Federal government highlights range of anti-auto theft measures

Several measures are included in budget legislation currently being considered

Handguns are pictured near recovered stolen cars during a Toronto Police Service news conference, on March 27. Federal ministers on Monday unveiled what they called a 'national action plan' on combatting auto theft. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

Federal ministers on Monday highlighted a series of measures to combat auto theft that they're pitching as a "national action plan."

The measures, announced at an event in Brampton, Ont., include a number of provisions the government previously announced and some that have already been incorporated in budget legislation working its way through Parliament.

"In recent years we have seen an overwhelming and frankly unacceptable increase in auto theft across the country and especially right here in Ontario, in the GTA," said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland during the event.

The federal government held a national summit on auto theft in Ottawa in February. Auto theft has been a rising problem in the country, with insurance costs stemming from thefts increasing to more than $1 billion in 2022.

Federal ministers highlighted additional funding for law enforcement agencies, as well as legislative changes that would create new penalties for auto theft connected to organized crime, for involving a young person in auto theft and for possessing devices that make theft easier.

"This is about taking the tools away from people who are committing these crimes, making us unsafe," Freeland said.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc noted efforts to increase collaboration with international law enforcement agencies, including Interpol. He said that in six weeks of shared data collaboration between the RCMP and Interpol, 1,000 queries had matched to stolen cars from Canada.

He added that police this year had already seized around 1,200 stolen vehicles.

Federal Conservatives have seized on the issue of car theft as another point on which to critique the federal government. They've proposed, through a private member's bill, harsher criminal penalties for repeat offenders.

In a statement released Monday, the Conservatives criticized the ongoing rate of car theft in Canada and highlighted their own proposed solutions.

"Canadians see the results of Justin Trudeau's policies after nine years every day when they look out onto their driveways," said spokesperson Sebastian Skamski.

"Common sense Conservatives will stop the crime and put an end to Justin Trudeau's out of control auto theft crisis by cracking down on criminals and repealing his catch-and-release laws and equipping our ports with state-of-the-art X-ray equipment to allow for rapid scanning of containers and interception of stolen vehicles."

Justice Minister Arif Virani, who attended Monday's event, noted that the measures that are included in legislation to implement the fall economic update and the budget had not yet been passed by Parliament, and called for parties to approach the issue in a non-partisan manner.