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Auto theft a serious issue for makers, RCMP says as feds unveil action plan

Click to play video: 'Canadian government unveils new plan to tackle auto theft'
Canadian government unveils new plan to tackle auto theft
WATCH: The Canadian government has a new action plan to combat auto theft in the country. The project brings together all levels of government, law enforcement and auto manufacturers. Matilda Cerone has more – May 20, 2024

The head of the RCMP said Monday he has spoken to representatives from a major auto manufacturer in Canada about doing more to combat a rise in vehicle thefts, which he says the entire industry is taking seriously.

RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme said the company, which he did not name, assured him during a recent meeting in Ottawa that it and other manufacturers are looking at how to better safeguard their products against thieves. The commissioner did not specify what actions the company is taking, but suggested the problem is a complex one to solve.

“They understand the issues, the problems, but it’s not just one manufacturer looking at the issue, it’s a collective effort, and it’s not as simple as I thought it was,” he told reporters in Brampton, Ont.

“If you look at a company whose car is regularly stolen, eventually no one’s going to buy that car. So it’s going to hurt the company,” Duheme said. “They’re mindful of what’s going on and they’re doing a lot of work to try to address it.”

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Duheme spoke alongside ministers and MPs as the government unveiled its national action plan to combat auto theft, a crime that has sharply risen in Canada.

Click to play video: 'Feds announce plans to crack down on auto theft : ‘We take this seriously’'
Feds announce plans to crack down on auto theft : ‘We take this seriously’

Auto theft insurance claims for replacing stolen vehicles skyrocketed to a record-breaking $1.5 billion in 2023, according to new data released by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which said the cost of those claims has risen 254 per cent since 2018.

The Équité Association estimated in its latest annual auto theft report in February that a vehicle is now stolen in Canada every five minutes.

The action plan announced Monday contains measures and funding announced in the weeks since a national summit on auto theft was held in February. It also features changes to the Criminal Code, such as stiffer penalties and new offences targeting car thieves and the devices they use, that were included in the latest federal budget.

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But the plan does not include specific requirements for automakers, which have been criticized for not addressing gaps in vehicle technology that have been exploited by thieves. Wireless key fob programmers that can be used to start a stolen car’s ignition can be purchased on Amazon.

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The industry has said it is continuously improving the security of its vehicles.

Click to play video: 'Nearly 600 stolen vehicles recovered at Montreal port'
Nearly 600 stolen vehicles recovered at Montreal port

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said at Monday’s event that Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has also spoken to automakers about working with government to combat theft, and hinted at more details from those conversations to be announced in the coming days.

“The challenge is to have the manufacturers work with us, and we’re prepared to use regulatory means as well,” he said.

The action plan mentions commitments made by Transport Canada to modernize Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations to “ensure they consider technological advancements to deter and prevent auto theft.”

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The federal budget included proposed amendments to the Criminal Code to crack down on auto theft. They include a new offence that would make the possession and distribution of devices and technology used in auto theft a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The budget implementation bill does not explicitly define what those devices are.

Click to play video: 'Feds open to stiffer penalties, Minister LeBlanc says on repeated car thefts'
Feds open to stiffer penalties, Minister LeBlanc says on repeated car thefts

New offences aimed at violent car thefts and laundering proceeds from auto thefts to benefit organized crime would come with a maximum of 14 years behind bars under the proposed amendments, which also include a new aggravating factor at sentencing for involving a minor in a vehicle theft.

The action plan contains another highlight from the budget that would amend the Radiocommunication Act to allow for the regulation of radio devices used to intercept communications in auto theft. The budget bill’s section on these amendments does not mention auto theft, allowing the minister to define the circumstances under which a device may be regulated.

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Other previous announcements in the action plan include $28 million for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to enhance its ability to detect and search shipping containers used to transport stolen vehicles overseas, and $15 million over three years to Public Safety Canada that will go to police forces across the country.

“You see a lot of us here today — a lot of federal ministers, a lot of elected officials — here on Victoria Day because we take this seriously,” Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said.

“We know the challenge is real and urgent, and the reality is we have a plan with specific, tough measures.”

The opposition Conservatives blasted the government’s announcement as another example of how the Liberals are failing to properly address the rise in auto thefts.

“In the span of today’s photo op by Justin Trudeau’s top ministers, nearly 10 cars were stolen across our country,” Sebastian Skamski, a spokesperson for Poilievre’s office, told Global News in an emailed statement Monday.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has proposed adding mandatory minimum prison sentences of three years to vehicle theft offences, as well as rapid scanning and interception technology at Canada’s ports.

In the weeks following the national summit on auto theft in February, law enforcement agencies have sought to highlight a series of successes.

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Those include a joint OPP and Canada Border Services Agency operation that recovered 598 stolen vehicles destined for export at the Port of Montreal, Canada’s gateway to the foreign stolen vehicle market. The vehicles had an estimated value of $35.5 million.

The government said Monday that the CBSA has intercepted 1,205 stolen vehicles in railyards and ports so far this year.

—with files from Global’s Eric Stober and the Canadian Press

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