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What are the chances police can find your stolen car? Canadians believe odds are low

A new poll from Nanos Research for CTV News has found that a majority of Canadians doubt the police are able to recover stolen cars.

Conducted early this week, the survey of just over 1,000 adults across the country asked respondents to rate their confidence in law enforcement’s response to car theft, a problem that has grown for years nationwide.

Among those surveyed, 38 per cent said they were not confident in police recovery efforts, with another 30 per cent indicating they were somewhat not confident. Only four per cent of the sample indicated more than somewhat confidence that police could find stolen vehicles.

 

 

Respondents were also asked about how those efforts have changed over time, particularly within the past decade.

The largest proportion of those surveyed felt negatively, with just over 40 per cent saying, either somewhat or strongly, that police were doing a worse job than 10 years prior. Another 26 per cent indicated they felt things were more or less the same, but only about 15 per cent said that efforts to recover lost vehicles had improved since 2014. Seventeen per cent said they were unsure.

 

Responses varied by demographic group, and by region, across Canada.

When it came to the current outlook on car disappearances and recovery, respondents in the Prairies and British Columbia, as well as women and older Canadians, were more likely to express confidence in the abilities of law enforcement.

Women and older Canadians were also more likely to report that they felt police were doing a better job of recovering missing cars than 10 years prior. But geographically, those positive sentiments were more common in Ontario and Quebec, compared to the Atlantic and western provinces.

 

Auto theft a ‘crisis’

Recent years have seen a rise in missing or stolen cars across the country, with one 2023 report from the not-for-profit organization Équité identifying Canada as a “source nation” for organized crime networks, amid a “national auto theft crisis.”

According to the organization’s research, reported auto thefts in Toronto rose roughly 34 per cent year-over-year in the first half of 2023, to 5,077 from 3,778 over the same period in 2022. Auto theft rose roughly 22 and 12 per cent in Fredericton and Montreal, respectively, in that time.

“Addressing this worsening issue is an important step in keeping Canadians safe and stemming the flow of funds into organized crime,” the Équité report reads.

“Profit margins are high and worth the low risk of consequence for criminals.”

This year, officials across all three levels of government have announced efforts to combat the issue, including a February announcement by the federal Liberals of $28 million to help the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) fight stolen vehicle exports and a national anti-auto-theft summit of federal, provincial and municipal leaders the same month.

More recently, the federal government has announced $15 million in anti-theft funding to provincial, territorial and municipal law enforcement agencies, as well as to INTERPOL and other partners.

There are also some signs of improvement: early data from Toronto Police showed a decline in auto thefts this January, and in April, a joint operation of CBSA and other police services dubbed “Project Vector” recovered 598 vehicles, valued in the tens of millions of dollars, according to an announcement Wednesday.

“Project Vector has disrupted the criminal networks that take advantage of the Canadian export market to sell stolen vehicles,” Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Marty Kearns said in a release.

“[The Provincial Auto Theft and Towing Team] will continue to assist police and justice partners in identifying, disrupting and dismantling organized crime networks involved in vehicle crimes.”

Methodology

The 2024 survey was conducted by Nanos Research via telephone and online between March 31 and April 1, 2024 among a randomized sample of 1,069 Canadian adults. The margin of error for this survey is plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Percentages may not add up to 100, due to rounding. Survey results weighted to reflect population proportions; other data considerations may apply. 

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