Young car thieves responsible for most of Winnipeg’s thefts are immune — for now, at least — from Ottawa’s plan to make auto theft its own offence with stiffer penalties. Introduced yesterday, proposed changes to the Criminal Code apply to adults but young offenders are in the federal government’s crosshairs. Conservative MP Shelly Glover, a former city police officer who represents St. Boniface, said there are plans to make similar changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
“I don’t know when but we are working towards it. They’re two different acts (the YCJA and Criminal Code) and we’re doing one at a time,” Glover said at a press conference at the Public Safety Building. If approved by MPs, the Criminal Code changes would create a new “theft of a motor vehicle” offence, carrying an automatic minimum six-month sentence for a third or subsequent conviction.
Currently, people accused of stealing a vehicle are charged with theft over or under $5,000. The same charge is laid when a bicycle or video game system are stolen. The new charge will clearly identify auto theft and help Crown attorneys convince a judge to deny bail or impose a stiff penalty, Glover said.
This change is of particular interest to people in Winnipeg, which has Canada’s highest auto theft rate. Police believe the city will lose top spot, however, because auto theft figures have dropped significantly, mainly due to enforcement by police and probation officers in the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy, which targets serial thieves under 18. In 2007, a delegation of Manitoba politicians, including Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, and police chiefs fed up with the “revolving door” of the youth justice system went to Ottawa to seek reform.
“It does not mean that we still do not have to address some of the issues of the people committing these crimes … but with (the) announcement I think everybody will be safer,” Katz said yesterday. The legislation also targets chop shops and stolen vehicle trafficking, often the work of organized crime groups, authorities say.