Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Tories reintroduce auto-theft bill
OTTAWA -- Stealing a car could soon stop being considered on par with shoplifting -- at least when it comes to the justice system.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson reintroduced a bill Tuesday that seeks to make auto theft a separate offence in the Criminal Code. It also sets out a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for a third conviction of auto theft.
The Manitoba government has been lobbying for years to give auto theft its own presence in the criminal code, often noting it is illegal to steal a cow but stealing a car is still considered just simple property theft.
The charge laid for stealing a car right now depends on how much the car was worth -- theft over $5,000 or theft under $5,000. It often has meant car thieves are charged with the same offence on paper that goes to teenagers caught stealing makeup or a pack of gum.
Theft under $5,000 has a maximum sentence of six months in jail while theft over $5,000 has a maximum sentence of 10 years. Neither offence has a mandatory minimum sentence.
This is the second time around for this particular bill. Nicholson first introduced it a year ago and it was debated and passed at second reading in the House of Commons last fall. However it died on the order paper when Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament in December.
It now has to start from scratch.
Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan said he is pleased Ottawa is making another effort to make auto theft a stand-alone crime.
But he said the Harper government could go even further by designating it a violent crime, not a property crime as it is considered now.
Swan said in Manitoba stolen cars too often end up in crashes where innocent people, including police officers, are hurt or killed.
"When someone steals a car too many times there are tragic consequences," he said.
At least eight Manitobans have been killed in collisions involving stolen cars since 2004. Unlike in many other cities where car theft is the realm of organized criminals trafficking in expensive vehicles, the vast majority of car thefts in Winnipeg involve joyriding teenagers.
Efforts to target repeat offenders have helped cut car-theft rates drastically in Winnipeg but there is still a lon way to go.
In 2009, approximately six cars were stolen in Winnipeg every day, down 75 per cent since 2004.
Swan also said he wants to see how Ottawa amends the Youth Criminal Justice Act so that repeat thieves can be kept in custody longer.
Swan meets with his western Canadian counterparts in Vancouver next week to review what Ottawa is doing on the anti-crime front and to present their own ideas of what more should be done to enhance public safety.
Tougher sentences for youth involved in auto-theft will not make our society safer in the long run. Prison is a quick fix. It fails to address the underlying causes of crime and the factors contributing to crime. Longer sentences for youth actually increase recidivism rates when they are released, as prisons are the schools of crime, especially for youth. Gangs, drugs and pro criminal attitudes and behaviours are prevalent along with negative role models and influences. Youth learn to perfect their criminal skills and only become more hardened criminals when released, making it harder for police to catch them when they re-offend. This is not ensuring our safety. This is not in society's best interests. We need to help these troubled youth, not imprison them. Prison only increases their tendency towards criminality and their criminality is strengthened.
MMS are harmful as they treat all offenders as equal, when they are not, and severely limit judicial discretion in considering all the relevant factors and circumstances of the crime and the offender, in deciding upon an appropriate sanction. It also only further overcrowds prisons, leading to increased hostility, bitter-ness and violence levels.