June 8, 2006 by Canadian Underwriter
If you think stealing a car is a small-time crime motivated by the need for thrill-seeking or a quick buck, it’s time for a reality check, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).
“Today, auto theft is big business,” the IBC says in a press release issued at the opening of a two-day summit meeting held in Ottawa on the globalization of auto theft.
The North American Export Committee (NAEC) organized the two-day summit. IBC and other Canadian and U.S. representatives established the NAEC in 1996 to explore ways of improving export reporting, analysis and interdiction methods.
“Organized crime and terrorist organizations routinely raise funds through auto theft, a felony that is on the rise globally,” the IBC says. “Stolen vehicles are shipped overseas to be sold to fund operations, or sent to ‘chop shops,’ where their parts are sold for huge profits. Stolen vehicles are used to conduct surveillance of victims and targets.
“Recent information indicates that exported stolen vehicles from North America have been used to smuggle narcotics across borders, and, in some cases, are implicated in terrorist bombings.”
According to Rick Dubin, vice-president of IBC’s investigative services, there has been a serious decline in the recovery of vehicles over the past few years.
“At one time in Ontario, we’d be able to recover approximately 90-95% of stolen vehicles,” Dubin says. “Now we’re down to less than 70%. In Quebec, the vehicle recovery rate is less than 50%.”
Greg Terp, NAEC chair and lieutenant in the Miami-Dade Police Department, says U.S. investigators routinely work with partners in Canada, Mexico, Europe and Australia to reduce auto theft export. But there’s much more work to do, he adds.
According to Terp, North American cars are particularly attractive to terrorists because their size allows large quantities of explosives to be moved and placed close to targets. They are also less likely to be detected in designated ‘safe’ zones.
“Vehicles bombs are favorite weapons of the terrorist element, but over the past few years, police forces and special units have been highly successful at identifying vehicles that have been used in terrorist acts, even after they’ve been blown to bits,” Terp says. “Criminals and terrorists are aware of this and know that a stolen vehicle is less likely to be traced back to them.”
Auto theft costs Canadian and American consumers an estimated US$9.2 billion annually. In Canada alone, 170,000 vehicles are stolen, resulting in an annual CD$1.2 billion cost to consumers. Of these, 20,000 stolen vehicles are exported annually.
IBC has been lobbying the federal government for changes to the Criminal Code that would recognize auto theft is a serious and violent offence. The laws should include tougher sentences, IBC says.
“Auto theft is a high-profit, low-risk business,” Dubin says. “It’s low-risk because the courts are too lenient when it comes to sentencing: they still see auto theft as a simple property offence. Forty Canadians are killed each year and 65 seriously injured due to auto theft.”