Ontario budget: 4 police helicopters worth $46M being bought to fight auto theft

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
RELATED: 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

Police officers in Ontario will soon be able to fight crime more readily from the skies, as the Ford government unveils a raft of new crime-related funds, including four new helicopters.

The helicopters are part of millions of dollars of money the Ontario government is setting aside for the police forces in Ontario.

Other measures include support for the Ontario Provincial Police’s auto theft team, changes targeting the illicit cannabis market and fines for unlicensed tobacco sales.

Auto theft crisis

One of the largest lines under the crime spending plan will be $46 million for the four helicopters, which the province is touting as a key new tool for public safety.

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“We are investing heavily in auto theft, providing first responders with the tools that they need, including the four helicopters that we’ve announced in this budget,” Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said Tuesday.

The government, which does not directly control the policy or operations of local police forces, said it hopes to see the helicopters used to deal with street racing and impaired driving, as well as for high-risk suspect arrests and to search for missing people.

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In total, the province is earmarking $95 million over three years in its new plans to combat crime, with another $49 million to be spent on the OPP’s auto theft team and deterring, detecting and analyzing auto theft trends.

The money comes as Ontario finds itself in the midst of an auto theft crisis. So great has the issue become that local police forces and the federal government itself have hosted summits on the topic.

The effectiveness of measures at international borders, security of remote access to vehicles and effectiveness of sentencing have all been under scrunity.

“I think people realized it’s pretty easy to steal a car,” Ontario solicitor general Michael Kerzner previously 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.”

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The government’s efforts and spending so far appear to have fallen flat.

Car thieves in the Greater Toronto Area continue to make off with people’s vehicles, with roughly one car stolen every 40 minutes in Toronto during 2023.

That rate has continued into the new year in major cities. In Peel Region, for example, 1,811 vehicles have been stolen already this year — just 47 of those cases have been solved.

To help scale back the scope of the problem, the government said it will also launch an anti-auto theft campaign that focuses on consumer awareness and auto theft prevention.

Illicit cannabis

Away from auto theft, the government is also hoping to see police and other regulation agencies target the illegal cannabis and tobacco markets more effectively.

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The 2024 budget will give OPP millions of dollars in new funding to target unregulated cannabis while targeting sellers of contraband tobacco with larger fines.

The spending document outlined $31 million over three years to support the OPP’s Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team, which, the government said, has a proven track record in targeting illegal pot shops in the province.

“This investment would enable the (OPP) to respond to the challenge of illegal online operators and crack down further on the production, sale and distribution of illegal cannabis in the online and offline space,” the budget reads.

Part of the push comes from the benefits the province hopes to see through moving illegal sales into the regulated and taxed Ontario market.

When people currently buying from unlicensed stores begin to shop in official spaces, the province hopes to see extra money come into its coffers through taxation if the crackdown is a success.

Ontario is expecting to earn $379 million from the federal excise tax on cannabis in 2024.

The government also said it is also proposing to strengthen the fines under the Tobacco Tax Act to target contraband tobacco.

Details of the fines were not immediately available in the budget.


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