The Liberal government will consider tougher criminal penalties for people who steal vehicles, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday as he kicked off a daylong summit aimed at confronting the scourge of auto theft.
“The rise over the last years has been alarming,” Trudeau told the gathering of cabinet ministers, law enforcement officials, border authorities and insurance and automaker emissaries.
He described how Canadian vehicles are turning up in places like Ghana and Nigeria, with one particular family having their SUV stolen on three separate occasions.
“Organized crime is becoming more brazen, and the overseas market for the stolen cars is expanding.”
The political sheen on the event was also unmistakable. Trudeau blamed the previous Conservative government for slashing spending on border security, making it harder to prevent stolen vehicles from leaving the country.
And he took a pointed jab at Conservative rival Pierre Poilievre, who has been flooding the airwaves and social media with aggressive counter-programming aimed at neutralizing the impact of the gathering Thursday.
“A catchy slogan won’t stop auto theft; a two-minute YouTube video won’t stop organized crime,” Trudeau said.
“Cracking down on auto theft means bringing law enforcement, border services, port authorities, carmakers and insurance companies together.”
Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne later told the group the government would also move to ban imports of high-tech devices that have become the preferred tools of the illicit trade.
The federal government says an estimated 90,000 cars are stolen annually in Canada, resulting in about $1 billion in costs to Canadian insurance policyholders and taxpayers.
It says auto theft increasingly involves organized crime groups, and the proceeds of these crimes are used to fund other illegal activities.
Ottawa says most stolen autos shipped abroad are destined for Africa and the Middle East.
On Wednesday, the government earmarked $28 million in new money to help tackle the export of stolen vehicles.
The announcement followed persistent pressure from the federal Conservatives, who have been pitching ideas this week to deal with the problem.