Canada faces the scourge of rising car thefts | Nation

Zachary Siciliani, a resident of the Montreal area, recently discovered that his car had simply disappeared – probably as part of a series of vehicle thefts in Canada.

The crime trend, which the Insurance Bureau of Canada has called a “national crisis”, has seen stolen vehicles shipped via the busy port of Montreal to parking lots overseas to be sold.

Siciliani told AFP there were no signs of a break-in at the scene. So he thinks the thieves probably used a device that intercepts and copies the frequency of electronic keys used to open a car’s doors and start the engine, and made off with it.

“The advent of technology to start cars (has) brought a level of convenience to vehicle users and drivers, but it has also enabled organized crime groups to steal vehicles,” he told AFP. Ontario Provincial Police Detective Scott Wade.

Thousands of vehicles have been stolen in major cities in Quebec and Ontario – the country’s two most populous provinces – in recent months.

Most of them end up in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. A few have been discovered by police or intrepid homeowners using tracking sensors built into their cars or trucks.

According to the latest police figures, Montreal and Toronto are the most targeted.

In Toronto, car and light truck thefts between 2021 and 2023 increased by 150% compared to the previous six years. During the same period, thefts increased by 58 percent in Quebec and 48 percent in Ontario.

The cars were mostly stolen from driveways at night while their owners slept, but some were captured at gunpoint.

In one case, a tow truck driver in Ottawa was arrested for attempting to steal a vehicle parked on a downtown street in broad daylight.

– Large insurance compensation –

The crime wave has its roots in the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, when public health restrictions effectively limited the number of vehicles manufactured, experts say.

The ensuing disruption of global supply chains created “very strong demand, while supply was at its lowest,” Montreal police spokesperson Yannick Desmarais told AFP.

Wade said organized crime networks are now behind most thefts in order to “supply foreign markets.”

In 2023, the number of car thefts perpetrated by organized crime groups increased by 62% compared to the previous year, according to federal police data.

That year, insurers collectively paid C$1.5 billion (US$1.1 billion) in stolen vehicle claims in Canada, an increase of 254% from 2018.

Most stolen vehicles pass through the port of Montreal, according to Desmarais.

“Montreal is like a sieve,” said Georges Iny, director of the Automobile Protection Association, a consumer advocacy group.

Located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, Canada’s second-largest city is also one of the country’s major Atlantic ports, “connecting eastern Canada and the industrial heart of North America to more than 140 country,” Iny said.

“The challenge is to intercept the small percentage of these illicit goods without harming our economy by slowing down trade,” according to Annie Beauséjour, regional director of the Canada Border Services Agency for Quebec, stressing that more than one million containers pass through the Port of Montreal. every year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which held a summit on car theft with police a few weeks ago, has pledged to make the sale and use of hacking devices illegal.

He also announced tougher penalties for car thieves and more resources for Canada’s border agency.

In the meantime, in Toronto as in Montreal, groups are multiplying on social networks to try to help owners spot stolen cars.

But users often point out to new theft victims that their cars are probably long gone, in a container bound for a used car lot in another country.

Siciliani now owns another Mazda 3, but he protects it with a tracking tool.

“Our insurance company told us our rates would go up significantly if we didn’t have this device in the car,” he said.