturers, demanding they do more to protect their vehicles from increasingly accessible theft devices.

RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme says officials are in talks with manufacturers to do that.

“They brought a couple devices you can buy (online),” said Duheme, speaking of a recent meeting with one unnamed company where they discussed the technological arms race between carmakers and thieves.

Equipment used to spoof wireless keys, which is available for purchase by criminals online, is constantly updated to dodge software updates from manufacturers trying to play whack-a-mole, Duheme said.

He added that carmakers appeared interested in stepping up their prevention efforts, adding that details from their talks with government would be released soon.

“If you look at a company whose car is regularly stolen, nobody is going to buy that car,” he said.

With files from CTV News’ Dorcas Marfo

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