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Peel Region is Ontario’s auto theft capital. Is new money helping the problem?

Click to play video: 'Car theft continues in Peel Region after government grant to tackle crime'
Car theft continues in Peel Region after government grant to tackle crime
WATCH: Months after the Ford government handed Peel Regional Police a chunk of money to battle auto theft, the issue shows no sign of stopping. Global News' Queen's Park Bureau Chief Colin D'Mello reports – Mar 8, 2024

It took less than four hours for the first vehicle of the year to be stolen in the Region of Peel.

Around 3:10 a.m. on Jan. 1, police believe a truck was stolen from Heathbrook Avenue in Brampton, Ont. Officers haven’t closed the case, which is still ongoing.

The theft is one of 1,433 cars stolen in Brampton and Mississauga since the start of the year, according to Peel Regional Police, the force that patrols the two cities.

“I think people realized it’s pretty easy to steal a car,” Ontario Solicitor General Michael Kerzner told Global News.

“If the sea containers are not being inspected outbound at the Port of Montreal, for example, then it is quite easy for somebody to successfully steal a car… it’s unacceptable.”

The solicitor general has called for stricter border inspections on exports from the country, saying it is too easy to get stolen cars across the Canadian border to sell abroad. The demand is one he brought to a recent national summit on auto theft hosted by the federal government.

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Kerzner was in Mississauga in November 2023, unveiling $18 million to fight auto theft at an event with Peel Regional Police.

The money was part of a funding package for projects across the province, to be spent on things like surveillance and tracking equipment, specialized training and improving data tracking and management.

“This investment will help our police services crackdown on the growing problem of auto theft, dismantle organized crime networks and get these criminals off the streets and behind bars, where they belong,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at the announcement.

At the event, Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said his force had seen the highest per capita number of vehicle thefts in the province, seeing an average of 20 stolen every day.

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Just over three months after the new money was unveiled, that average isn’t going down. Between Jan. 1 and March 7, data maintained by Peel police shows an average of 22 cars were stolen in Brampton and Mississauga every day.

“The money’s important,” Kerzner said when asked when vehicle owners could expect to see the results of his spending on auto theft, before pivoting.

“We’ve set a tone that this will not fly. We will not live in a community where we’re victimized by people stealing our cars.”

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In Peel, the province’s self-appointed car theft capital, police have already admitted defeat on 163 of the 1,433 stolen vehicles this year, marking them as unsolved. Thirty-six have been solved and 1,234 are officially ongoing investigations.

If that rate of stolen vehicles continues, Peel Region would see just over 8,100 cars stolen in 2024. The figure would be roughly on par with 8,279 stolen in 2023 and higher than the 6,042 taken in 2022.

Asked about the figures on Friday, Ford said Chief Duraiappah is doing an “incredible job” dealing with vehicle theft.

“All Peel Regional Police are going out there, going after the criminals but there’s a few-prong approach here,” he said, referring to demands he is making of the federal government, not provincial funding.

“Number one, the Montreal port where they’re being shipped over to, we’ve asked the federal government to enhance the number of border officers there… and part two, these police officers go into high-risk takedowns, and they’re putting their lives on the line, only to see… the criminals mock them and say ‘I’ll be out by the time you start your shift tomorrow,’ because they know the judges are giving them bail.”

The premier added: “I’m going to put every resource we can to catch these criminals that are ruining our communities.”

Last year, the province also announced an auto theft taskforce led by Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto police, putting some money behind the plan.

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The Insurance Bureau of Canada told Global News the money Ontario was spending on auto theft is “already paying dividends” and helping police to coordinate investigations better.

“The government must now look to modernizing the vehicle registration process to make it impossible for criminals to re-VIN stolen vehicles,” the bureau said.

A VIN — or vehicle identification number — is a unique code on vehicles that, if faked, makes it possible to resell a car without the buyer knowing it was stolen.

“While insurers have been taking proactive steps to protect Canadians, no individual stakeholder group can combat theft alone,” the bureau added.

Asked what tools he had available to him at Queen’s Park to deal with auto theft, Kerzner said OPP and other police were doing “tremendous” work.

“We have to find these people — and they’re working flat out to find these people, these gangs who are stealing cars — it’s unacceptable,” he said.

“Public safety will always be a top priority for our government.”

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles sounded less convinced by Ontario’s actions, saying the Ford government had weakened public safety.

“I think when this government is standing up and railing on about law and order, they should be looking a little closer to home, they are deeply underfunding our courts,” she said.

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“It’s on this government. They have a responsibility, and it’s time they stepped up and took some responsibility for it.”

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