Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Issue 22 - Evidence, December 10, 2009


OTTAWA, Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, to which was referred Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime), met this day at 10:50 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.

Senator Joan Fraser (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Welcome, colleagues. To begin with, I believe you have in front of you this sheet, which will require, with your agreement two motions. The first would be that the two listed documents, the written answers provided by Mr. Perron and Ms. Dolovich, be appended to the committee proceedings.

It is moved by Senator Nolin. All in favour? Opposed? Abstaining? Carried.

The second item would be that the remaining list of material be filed as exhibits with the clerk of the committee. All of this material has to do with our study of Bill C-15.

It is moved by Senator Milne. All in favour? Opposed? Carried.

Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

I want to say, before we begin our study of the bill that is now before us, that this is the last meeting that will be attended by Senator Lorna Milne, who is unfortunately retiring from the Senate. Senator Milne is a former chair of this committee. She chaired it with great distinction for several years and has been a faithful member of this committee and others. However, this committee, in particular, owes her a great debt for her assiduity, skill and shrewdness, and I wanted to say that on the record.

She has chaired the committee when it has gone through some of its most exciting times. When I first came to the Senate, she was chair. Senator Nolin was a member of the committee then, as were people such as Senator Beaudoin, Senator Cools, Senator Joyal and Senator Grafstein. Senator Milne presided over that very illustrious group with grace and distinction.

On behalf of all of us, Senator Milne, thank you very much indeed.

Senator Milne: That is overly kind. Thank you.

The Chair: We now turn to our study of Bill C-26.

[Translation]

Honorable Senators, usually, in our committee, when we study a bill, we start by having, as our first witness, the Minister of Justice, and in fact, we were supposed to hear him yesterday between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. Unfortunately, the Senate held votes at 4:30 and 5:00 p.m., which prevented us from having our meeting with the Minister. We therefore apologized to the Minister and we will ask him to appear near the end of our study of this bill.

[English]

This morning, in spite of the snow storm, we are very grateful to have with us those who will be our first witnesses on this interesting bill, from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, RCMP: Chief Superintendent Joe Oliver, Director General of Border Integrity; and Inspector Wayne Holland, Officer in charge of Project IMPACT. From the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, CISC, we have Superintendent Michel Aubin, Director General. From the Ontario Provincial Police, O.P.P., we have with us Detective Sergeant Stephen Boyd, Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau.

Have you a preference among yourselves as to who goes first, or shall I start with the first person on the list?

Superintendent Michel Aubin, Director General, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada: With your indulgence, Madam Chair, we have. Under the assumption that law enforcement agencies are intelligence-led, I will lead the presentation.

Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee on this important topic. As you mentioned, I am the Director General of Criminal Intelligence Service Canada. Very briefly, CISC is an organization comprised of representatives from nearly 380 different law enforcement agencies across Canada. Essentially, it works in partnership with its provincial bureaus and is mandated to provide the greater law enforcement community with strategic intelligence reports on serious and organized crime to support law enforcement efforts in the fight against organized crime.

It is from this perspective that I hope to provide the committee with pertinent information with respect to vehicle- related crime in Canada, specifically the involvement of organized crime in this criminal market.

The information provided today stems from a variety of intelligence sources, including Project Sparkplug, a strategic intelligence assessment conducted in 1999 by the RCMP's Criminal Intelligence Program; CISC's integrated national threat assessments from 2006-09; a not-yet-published RCMP-Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA, project based in part on a review of information from 1992 to 2009 on involvement of organized crime and exporting vehicles out of Canada; and information received through RCMP liaison officers posted aboard.

[Translation]

The SCRC agrees that vehicles and auto parts theft is still a significant issue in Canada. A number of thefts do not have their origin with organized crime but according to the general intelligence we have, we know that organized crime is involved in the market of vehicle theft and auto parts trafficking, and this, mainly in the Central Region of Canada.

Moreover, the reality is that our ports are used to export vehicles and autoparts to countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Central America.

[English]

Measuring the involvement of organized crime in the criminal market of vehicle theft is difficult, owing to the nature of the crime. The best process we can use at this time is to consider the number of non-recovered stolen vehicles and infer that these vehicles were stolen for trafficking purposes. However, this resulting number would also include the vehicles stolen by non-organized crime actors and not recovered.

The numbers of reported motor vehicle thefts since 2006, for example, show a decline in the trend of reported occurrences in Canada. We also see an increase in the estimated rate of stolen vehicles that have not been recovered. In less than a four-year span, this rate has gone from 30 per cent in 2005 to 40 per cent today. These statistics indicate that organized criminal involvement in vehicle theft may be increasing. I say "may be" because, again, it is important to be mindful that we are using a proxy measure to determine organized crime's involvement in this market.

A presumed decline in joyriding, or opportunistic auto thefts, may be due to the technological advances and enhanced security in the automobile industry. These advances are less of a deterrent to those who are motivated to commit a criminal act for illicit purposes or profit. Thieves continue to adapt to technological innovations.

To provide you with a supporting perspective of the issue, in the 2009 CISC integrated national threat assessment, 63 organized crime groups were identified as being involved in vehicle-related crime, with an additional 15 groups suspected of involvement. A provincial breakdown is available, should this be of interest. The information and intelligence provided to date shows that almost every province has organized crime involvement in vehicle-related crime; however, not necessarily as a primary activity.

Quebec and Ontario remain the provinces with the highest numbers of identified crime groups involved in vehicle- related crime. These provinces also have the highest number of vehicle thefts. As stated in prior testimony before the committee, Manitoba has the highest rate of vehicle thefts in terms of theft rate per capita. It also has the third-highest number of organized crime group involvement in vehicle-related crime in Canada.

[Translation]

One of the main aspects of car theft is, for the criminals who want to make a profit from it, reintroducing the stolen vehicle in the market of licit goods. To do so, the car thief, seeking to make a big profit, must have access to a large ring of facilitators and service providers. These services may include the stealing of vehicles, the forging of documents, the modification of the paint system of the vehicle as well as the transport or exportation of vehicles by professionals smugglers.

[English]

Many groups involved in auto theft have the organizational capacity and ability to coordinate theft rings. A 1999 RCMP study, Project Sparkplug, showed that while vehicles are illegally sold in Canada, it is by exporting stolen vehicles that the highest profits are generated. At that time, the marine ports of Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax were the main centres for exporting stolen vehicles. Organized criminal networks continue to be involved in the exportation of stolen vehicles and their parts with transnational organized-crime links. Intelligence indicated that many of these vehicles are destined for countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America.

Counterfeiting and fraud aimed at facilitating the trade in stolen vehicles are techniques currently relied upon by organized crime. Many of the criminal organizations involved have demonstrated the ability to launder money as well. In addition, because vehicle theft generates significant illicit profits, these gains are used to further other criminal enterprises such as drug trafficking.

Given the profit potential and perceived low risk associated with exporting stolen vehicles, and the fact that many criminal organizations are focusing on expanding their influence through the establishment of cells abroad or through the formation of foreign partnerships, this form of criminality and the involvement of organized crime are expected to persist.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to answering your questions.

Chief Superintendent Joe Oliver, Director General, Border Integrity, Royal Canadian Mounted Police: I am accompanied by Inspector Holland, Officer in Charge of the British Columbia Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team, also known as IMPACT.

[Translation]

I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about the role of the RCMP in the context of Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime). I will be happy to answer your questions after these brief opening remarks.

[English]

According to Statistics Canada, motor vehicle thefts accounted for 6 per cent of all Criminal Code offences and 13 per cent of all property crimes in 2007. Given these figures, it goes without saying that motor vehicle thefts have a significant impact on police operations across the country.

The RCMP investigates auto theft as the local police force of jurisdiction in hundreds of Canadian communities and as the provincial and territorial police in eight provinces and the three northern territories. The RCMP employs both preventive and enforcement strategies in combating auto theft.

For example, in British Columbia, the RCMP is a key partner in IMPACT along with the Solicitor General of the province, other local police departments and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, ICBC. IMPACT employs such techniques as the use of bait cars in high-risk areas to corral would-be car thieves. In addition, unmarked police patrol cars are outfitted with special cameras that automatically scan licence plates, which in turn leads to the identification of stolen vehicles and the arrest of suspects in other associated crimes such as drug trafficking, breaking and entering and robbery.

Combating organized crime is one of the RCMP's five strategic priorities, along with fighting terrorism, protecting Canada's economic integrity, helping youth avoid crime and enhancing the health and safety of Canada's Aboriginal communities.

Organized crime investigations involving stolen vehicles have demonstrated that their specific involvement often entails the exportation of these vehicles through marine ports.

In 2003, the RCMP established the National Port Enforcement Teams, or NPETs. NPETs are intelligence-led teams, consisting of partners from federal, provincial and municipal law enforcement agencies. Their priorities are crimes of a national security nature and organized criminality at marine ports.

At the request of Canada's Minister of Public Safety, a six-month enforcement probe into the exportation of stolen vehicles was conducted in 2008. The probe, named Project SIENNA, was carried out at the ports of Montreal and Halifax as a collaborative effort between NPETs, Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, IBC. From our perspective, this was an operational success. During the six-month period, 258 vehicles were recovered with a combined value of more than $8 million.

Project SIENNA also provided some important lessons. First, the value of partnerships cannot be overstated. Cooperation between CBSA, RCMP, municipal-provincial policing partners and the private sector significantly contributed to the success of this initiative.

Second, Project SIENNA was resource-intensive. During the six-month probe, RCMP personnel contributed over 4,800 person-hours to the recovery efforts. This figure does not include the human-resource impact on other policing partners.

Finally, in addition to the recovery of a significant number of stolen vehicles, Project SIENNA reinforced that organized crime is involved in the international exportation of stolen vehicles through marine ports. Further investigation also confirmed that the initial theft of vehicles occurred in large metropolitan areas of Central Canada.

The RCMP supports Bill C-26, as it would provide CBSA with the ability to proactively target and interdict the cross-border movement of stolen vehicles. The increased information and enforcement support obtained from CBSA in their enhanced interdiction capacity would impact the RCMP's and their Canadian police partners' ability to combat organized crime groups involved in the export of stolen vehicles.

[Translation]

This bill would grant the RCMP and other Canadian police services extended powers to make investigations about criminal organizations. It is however important to mention that we will only be able to exercise those powers if we have resources to do it.

[English]

In conclusion, should Bill C-26 receive Royal Assent, the RCMP, along with its policing partners, will gain increased effectiveness in its ability to target and penalize the export of stolen vehicles by organized crime. Bill C-26 also leads the way to increased operational collaboration among the RCMP, Public Safety Canada, CBSA and municipal police forces in our national efforts to combat vehicle theft and export by organized crime.

Inspector Wayne Holland, Officer in Charge of Project IMPACT, Royal Canadian Mounted Police: I would be privileged to offer a few comments in support of both gentlemen's preliminary comments. First, I would like to take this opportunity to say that it is an honour — a singular one for me and the first time in my career — to appear before such an august group.

Second, I apologize because despite being a former resident of Quebec as a young child and having an ability to converse in both official languages at that time, my capacity has diminished because I have spent the last 30 years on the West Coast of Canada. If I was to attempt what these gentlemen have accomplished, I am afraid I would amuse rather than inform, and I would like to use this precious time as well as I can.

I am indeed the officer in charge of IMPACT. I think it is singular that the RCMP had the foresight to have me travel out here and speak to you about the benefits of having an integrated team, the team we call IMPACT in British Columbia. By "integrated," I mean that every day, members from eight municipal police agencies, the RCMP and our insurance provider come to work to combat vehicle crime.

I call it "vehicle crime." Auto theft is the correct appellation, but it limits the scope and impact of the activity that we are discussing today. I prefer to call it vehicle crime because there is more than the singular action of taking a car from an owner. The associated crimes are changing the vehicle identification number, VIN, and cloning, rebirthing and exporting someone's private property. Also ancillary crimes are committed by thieves once they acquire that vehicle, and they are serious crimes.

I say that if you are stealing a car to commit break and enters, robberies, et cetera, despite the value of that car, the initial theft of the vehicle is as serious a crime as the subsequent offences. Therefore, we like to wrap, at IMPACT, the term "auto theft" into the better appellation of "vehicle crime."

We are very privileged to have an integrated team in British Columbia. We would not exist by means of a normal operational policing budget in our province had it not been for the leadership of the RCMP and the financing of ICBC. Every cent of our wages and benefits, and all of our technology and equipment is provided by our provincial insurance provider through police services as part of the provincial business line annually.

There is never enough money or people within your jurisdictional police force to be able to dedicate those people solely to vehicle crime. We always have other priorities such as drugs and street gangs — I could go on and on.

However, in its wisdom, ICBC saw a bottom-line benefit — I do not mean that in an offensive way — to finance all of our activities with high technology and to allow us to focus ourselves on vehicle crime singularly. In their estimation, over our last six years of existence, ICBC has saved for citizens — who are its clients and who own the corporation in effect — over $108 million. They have expended between $16 million and $20 million to fund our budget but have realized $108 million in savings.

We have also decreased vehicle crime in excess of 55 per cent. In 2003, when we were created, 27,000 cars were stolen in British Columbia. This year, 11,500 will be stolen by December 31. They estimate that roughly 40,000 people — equivalent to a city the size of Abbotsford — were not victimized when IMPACT rolled out its programs.

I can boast of our success because we are not alone. We have other projects similar to IMPACT throughout the north, south-east and island districts of British Columbia as well as the Lower Mainland, although they may not be called that. We pass on our technology and skills, and they duplicate our programs. It is as a provincial team that we have had our success.

I will save further comments for later.

The Chair: Thank you. It is extremely interesting.

Let me remind you and the television audience that it is the constitutional right of every citizen of Canada to address the Parliament of Canada in the official language of that citizen's choice. Nothing obliges you to speak either official language before us.

Mr. Holland: Duly noted.

The Chair: You can choose. That is why we have translation.

Detective Sergeant Stephen Boyd, Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau, Ontario Provincial Police: Honourable senators, thank you for this opportunity to address the committee on this important topic. I am a detective sergeant and program manager for the Provincial Auto Theft Team, PATT, led by the Ontario Provincial Police. We are mandated to investigate organized crimes' involvement in vehicle theft in Ontario. As such, our investigations may not only be provincial, but also interprovincial, inter-jurisdictional and international in scope.

I would like to draw your attention to some recent trends observed in organized auto theft investigations in Ontario.

In 1990, about 90 per cent of the stolen vehicles in Ontario were recovered by the police, while today only about 50 per cent to 55 per cent of all stolen vehicles in the province are recovered. The reason for this is that, first, the invention of immobilizers has reduced the theft rate and had a significant impact on transportation thefts and joyriding. However, technology has not had much effect on professional, organized auto thieves. This group is responsible for the bulk of stolen vehicles that are never recovered. These thieves are the main focus of our law enforcement initiatives in Ontario.

Many believe that the average age of someone arrested for auto theft is 14 to 16 years old. In my experience with the Provincial Auto Theft Team, investigations into organized auto theft rarely result in a charge of theft being laid, and the average age of someone arrested by our team is 34 years. The accused is typically a professional criminal and will not be caught by a simple bait-car program. The arrest and incarceration of such an individual can only be brought about by sophisticated investigation.

Furthermore, I should like to draw your attention to the fact that the problem of auto theft is changing as professional auto thieves adopt new methods to obtain vehicles illegally through fraudulent financing and leasing. Vehicles are being acquired with little or no money down using a false name and credit references. When the time comes for the first payment on the loan or lease, not only is the payment not made, but the vehicle has likely already left the province.

Fifty per cent of the "stolen" vehicles recovered during our last investigation involving vehicles being exported out of the province were either leased or financed by fraudulent means. Why steal a car when you can drive one off a dealership lot with no repercussions? The big five auto manufacturers have advised police that they lose millions of dollars annually to fraudulent financing and lease skips. We believe this is poised to be a growth area for organized crime yielding enormous profit with little or no risk or consequences.

Consequently, although we welcome additional legislation to combat organized crime, the rationale of the new offence of theft of a motor vehicle, which is "section 333.1(1)" through Bill C-26, will have little effect on this new form of auto crime, nor will it impact organized crime investigations.

In my view, the bill inadvertently creates obstacles to the enforcement of criminal behaviour through exemptions. The presumption of guilty knowledge has been found to be a violation of the presumption of innocence under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; consequently, it requires evidence of knowledge that the vehicle is stolen. This is extremely difficult to prove in court, particularly when the legislation creates legal exemptions to a prohibited act. Bill C-26 will make it illegal to remove a VIN from a vehicle except for legitimate repairs.

We believe that this clause will reduce the reasonable expectation of conviction. Furthermore, the new trafficking section has a similar flaw. The Crown must prove that there was knowledge of the criminal origin. It is very simple for someone to falsify documents that can be tendered as proof that they believed the ownership to be legitimate, making it difficult to prove knowledge of the offence.

We support legislation that allows us to be more effective, efficient and successful in investigating vehicle theft however it is accomplished. Given our concerns, we suggest that more consultation is required to ensure the most effective legislation is brought forward to ensure the safety and well-being of all.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. If there are any questions, I would be glad to answer them.

The Chair: Thank you.

Before I open the floor to questions, Mr. Aubin, you spoke about a provincial breakdown of organized crime groups and rates being available in different provinces. Would you be able to provide that material in due course to the clerk of the committee?

Mr. Aubin: Yes.

Senator Joyal: If you have those statistics, do you also have them for the number of car thefts by youth from ages 15 to 18, for example? If you have car theft statistics only with no distinction, for the purpose of organized crime or a young person who decides to go for a joyride on a Saturday night and abandon the car somewhere, they would be useful.

Mr. Aubin: I have a breakdown of the number of organized crime groups per province involved in this type of activity. I do not have any further breakdown.

Senator Joyal: As I understand it, 3 out of 10 cars are stolen by youth. I would like to see if that phenomenon is more important in some regions of Canadian than others.

Mr. Aubin: I understand. However, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada as an agency focuses on activities of organized crime. Car theft is not limited to organized crime, but CSIS does not focus on that other reality.

The Chair: Anything any of you could give us along that line would be helpful. We will be hearing from Statistics Canada, which was another witness we were unable to hear yesterday. We will see what we can get from them as well on this.

Senator Watt: I wish to raise another issue. It would also be helpful if you have any breakdown on what is happening with Aboriginal communities in relation to this issue. That applies to Aboriginal communities in both Southern Canada and the North.

The Chair: We are approaching the end of a parliamentary session. There is a great deal of extra activity. Unusually, this meeting will end early at five minutes before noon, so I would ask that everyone govern themselves accordingly and keep questions and answers as tight as possible.

Senator Milne: Mr. Oliver, you suggested in your presentation that the cooperative effort that you are putting forward, as with Project SIENNA, is report-intensive. You also talked about being able to act only to the extent that available resources allow.

Have you any indication whether you will receive additional resources?

I would strongly suggest that this committee asks the minister when he appears in the future because we have had indications from him that he will not cough up additional money for anything whatsoever. I congratulate you for your successes, but additional resources might be a real problem in the future.

Mr. Oliver: The police could consume every resource that Canada has to offer in fighting crime; that is the reality. However, with the resources that we have, we employ a number of strategies to try to work as effectively as possible. With initiatives such as increased intelligence, better integration and prioritization, we are able to create a force multiplier and receive a better bang for the buck out of our existing resources. While resourcing can be a challenge, we try to work as smart as possible with the existing resources. An example of that is the success that we have had with Project SIENNA.

Senator Milne: Mr. Oliver, I believe, said that the average age of the people apprehended for auto theft is of 35 years. These people are not the joyriders. The two kinds of auto theft are the joyriders, who are usually young kids, and the professional auto thieves. You are apprehending the professionals. If you do pick up any joyriders, will they then have a prior conviction for auto theft as a teenager making them liable to minimum sentencing restrictions if they commit an offence when they are older?

Mr. Boyd: We have roughly 4,000 boots on the ground in Ontario with the Ontario Provincial Police. When the stats show that the average age of someone arrested for auto theft is 14 to 16 years, it is usually because of the sheer numbers that are arrested. With so many officers on the streets, it is the 14-year-old kids out joyriding who panic and try to take off when a black and white car pulls up behind them. That is why those arrests occur. We target the professionals in an older age group. They are the middle men, the brokers and the exporters. Studies from the U.S. show that a sharp incarceration period with progressive sentencing makes a difference to keep kids from moving to the professional level.

Senator Milne: Basically, your answer is, yes.

Mr. Boyd: I believe it would have an impact.

Senator Milne: It will have an impact.

The Chair: Mr. Holland wanted to add something to that.

Mr. Holland: I am glad that both Senator Milne and Senator Joyal raised the issue of the young offender. Nothing is more important in our society than getting young ones off to a good start as they progress to productive adulthood.

In British Columbia, RCMP officers are lucky because we do not have the organized crime spectre that Eastern Canada has; and I will elaborate on that later, perhaps. That is important because we are attacking a different car thief. We had a high juvenile population that was stealing cars and joyriding about 10 years ago. Within the last six years, we have done a number of things, one of which has been particularly positive: the production of a video called "Stolen Lives," of which some senators might be aware. I can provide a copy of it to the committee.

The Chair: If you would, please.

Mr. Holland: In 34 minutes of content, it is the most persuasive video I have ever seen. I invite everyone to show it to their high school children or grandchildren. It is part of the British Columbia education curriculum and is mandatory in B.C. schools. I am pleased to say that providing that tool to our school liaison officer in British Columbia has resulted in a decrease of joyriding from approximately 20 per cent to 25 per cent down to 3 per cent to 6 per cent in the last three to four years. That is an absolutely wonderful result, and we are so pleased.

Our offender is a street criminal. We do not have organized crime. We have recovered 93 per cent of our stolen vehicles, which is an indicator, as Mr. Aubin and Chief Oliver will confirm, that there is little presence of the chop shops run by the organized crime responsible for stealing automobiles for export. Those who are really hurting us are the 29.4-years-of-age, drug-addicted, chronic recidivist offenders. They are stealing the less expensive cars and using them to commit break and enter, robbery and worse to buy drugs.

Five years ago, we were determined to target those people. We have had remarkable success. It is the old adage: The very few in the population cause the most harm. They are the biggest cost to the criminal justice system and the most dangerous to the public. About 59 people were killed during the last few years as a result of car thieves driving with no regard for the law. The figure includes car thieves as well as innocent citizens. That is important to us and is one of the most appreciable results of our program. We will continue to target the street criminal, who is our focus. It illustrates that in different parts of the nation, we face different problems.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: I shall use my constitutional right to speak to the witnesses in French. The answers given to certain questions have suggested others and I shall try to ask them in order.

Mr. Boyd, you mentioned that creating a new offence would not necessary have an impact on decreasing the rate of vehicles thefts. However, answering a question asked by Senator Milne, you said that increasing the penalty or having a special sanction would have an impact. Do I understand that you are in favor of this bill?

The section creates a more precise offence. I imagine that before, vehicle theft was not provided for. There was theft over or under $5,000. So the more specific notion of vehicle theft may not have as such a big impact, but I understand from your testimony that an increased penalty for people who re-offend and commit three more offences will have an impact. Is that correct?

[English]

Mr. Boyd: Yes, the creation of legislation for graduated sentencing would have an impact in other parts of the country more so than in Ontario, where our unit does not focus on thefts. We rarely lay a charge of theft. We look at the organized crime aspect.

The additional charge of theft of a motor vehicle will not have a huge impact in Ontario. It would have a definite impact in the West and in other parts of the country, so I would be in support of that. In Ontario, we are looking at a completely different type of criminal. We rarely lay that charge of theft. Most of the charges our unit lays are possession, fraudulent concealment, utter forged documents and conspiracy charges.

Mr. Oliver: Recognizing the divergence in criminal profiles across the country and the different types of crime that we see, as I understand the legislation, the specific offence dedicated to motor vehicle theft and its maximum 10-year sentence would provide law enforcement with additional tools with it being a serious offence under the organized crime provisions of the Criminal Code. That would allow law enforcement an additional tool to target organized crime.

The other element is that when it comes to cases, as we have seen in British Columbia, with the possibility of having mandatory minimum sentences, when those people are taken out of circulation after the third offence, some studies indicate a decline occurs in auto theft rates in the area.

Perhaps Inspector Holland can provide more context. However, if we take people out of circulation, they cannot steal cars.

Mr. Holland: I could not have said it better myself, so I will not repeat it. While I share Sergeant Boyd's concerns, he is attacking a different type of organization or entity. We could not be more pleased with this legislation because we are dealing with people who are very streetwise. They assess every move they make. They figure out each day how many cars they will go for, where they will steal them and how easily they may acquire them, and turn that vehicle into money for drugs or other crimes.

This sentencing, and any sentencing, provides them with a heightened sense of risk. That is part of the secret to our success at IMPACT: We use the myth of full enforcement, and, with the careful use of media and public education, we try to psychologically make them feel that we are everywhere. We want them to think there is a bait car in every car port, in every parking lot and on every street. Indeed, bait cars are everywhere.

We interview these thieves; we ask them questions every time we arrest them. Their biggest fears are police dogs, IMPACT's Air One helicopter program and the knowledge that we use the Global Positioning System, GPS, to follow them. We do not need to drive very fast. We follow the thieves at a safe speed in accordance with the motor vehicle act and regulations because we know where they are. We are watching a small dot. We do not need much talent to follow them around. We wait until they are out of the car before we take them down and arrest them. In that way, the vehicle cannot be used as a bullet against innocent citizens or police officers.

We are absolutely thrilled with this bill, should it be passed, because the street criminals think, "I will take the easy way out if I will be doing serious time." A study by Darryl Plecas showed that the average property-crime offence sentence is 14 days. This is considerably more than that. They will think about how much time they will be away, and how much longer they are away from their drug cycle. We have a drug cycle in B.C.

That is my opinion.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: You are raising an interesting aspect, Mr. Holland, about crime generated by drug users. Our committee has studied another bill, Bill C-15, about mandatory minimum penalties for drugs and I have asked questions about the crime indirectly generated by drug abuse, by people who commit break and enters, or vehicle thefts to buy drugs. Are there statistics that give the rate of thefts which are committed for that specific purpose?

We spoke about youth a while ago — that was one of my questions — but I ask that question now about drug abuse or people who commit crimes to buy drugs in our province or in Canada.

[English]

Mr. Holland: Nothing immediately comes to mind. We can speak for the persons arrested by us because we interview them all. We can quantify exactly what crimes they have committed. Most are very forthright. If they are caught in a bait car, audio and video evidence will lead them to plead guilty in 95 per cent of the cases. When we interview them, we confirm they use the cars for other purposes.

However, I cannot further inform the committee today on statistics other than IMPACT's records of the information given to us about the use of the vehicles.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: An article in today's Journal de Montréal said that Statistics Canada stated that vehicle thefts cost $465 million to Canadian insurers and that therefore the financial impact for the whole Canadian population represented an amount of $30 per car insurance contract, on average. Do you have similar numbers or are they higher?

Mr. Aubin: We go by the data given by Statistics Canada or by the Insurance Bureau of Canada. We don't do this type of study. We can't give you more information. We assume those numbers are reliable. However, what we can tell you is that, according to statistics and police reports, this is a very significant crime; it comes third among offences against property and it takes up a good amount of the time of police services.

[English]

Senator Wallace: Thank you for the presentations. Mr. Oliver, in your presentation you indicated your support for Bill C-26 and you stated that the proposed legislative amendment would provide Canadian police services with expanded authorities to investigate criminal organizations, which is obviously a huge issue for you.

As you know, the bill creates new offences in the specific offence of theft of a motor vehicle, alteration of vehicle identification numbers, trafficking in property obtained by crime, possession of property obtained by crime and prohibition against importation and exportation. That is the "menu" that the bill encompasses.

I wonder if you or Inspector Holland wish to comment about the statement that this bill would give you expanded authorities. In the context of that menu, what specifically comes to mind? Where do you see the bill having benefits under these new protections?

Mr. Oliver: It is twofold. One of the most important pieces is giving CBSA the authority to deal with the exportation of stolen vehicles. That will help support law enforcement and policing in a number of ways. It would prevent the vehicle from making it overseas, which complicates any criminal investigation that we might have. Therefore, we have the property in Canada; we have the vehicle recovered in Canada. All the evidence is in Canada. It is much more difficult if we have to undertake an international investigation because we have to send officers abroad or involve other foreign agencies in the collection of evidence.

The other piece is that it is an additional tool in the law enforcement tool kit, when it comes to various offences that you may have information on. Investigating organized crime is always complex and always difficult to prove criminal intent. The fact that these offences are considered serious offences in the organized crime provisions of the Criminal Code will give us an additional suite of tools through which we can pursue organized crime.

Senator Wallace: You find the existing provisions are deficient. They are not where you would want them to be to do your job to protect Canadian society.

Mr. Oliver: I am not sure one would say that they are deficient. It simply gives us an expanded suite of very specific offences that we can use.

The other element deals with specifically identifying auto theft as an offence. This is perhaps something the Department of Justice Canada can better comment on, but it also gives the ability to prosecutors to introduce those additional subsequent offences when it comes to sentencing and so forth.

Mr. Holland: Very briefly, from my perspective, the proposed amendments in the bill codify and define those various activities that are more than the mere theft of an auto. It educates the public as to the many components of the vehicle crime. It is not just the simple taking of the car. Organized crime is sophisticated — changing the VIN, rebirthing, et cetera — so the bill is useful in that way.

On car theft, the optic to the average citizen may be singular; they lose it from their carport, but they do not know where that car goes and what is involved.

Finally, from the perspective of the opportunity to have these ports projects, I choose to call them "probes" because so many things will be derived from them that are beneficial. On an ongoing basis, CBSA may conduct their activities with police of jurisdiction.

Important to me is that those probes do all the things that Chief Superintendent Oliver said previously, but they also identify who is doing what at the ports. It sends organized crime the message that we know what they are doing because we are here now investigating them. It shows the cells and the associations within those cells of activity.

Finally, if that car is not going abroad, think of the countless number of frauds that will not be committed because that stolen vehicle will not be sold to an innocent victim in another country.

[Translation]

Do you have a supplementary question, Senator Carignan?

Senator Carignan: Yes, but I prefer to wait until everybody has had the floor.

The Chair: Very well.

[English]

Senator Wallace: Mr. Boyd, you raised some issues around the "exemptions" that are in the bill. For example, on the provision that deals with the removal of vehicle identification numbers, the bill would exempt someone who does that if they are involved in legitimate repairs to a vehicle, which would seem to be fairly obvious.

How do you feel that could be dealt with otherwise? You could not be suggesting that a repair garage that is required to do that as part of its normal repairs would be convicted of an offence. Obviously, the idea would be not to scoop them up in the offence; is that what you are saying?

Mr. Boyd: We are not looking at prosecuting a legitimate business that has to remove a VIN. That is never our intent.

I will give you an example. A couple of weeks ago, we recovered Eric Lindros's Corvette that was stolen from him. The gentleman who had the Corvette was removing all the VINs — all the secondary numbers, the engine number and everything else. When he was arrested, he said he was doing a restoration on the car; it was brought to him, and that was what he was doing. When brought before the judiciary, it sounds as though that is a legitimate excuse to remove the VIN. That is my concern. The body shops and wrecking yards are where much of this takes place. Once that excuse for legitimate repairs will be written into the code, it will be difficult to prosecute someone that is changing VINs.

I have spoken to several Crowns in the province, and they all advised me that that was their opinion as well. Once that is there, the accused will say that they were making repairs to the car and changed the whole dashboard, and that is why the VIN is gone, when their intent is to mask the true identity of the car.

That is my concern with that piece — except for legitimate repairs — being written in.

Senator Wallace: We come down to the facts of the case. It would not be simply that the VINs were removed, but there would be evidence presented as to why. Someone would have to convince a court that it was for a legitimate repair purpose.

I notice similarly when you raise the issue of knowledge — that someone would need to have knowledge that they were in possession of a stolen vehicle and that would create an obstacle — that you refer to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms creating that protection. Probably, the bill is reflective of the Charter; we cannot get around the fact that we have to prove criminal intent. I would suggest that that is what the bill does; it does acknowledge what the Charter requires, would you agree?

Mr. Boyd: I agree. One of the mainstays for us is possession of stolen property obtained by crime, under the present legislation. Knowledge is the hardest element for us to prove when presenting that case. You simply show up in court with your handwritten bill of sale, saying that you bought the car and had no idea it was stolen, and the accused walks off exonerated.

In fact, I have been doing this for 11 years now, and I do not think I have actually testified to doing forensic identification on motor vehicles because it is never an issue. Defence never argues the fact that the car is stolen. Their issue is their client had no knowledge. Now we have introduced a trafficking law with the same knowledge rider in there. My point is that proving that trafficking law will be difficult as well.

Senator Wallace: Unfortunately, that is the law and that is what we have to work with.

[Translation]

The Chair: We have on our list Senators Baker, Lang and Joyal. You will have at most four minutes each before we get to the second round.

[English]

Senator Nolin: Mr. Boyd, we already have in the Criminal Code, at section 354(2), the reference to the VIN, to which referred. Do you agree with me that the new section will simplify what we already have?

Mr. Boyd: Under that subsection, it is only presumption, right? There is no charge to be laid there.

Senator Nolin: That is probably why it is complicated.

Mr. Boyd: Right. It is great that we have new legislation to allow us to lay a charge.

Senator Nolin: Okay, I think that will clear the problem that is building. Thank you.

Senator Baker: I will try to be brief.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Should we not add something to clause 353.1 to modify the identification elements or the odometer? Because often the odometer is pushed back. When one tampers with the odometer, the criminal intent is more evident and it would be more difficult for the person who stole Mr. Lindros' corvette to establish the defense of having a legitimate purpose.

[English]

Mr. Oliver: All I can offer, senator, is that that may be covered under the Weights and Measures Act for odometer tampering. However, I think it would be up to Justice Canada to see whether that would be duplicating the same offence.

Senator Baker: Right now, it is illegal to steal a car. It is illegal, under provincial law, to alter a VIN on a car; you cannot do it.

When I look at the very effective manner in which you operate as police forces, you operate with CBSA, which has certain powers that you do not. Sometimes, you make use of those powers when CBSA can impound a vehicle, and you can carry out certain inspections while that vehicle is impounded.

However, from reading all of the case law on how this works, I noticed the key to this whole issue is that usually your investigators go and look at the VIN. They discover that it belongs to a Volkswagen, and it is now on a Pontiac. They trace the ownership to the Southern United States in case after case.

When I look at this bill, it legalizes the altering of a VIN. It was never legal before. The bill says that it is not an offence to wholly alter a VIN.

Would you not admit that, in effect, this bill may hamper your investigators instead of assisting you? This will negative what you have been able to rely on in the past to substantiate a customs warrant for inspection.

Mr. Oliver: There are two ways of looking at this. First is to look at it in terms of recovery and the follow-up investigation after a vehicle has been recovered. Second is to look at it from an intelligence-led, focusing-on-organized-crime perspective and putting in place special police techniques. These may capture private communications between people complicit or actually putting a video camera in a chop shop to see them changing the VIN.

I agree there are opportunities. From an organized crime perspective, we would see video, intercepted private communications and contact with undercover officers as providing that proof.

Senator Baker: You do that now.

Mr. Oliver: Yes, we do in some cases.

However, having a specific offence may provide an additional tool if we receive information that someone is changing VINs. It would provide an investigative lead.

Senator Baker: You do not want us to change this bill to take out that offending clause that permits someone to alter a VIN legally. Would you like it changed or would you not want to comment?

Mr. Oliver: It is a question of us being neutral. It is up the courts to decide how that is interpreted. We always have the burden of proving criminal intent. I am not sure if this clause will add to that burden or reduce it.

Mr. Aubin: I will offer my law enforcement intelligence perspective and not get into the "legalese" wording of the proposed legislation.

The fact of the matter is that when we look at organized crime and the techniques used, we know they change VINs. It becomes important for us to have legislation to address it appropriately in investigations. As Chief Superintendent Oliver mentioned, extending and using the legislation where necessary and applicable, or the authorities under organized crime legislation and everything that goes with it is an important tool for law enforcement to be able to investigate organized crime per se. It allows us, not only to go after and prosecute those caught with the tools, but to go after the facilitators and directors of organizations as well.

Mr. Boyd: Currently, under section 354(2) of the Criminal Code, it is not against the law to remove a VIN number from a vehicle.

Senator Baker: This makes it legal.

Mr. Boyd: It is not against the law currently to alter or remove a VIN. Under section 354(2) of the Criminal Code, it is a presumption for the police to assume the vehicle is stolen. That is it; we lost that offence many years ago.

The way I see the new offence is that it will be against the law to remove a VIN except for legitimate repairs.

Senator Nolin: The word "legitimate" is not with "repairs." We would need to modify "legitimate."

The Chair: The proposed new section 353.1 (3) says, ". . . any repair or other work done on the vehicle for a legitimate purpose . . . ."

Senator Nolin: The French is not written that way.

Senator Baker: Why would you need to alter a VIN?

Mr. Boyd: The only reason to alter a VIN is to disguise the identity of a car.

Senator Lang: Mr. Oliver, the statistics presented indicate that IBC said that 170,000 vehicles were stolen in 2006, and 20,000 are expected to be exported from Canada. Last year, Montreal and Halifax recovered fewer than 260 vehicles in six months. Basically, that is 500 vehicles per year on an annual basis.

Are the 20,000 vehicles indicated being exported directly to the United States? Is that the area to which they are being trafficked?

Mr. Oliver: I do not have any statistics or information on that.

Mr. Aubin: I believe those statistics come from the Insurance Bureau of Canada. It is not a statistic on which law enforcement relies. Through intelligence, we see that vehicles are exported, but, unfortunately, we are not able to quantify it. We cannot do that under our intelligence gathering process. We use certain proxies from the number of vehicles not recovered to give us an idea of the scope of the problem. We know it does happen. In Project SIENNA, 250 vehicles were recovered. That is a far cry from 20,000.

Senator Lang: You do not follow the statistics from IBC. Would they not be a key provider of statistics? If I have my vehicle stolen, I will obviously talk to my insurance company.

Mr. Aubin: We are not saying that we do not follow them. We are aware of their statistics, but they collect statistics according to their means. That is not how we collect our information. We do not collect information to measure the number of vehicles exported. We simply do not collect those statistics.

The Chair: Senator Lang, we will hear from the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Mr. Aubin talked about percentage rates, but without much reference to absolute numbers. Any information you can provide with absolute numbers in the various categories would be very helpful.

Inspector Holland has a brief addition to the testimony.

Mr. Holland: We have colleagues overseas who we interact with who tell us thousands of cars from North America, and Canada specifically, are being shipped there. They do not even take the licence plates off stolen cars.

This bill will allow us to go into the ports and onto the freighters to quantify the scope and extent of problem.

The Chair: We appreciate that part of your difficulty is that you do not have concrete numbers. We will be glad for any numbers that you can provide.

Senator Joyal: My initial preoccupation this morning was in relation to youth involved in auto theft. However, I understand our witnesses are not in a position to answer those questions, especially in relation to the minimum sentence provided in proposed new section 333.1 in the case of a third or subsequent offence. We will have witnesses to testify about youth because this bill covers youth involved in auto theft.

My question relates to clause 1 of the bill. Why do you think it is necessary to amend section 183 of the Criminal Code instead of resorting to new technologies that we know are much more effective and currently used in electronic surveillance?

Mr. Aubin: In investigating organized crime, we look at the organization itself rather than only individuals actually committing thefts, changing VINs or chopping the vehicles. It is important that we have the tools to be able to address the organization. Having access to electronic surveillance is a necessary tool.

Senator Joyal: Would it not be more useful to have authorization to resource new technologies because they are more efficient, in my opinion, than traditional interception of communications?

Mr. Oliver: We now rely on provisions of the Criminal Code and prior judicial authorization to intercept private communications. Our current authority comes from section 183 of the Criminal Code. In that section, theft and possession of stolen property are covered.

This simply brings these new offences into the same provision of the Criminal Code so that police can rely on them to intercept private communications. The provisions of the Criminal Code do not necessarily specify what type of technology we need to intercept private communications, but it gives us the authority to do so.

The Chair: Senator Joyal, I am sorry, but we are running out of time. I ask that senators put their final questions now and that witnesses please respond to them in writing.

Senator Joyal: I would like to understand better how new technologies would not be more efficient for your authorization to intercept communications for the purpose of investigations, in particular given the way that organized crime uses those new technologies.

The Chair: Mr. Oliver, you can see the area that Senator Joyal is trying to explore, so do not hesitate to give us as full an answer in writing as seems appropriate.

Senator Baker: My question is along the same lines as that of Senator Joyal. We passed legislation that includes a method of investigation involving anything that would be considered a violation of the Charter if authorization was not received for doing so under section 487.01 of the Criminal Code. It is under the general warrant provisions, which you are aware of and which you use now to do anything you wish to do that you do not have authorization to do under any other act of Parliament.

Following the lines of Senator Joyal's question, perhaps you would particularize it for me in terms of what must be wrong with section 478.01 of the Criminal Code, given that it allows you to do whatever you want to do.

The Chair: Thank you, gentlemen. I apologize to you and to senators for this rather rushed procedure. You have been most helpful. You have provided the committee with various facets of insight.

(The committee adjourned.)