Ottawa to move ‘as quickly as possible’ to address increase in car thefts: LeBlanc

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the federal government will act “as quickly as possible” to address the rising problem of vehicle theft in Canada.

The issue was the subject of a summit in Ottawa this week, bringing together politicians, law enforcement and industry representatives to figure out a unified response.

In Quebec and Ontario, reported vehicle thefts increased by roughly 50 per cent in 2022, alongside a 35 per cent increase reported in Atlantic Canada.

Experts have warned that Canada is quickly becoming a “source nation” for vehicle theft and resales, often with the involvement of organized crime groups.

In an interview with The West Block guest host Eric Sorenson, LeBlanc said that no one level of government can address the issue on its own.

“That was the consensus of the meeting last week, that we have a detailed action plan, all of us, about what specific things we can do in our own jurisdictions to remove those roadblocks and make sure that police forces are working together with the (Canada) Border Services Agency,” LeBlanc said in an interview airing Sunday.

“We understand fully that sense of fear and that frustration that people are feeling. And it’s in big cities in the country, but it’s also in small communities.”

The federal government announced an additional $28 million for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to improve the agency’s ability to detect and search shipping containers used to transport stolen vehicles overseas.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet ministers have also suggested they’re open to stiffer criminal penalties for repeat offenders or those connected to organized crime caught stealing vehicles.

But LeBlanc said that while changes to the Criminal Code will take time, a more immediate step would be to make sure law enforcement and border agents have more resources to prevent vehicles from being stolen in the first place.

“It probably starts with giving local and regional police with the RCMP and border services increased resources and increased personnel to prevent these vehicles from being stolen and apprehend … the people doing it,” LeBlanc said.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday at the Port of Montreal – where many stolen vehicles are smuggled out of the country in shipping containers – Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre proposed instituting three-year mandatory minimum sentencing for repeat car thieves.

Click to play video: Poilievre says more X-rays can curb auto thefts, criticizes Trudeau’s handling of stolen vehicles

Poilievre suggested a Conservative government would cut $165 million from CBSA’s spending on management consulting, repurposing some of that money to buy 24 X-ray scanners for Canada’s four biggest ports, and to hire 75 CBSA officers specifically dedicated to searching for stolen vehicles at ports.

According to the Conservatives’ costing, Poilievre’s plan would cost $135 million. Poilievre told reporters the plan “to put the brakes on car theft is to secure our ports and lock up the car thieves.”

But LeBlanc called the Conservative leader’s plan “absolutely unrealistic.”

“There are hundreds of thousands of containers that go through (the Port of Montreal). And Canadian exporters selling perfectly legitimate export goods around the world also need to have a port that’s efficient,” LeBlanc told Sorenson.

“The most effective way is to have increased intelligence from local and provincial police and the RCMP, so the border services agency can best target the high-risk containers or goods that are leaving.”

— With files from Global’s David Baxter and Touria Izri.

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