Justice minister says door is open to tougher penalties for auto theft | CBC News


Canada’s justice minister says he’s looking at options for increasing the penalties for car theft, after the federal government convened a national summit on the issue.

In an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live, Virani said solving the problem of rising car thefts was a priority for the government.

“One of the principal aspects of the Criminal Code is acting as a deterrent for criminal behaviour — we need to be understanding that and how we can improve the tools in the code to emphasize that deterrent effect,” he told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

“I’m taking a deep dive into that legislation,” he said.

“People have also talked to me about potentially raising the maximum penalty, and also looking at when weapons are involved. These are all factors that I’m considering quite closely.”

The federal government says an estimated 90,000 cars are stolen annually in Canada, resulting in about $1 billion in costs to Canadian insurance policy-holders and taxpayers.

The issue has now become a major political question, with the government convening the national summit this week and the Conservatives putting forward their own potential solutions on the issue.

Just before the summit, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre proposed a suite of legal reforms to increase penalties for car theft, including tougher restrictions and penalties for repeat offenders.

WATCH | What came out of the national auto theft summit:

Federal government holds auto theft summit but concrete solutions scarce

Political leaders, law enforcement and industry players met in Ottawa to discuss the spiralling scourge of auto theft in Canada, but concrete solutions were scarce.

“Canadians don’t need another summit, they need a common-sense plan to stop the theft and end the crime,” he said Monday.

Speaking to Barton, Virani noted there is a mandatory minimum penalty for auto theft, with a minimum of six months in jail for those convicted of a third offence. There’s also a maximum penalty for summary conviction auto theft offences, which the government increased in 2019 to two years, up from 18 months.

Changes could address organized crime, Virani says

Law enforcement and other officials have identified organized crime as a major driving force behind car thefts, with a well-organized system of theft and export set up through major hubs like the port of Montreal.

Over the course of the week, law enforcement described a system in which some people — often minors — are recruited to identify and steal vehicles before they are transported out of Canada.

“This is a game of cat and mouse. These are sophisticated, international organized crime groups that are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of manufacturers by investing in technologies that will effectively break through the security systems,” Brian Kingston, head of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, told CBC Radio’s The House.

WATCH | Poilievre discusses auto theft issue:

Poilievre says it’s ‘hard not to laugh’ at irony of repeated theft of justice minister’s car

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who has promised tougher sentences for auto theft, said ‘everybody is at risk now’ after he was asked about the repeated theft of the vehicle assigned to Canada’s justice minister.

Virani said he would prioritize measures that would address the core issue of auto theft — the prevalence of organized crime — and not just the most obvious culprits.

“What struck me at the auto theft summit was the level of organized criminality and their involvement [in auto theft], the level of violence we’re seeing, weapons, people’s doors being broken into and even carjacking,” Virani said Sunday.

“Sometimes the quick reaction is to go after sometimes a person who’s as young as 16 who’s engaging in these thefts, but they’re being orchestrated and masterminded by a criminal operation,” he said.

Virani’s own experience has added fuel to the political fire around car theft, with revelations that his government car was stolen last November, but eventually recovered. That turned out to be the third time the justice minister’s car had been stolen, with the two previous thefts occurring before he was sworn in.

He said that experience helped drive home the severity of the situation.

“This is an issue that’s touching all of us,” he said.



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