For a long while, auto industry groups and insurers were the lone voices decrying the lack of action as auto thefts continued to rise at unprecedented rates, with a vehicle being stolen in Canada every five minutes.
The Ontario government and the province’s police forces joined the battle first with renewed spending and investment to combat the crisis that the federal government estimates at 90,000 stolen vehicles per year, costing taxpayers and insurers $1 billion annually.
Now, after the federal government convened a National Auto Theft Summit yesterday in Ottawa, Ont., auto industry groups are starting to see signs of action from them.
On the eve of the summit, the government announced $28 million in new funding to help the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) search and detect shipping containers, which are the preferred method to transport stolen vehicles overseas.
Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is now talking about the issue, and his government is hinting at considering tougher sentences for car thieves. In a CBC News story, Trudeau is quoted as saying: “Organized crime is becoming more brazen, and the overseas market for the stolen cars is expanding. Cracking down on auto theft means bringing law enforcement, border services, port authorities, carmakers and insurance companies together.”
The Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA), which has been at the forefront of the campaign to get the federal government to act, along with the Global Automakers of Canada, the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, the Canadian Finance and Leasing Association (CFLA), and other stakeholders (such as police associations) said it’s pleased to see this issue surface in the government’s radar.
“After two years of CADA lobbying for provincial and federal action on this issue, yesterday’s summit to combat auto theft was a significant positive step,” said Huw Williams, CADA’s Director of Public Affairs. “For CADA to be in a room with the Prime Minister, five cabinet ministers, the heads of all the police associations, including the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency, and to be able to outline our dealer and customer challenges was a positive step.”
Williams applauded the government for their recent funding announcements to combat crime and specifically auto theft, but said now it’s time for action. “It’s taken too long to get to this point. As a result we need faster action on the rollout of this funding and more concrete steps to come out of this summit. We will be working diligently with cabinet and federal agencies to ensure action on the ground.”
Tim Reuss, CADA’s President and CEO, praised dealers and their associations for pressing this issue. “In the hotspots of auto theft in the greater Toronto, Montréal and Québec regions, CADA, along with our provincial association partners, CCAQ and MVRO, have worked tirelessly to ensure results and to highlight the problem,” said Reuss. “We appreciate the efforts of our local dealers, working with their local members of parliament and local police chiefs to highlight this issue.”
During the summit, police leaders praised dealers for bringing this issue to their attention.
In an interview Friday with Canadian auto dealer, the Chair of the Liberal auto caucus, MP Franceso Sorbara, shared his thoughts about the auto theft summit.
“I think the day went phenomenally well. It provided much needed momentum, and a much needed spotlight on an issue that is very complicated and multifaceted,” said Sorbara, MP for Vaughan-Woodbridge. “Auto theft is not just going to be solved in one or two simple solutions, you need to bring together 30-40 stakeholders representing a myriad of interests from the police association, the ports, rails, auto manufacturers, insurance companies, vehicle exporters. And the day brought a focus that we needed.”
Sorbara said he’s long been advocating to get this issue addressed with his colleagues. “I’ve been a dog on a bone on this issue,” said Sorbara. “I’ve been front and centre with my fellow auto caucus colleagues raising this issue, raising this flag, saying to folks, ‘look, we have an issue going on. This is not just happening in wealthier parts of cities. This is across the board. This is people going to work, leaving their vehicles at work and having them stolen, going to a mall and being followed, having the vehicle tagged.’”
Sorbara said he was glad to see the summit was well attended by all the key parties. “It was really impressive that there was not an empty seat there yesterday. I think that was a testament to the seriousness of the issue, but just how people are galvanized to now stop this and put an end to it.”
For its part, the Global Automakers of Canada (GAC) had praise for the government’s action, recognizing that their members had been advocating for it for two years.
“Today’s announcements of increased coordination across government and across law enforcement and tackling the sales and availability of car theft tools recognize the severe societal impacts of auto theft and representing the fulfillment of key recommendations we have been making to the government,” said David Adams, GAC’s President and CEO, in a statement. “Additionally, the $28 million committed by Minister LeBlanc yesterday for increased enforcement and inspection initiatives represent defined, short-term actions that will curb auto left and lead to a sustainable Auto Theft Action Plan.”
Adams singled out the politicians who took part in the event. “We commend Public Safety Minister, Dominic LeBlanc for convening today’s summit and for the participation of Ministers Rodriguez, Anand, Champagne, and Virani. Addressing the scourge of organized criminal activity in Canada will take an all of society approach, as we can all agree this issue represents an increasing threat to our society and how safe we feel in our communities,” said Adams.
In a news release in advance of the National Auto Theft Summit, the federal government announced that it would:
- Increase the capacity of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) by investing $28 million to conduct more investigations and examinations of stolen vehicles, as well as enhance collaboration on investigations and intelligence sharing with partners across Canada and internationally. This includes exploring detection technology solutions, and exploring the use of advanced analytical tools, such as artificial intelligence; and
- Pursuing all avenues to ban devices used to steal vehicles by copying the wireless signals for remote keyless entry, such as the Flipper Zero, which would allow for the removal of those devices from the Canadian marketplace through collaboration with law enforcement agencies.
In addition to the renewed spending, the federal government said that it would:
- Establish a means of better information sharing between local police and railway police, including through the use of advanced data tools, to identify and find stolen cars before they get to ports;
- Public Safety Canada, the CBSA and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) will work with partners across Canada and internationally to increase collaboration and information sharing;
- Transport Canada will modernize the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to ensure they consider technological advancements to deter and prevent auto theft. The Department will also work with public safety partners to identify cargo handling vulnerabilities through targeted security assessments of port facilities. Based on the assessments, the Department will work with port facilities on corrective actions and to implement updated security plans;
- The Department of Justice Canada will examine potential amendments to the Criminal Code to further strengthen the legal framework related to auto theft, including by reviewing existing offences and penalties; and
- Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) will work with Canadian companies, including the automotive industry, to develop innovative solutions to protect vehicles against theft.
In its news release, the government also pushed back on some of the assertions it wasn’t doing enough to combat vehicle thefts, saying the CBSA responded to 100 per cent of the referrals from police of jurisdiction to examine outbound containers at points of export that may contain stolen vehicles. They also said CBSA intercepted 463 stolen vehicles in 2018 and that rose to 1,800 interceptions of stolen vehicles in 2023, a rise of 290 per cent.