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Is Canada a ‘source nation’ for auto theft? What the summit heard

Click to play video: 'Auto thefts: Trudeau suggests solutions for increasing issue as national summit kicks off'
Auto thefts: Trudeau suggests solutions for increasing issue as national summit kicks off
WATCH: Auto thefts: Trudeau suggests solutions for increasing issue as national summit kicks off – Feb 8, 2024

With the number of stolen cars in Canada skyrocketing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is considering stiffer penalties for auto theft.

This comes as experts warn Canada is increasingly a “source nation” for stolen vehicles and after Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre also proposed this week to crack down on what’s become a national epidemic.

Trudeau raised the possibility of harsher punishments during his opening remarks at the national summit on combatting on auto theft Thursday in Ottawa.

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Feds should regulate sale of ghost keys to curb vehicle thefts: Champagne

“First things first, we need to stop these criminals who are part of the gangs and organized crime,” Trudeau said.

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“We’re also looking at further strengthening penalties for anyone who participates in auto theft.”

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

The prime minister floated the possibility as the Liberals face increasing public pressure to tackle the issue. Trudeau also took a swipe at Poilievre saying a “catchy slogan” and a “two-minute YouTube video” won’t fix the issue.

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On Monday, Poilievre vowed to “secure our ports and lock up the car thieves” as part of his plan to combat Canada’s vehicle theft crisis.

One of the Conservative leader’s proposals includes a mandatory three years in jail for repeat car thieves.

Click to play video: 'Auto theft uptick: Poilievre suggests ‘scanners,’ ’75 border agents’ to combat complex port issue'
Auto theft uptick: Poilievre suggests ‘scanners,’ ’75 border agents’ to combat complex port issue

In response to that, Justice Minister Arif Virani said that those provisions to punish car thieves already exist in the Criminal Code, and his focus is on organized crime rings driving this issue.

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“(What) Pierre Poilievre is desperately missing is that he wants to take extremely punitive measures to 16-year-olds,” Virani said on his way into cabinet on Monday.

At Thursday’s summit, Virani said the Liberals already stiffened penalties in 2019 but added “there’s a lot of work to be done” and that he is “keen” to hear how to “improve” the law.

The Canadian Vehicles Manufacturers Association is among those calling for changes to the Criminal Code. The organization’s chief executive Brian Kingston spoke at the summit, describing how since 2021 vehicle theft rates have grown faster in Canada than the United States.

“What explains that divergence?” said Kingston. “Sophisticated transnational organized crime groups have targeted Canada because the risk of prosecution is low, and the financial reward is high.”

Insurance experts also point to “outdated standards” which have not kept up with advanced technology like key-less and remote start vehicles.

“These crimes put Canada in the spotlight as a source nation for illegal trade,” said Terri O’Brien, CEO of Équité Association, an organization designed to fight insurance crime.

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.

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A May 2023 report on auto theft from The Canadian Finance and Leasing Association says that a vehicle is stolen every six minutes in Canada.

— with files from David Baxter

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