Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says he plans to buy more X-ray scanners at ports to curb auto thefts, while the Liberals argue that putting the brakes on these crimes is more complicated.
The issue has become the focus of political parties this week amid rising rates of vehicle thefts and the government calling a summit with law enforcement and other officials set for Thursday.
“What we’re aiming to do in Thursday’s auto-theft summit is to address numerous levels of the issue, recognizing that it is an issue relating to ports. But that is not the only concern that we need to bring forward,” said Treasury Board President Anita Anand on Tuesday morning.
“We hope to develop an action plan with the parties at the table on Thursday so that we can all play a part in ameliorating an extremely serious situation.”
Anand said it’s an extremely complex issue but that ports and local law enforcement need to be able to keep up with technology that can track vehicles.
In 2022, vehicle thefts rose 50 per cent in Quebec year-over-year, with Ontario seeing almost the same increase. Atlantic Canada saw a 35 per cent bump in vehicles thefts.
Speaking at the Port of Montreal, Poilievre touted a new policy proposal first unveiled on Monday: a mandatory three years in jail for three cars stolen.
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Justice Minister Arif Virani says that those provisions to punish car thieves already exist in the Criminal Code, and his focus is on organized crime rings driving this issue.
“(What) Pierre Poilievre is desperately missing is that he wants to take extremely punitive measures to 16-year-olds,” Virani said on his way into cabinet.
“It’s important to keep people safe in places like Toronto and right around this country. But it’s also important to understand who’s masterminding things behind that 16-year-old. This is organized criminality. Organized crime is behind this. That’s what we’ve heard from police. That’s what we’re trying to address.”
Back at the Port of Montreal, Poilievre went on to blame Trudeau’s “mismanagement” of Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) for the increased number of stolen vehicles getting shipped out of Canada.
“According to the Journal of Montreal, [the Port of Montreal] only had five officers to inspect over a half a million containers that leave our country through this port. Insane incompetence,” Poilievre said.
Poilievre pitched cutting $165 million he said goes into CBSA management consulting contracts and use that money to buy 24 X-ray scanners for the four biggest ports in Canada (Montreal, Vancouver, Prince Rupert and Halifax). He said the machines could can scan up to 150 containers per hour.
The Tory leader said he also plans on hiring 75 more CBSA officers who would be focused on searching for stolen vehicles at ports.
Poilievre claims this plan would cost $135 million.
“Our common sense plan to put the brakes on car theft is to secure our ports and lock up the car thieves,” Poilievre said.
Speaking to Global News last month, Det. Scott Herriot of the Ottawa Police Service said that many vehicles stolen in the capital are often taken somewhere first to be loaded into a shipping crate before heading to the Port of Montreal, about two hours away.
“Sometimes things are X-rayed. Sometimes things aren’t,” he said.
The detective added vehicles often aren’t as high on the contraband priority list as drugs and guns in these searches.
Virani said that these issues areexactly what they will be looking to address at the summit on Thursday. He said key questions they are looking to answer are what resources are missing at the ports, what resources local police need and what Criminal Code changes are needed.
Additionally, Virani said they will also be looking to hear more from the auto industry on vehicle security measures. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry of Canada, will be among participants, Virani said.
“We’re bringing in Minister Champagne into the conversation to ensure that the auto industry is also taking responsibility to ensure that the vehicles are not as ‘stealable,’ for want of a better phrase, but secondly, that they’re better [at] tracking,” Virani said.
Meanwhile, Poilievre said he’s heard from people saying they have tracked stolen vehicles using AirTags and watched them get loaded onto ship and taken overseas.
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