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Can the auto-theft summit put the brakes on rising crime? There’s optimism

Click to play video: 'Feds introduce new measures to prevent auto theft on eve of national summit'
Feds introduce new measures to prevent auto theft on eve of national summit
WATCH ABOVE: Feds introduce new measures to prevent auto theft on eve of national summit – Feb 7, 2024

Cabinet ministers maintain that Canadians can expect to see action coming out of their Thursday summit on how to tackle what’s been called a “crisis” of rising auto thefts.

“We want to take action on something that that touches people in their daily lives,” Industry Minister Francois-Phillippe Champagne said Wednesday morning on his way into the Liberal caucus meeting.

On Feb 8, cabinet ministers will meet with municipal, provincial and federal law enforcement agencies, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials, representatives from ports and other stakeholders to talk about ways to combat increasing vehicle thefts.

Click to play video: 'Auto theft epidemic is related to Canadian ports, feds to discuss ‘complex’ issue: Anand'
Auto theft epidemic is related to Canadian ports, feds to discuss ‘complex’ issue: Anand

A May 2023 report on the issue from The Canadian Finance and Leasing Association (CFLA) says that a vehicle is stolen every six minutes in Canada.

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In this report, the CFLA says that vehicle theft rates had returned to their peak level from the early 2000s. They note that rates began to fall through stakeholder collaboration and improvements in anti-theft technology.

CFLA president and CEO Michael Rothe will attend the summit and provide written submissions. He says he doesn’t want to prejudge what comes out of the summit, but is glad to see it happening.

“At a bare minimum, there’s going to be connections made where we can start talking to one another and coordinating amongst ourselves,” Rothe told Global News.

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Poilievre says more X-rays can curb auto thefts, criticizes Trudeau’s handling of stolen vehicles

“But on a higher level, if we see the leadership that I’m hoping we will see coming out of the summit, we’ll see the CBSA and the RCMP taking a leadership role in coordinating across the country to address this issue, because we are a standout country for auto theft.”

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Rothe says this is because Canada is a relatively “low-risk” environment for auto thefts.

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However, he says one of the things that brought auto-thefts down 20 years ago was the “laser focus” on the issue and broader creation of dedicated police units.

Among the outcomes the CFLA would like to see come out of the summit include greater security at the Port of Montreal, where many vehicles are shipped out of, strengthen consequences for vehicle thieves and more action to stop stolen vehicles shipped by rail.

For immediate solutions, Rothe wants to see more collaboration.

“On the short end, some leadership and coordination from the federal government, the RCMP and the CBSA sharing of information and the implementation of protocols. So, when vehicles are identified, the rightful owners are able to recover those vehicles quite readily. So right now we don’t have any of that,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Feds to focus on auto thefts as insurance costs rise for Canadians: Anand'
Feds to focus on auto thefts as insurance costs rise for Canadians: Anand

Among the other stakeholders taking part in the upcoming summit is the Bryan Gast, vice-president of the investigations division for the Equité Association that investigates insurance crime.

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Gast, who is also director of the International Association of Auto-Theft Investigators says he’s never seen this level of collaboration between police, government agencies and politicians in his 34-year career and is optimistic about the summit.

“I’ve never seen this level of commitment in the past. So, I’m very optimistic that some positive things will start to come out of this,” Gast said.

Gast says the spike in vehicle thefts is being driven by organized crime. With the value of pre-owned vehicles soaring since the COVID-19 pandemic, he says stealing and selling vehicles is a lucrative criminal operation.

“So, what they used to do, and they still do it, but what they used to do through drug trafficking, where there’s significant penalties, they’re gravitating towards vehicle crimes,” Gast said.

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“Either the vehicle itself is being used in other criminal activity, or the proceeds of the sale are being used to further the criminal activity, whether it be drugs, weapons, whatever the case may be.”

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In 2022, vehicle thefts rose 50 per cent in Quebec, nearly as much in Ontario, and 35 per cent in Atlantic Canada. There were 9,600 vehicles stolen in Toronto alone that same year, 300 per cent more than in 2015.

Gast says due to the sheer volume of thefts, it will be difficult to stop the problem entirely but hopes new initiatives will be able to break the upward trend that’s existed for the last couple of years.

“There’s just so many car thefts. It’s rebuilding that framework. There’s going to be some hiccups along the way. It’d be great to recover every stolen vehicle. And it would be great to prevent every theft. Both are unlikely, but we can definitely, reverse the trend,” Gast said.

— with files from Global News’ Abigail Bimman

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