Thieves steal a vehicle every six minutes on average in Canada — and not even the justice minister is immune.
A report warning of a rise in the number of automotive thefts in this country was published Thursday — just as CBC News learned that two government-owned cars provided to Justice Minister David Lametti have been stolen.
According to a Government of Canada document, Lametti’s government-owned Toyota Highlander XLE was stolen on February 11, 2021 and was never recovered.
Almost exactly two years later, on February 13, 2023, a different Toyota Highlander XLE assigned to Lametti was stolen. That one was recovered the same month; the odometer read 24,408 kilometres when it was found but the document does not say what the mileage was when it was stolen.
The justice minister has been driving Ford Expeditions ever since, says the document.
In a new report, the Canadian Finance and Leasing Association (CFLA) says Toronto alone has seen a 300 per cent surge in vehicle thefts since 2015. The group estimates that car thefts are costing the country roughly $1 billion annually.
The report says that once these vehicles are stolen, they’re chopped up for parts or given new vehicle identification numbers and resold, sometimes overseas.
The CFLA says that while it’s hard to track stolen vehicles, the potential for large profits and the “relative ease of removing vehicles from the country” indicate that unrecovered vehicles are usually shipped abroad or resold with fake identification numbers.
The CFLA suggests that organized crime is a leading culprit in thefts of vehicles that are never recovered because organized crime tends to send stolen vehicles abroad. Thirty years ago, the association said, 90 per cent of vehicles stolen in Ontario were recovered; that rate has since dropped to 50 per cent.
“Vehicles stolen for purposes other than profit, such as joyriding or transportation for use in other crimes, tend to be recovered by police,” says the report.
“Exporting is a different story. Those vehicles are likely to disappear forever.”
In 2010, the federal government introduced the Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act. It created a separate offence for theft of a motor vehicle carrying a mandatory prison sentence of six years on third and subsequent convictions.
It also created an offence for altering, destroying or removing a vehicle identification number and gave the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) permission to stop suspected stolen property before it can be exported from the country.
Stolen vehicles sent overseas are often shipped in containers on cargo ships, says the report. The shipper must declare to the CBSA what is in the container; sometimes thieves say they are shipping cars and sometimes they don’t.
Those shipping stolen vehicles often claim the containers hold something else that matches the vehicle’s weight, such as washing machines.
Border officers can identify stolen vehicles by comparing the vehicle identification number to the one on the declaration form. But given the huge number of containers on transport ships, the report says, CBSA officials are only able to examine a small number of them and must instead rely on “intelligence, experience and expertise to identify containers for inspection that arose suspicion.”
The report calls for a more coordinated national effort to curb car thefts.
“We urgently need public education programs on theft prevention, the re-establishment of provincial auto theft teams, and protocols for reporting financed vehicles exported through identity theft,” said Michael Rothe, president of the CFLA, in a media statement.