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Public safety minister pledges to 'massively' reduce auto theft

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Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc insists the federal government is “doing everything (it) can” to eliminate auto thefts in Canada, and he hopes to see “a significant reduction quickly” following this week's announcement of new measures to counter the problem.

“We want to reduce, massively, the number of vehicles being stolen,” LeBlanc told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos in an interview airing Sunday. “We want to reduce the number of violent incidents that Canadians are potentially facing as people attempt to steal these vehicles.”

“So we're leaning in with partners in every jurisdiction to do that, and we'll continue we'll add more resources if we need to,” he added.

The federal government unveiled its “national action plan” to combat auto thefts this week, which includes increased collaboration with international law enforcement agencies, proposed Criminal Code amendments, and new penalties for thefts connected to organized crime.

New data from the Insurance Bureau of Canada shows private auto insurance companies paid out more than $1.5 billion in theft claims last year. That’s a more-than 20 per cent increase from 2022, and a 254 per cent increase from 2018, according to the organization.

And vehicle thefts started increasingly significantly well before Ottawa released its plan. According to data from Statistics Canada, auto thefts also spiked by 26.6 per cent between 2021 and 2022.

When pressed on why it took until 2024 to draft a strategy, Leblanc said several levels of law enforcement have been working to address the spike in stolen vehicles “for a number of years,” and laid much of the blame for the increase in thefts at the feet of organized crime. 

“This is a global problem, but we certainly accept our responsibility, with the province of Ontario, the province of Quebec, municipalities, to lean in,” LeBlanc said, when asked why the federal government has seemingly taken so long to act, considering instances of auto theft have been rapidly increasing for years.

In February, the federal government — led by a handful of cabinet ministers — met with provincial, territorial, and municipal government officials, plus law enforcement and industry leaders for a national summit to discuss ways to combat auto theft.

When pressed on the progress LeBlanc feels the federal government has made since February — and whether the funds earmarked at the time for new measures have been spent — the public safety minister said money has already been used to buy new scanners, and to cover overtime for certain law enforcement officers, among other expenses.

“We're doing a whole series of things and have been for a number of months, but we thought it was important to update people on what we've done just over the last number of months,” he said. "But we're obviously prepared to do more with our partners to deal with this problem.”

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