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Auto theft 'arms race' unwinnable, enforcement key, industry reps say at Ontario summit

A technician installs an auto immobilizer in a vehicle. Industry reps say anti-theft tech can only prevent theft, and stronger enforcement efforts are needed to address Ontario's car theft crisis. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)
A technician installs an auto immobilizer in a vehicle. Industry reps say anti-theft tech can only prevent theft, and stronger enforcement efforts are needed to address Ontario's car theft crisis. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)

With auto theft showing no signs of slowing in Ontario and thieves becoming more brazen, industry representatives say they are in a security "arms race" with organized crime, and anti-theft technology is only part of the solution.

Policy leaders, police and members of the auto industry from across the province gathered in Mississauga Wednesday to discuss how to push back against a plague of auto thefts that's become increasingly violent. Stakeholders generally agreed there is no one solution, and enforcement and collaboration are key.

In a discussion featuring representatives from the auto industry, panelists said car and parts manufacturers are working on anti-theft technology, but organized crime has become so sophisticated that determined thieves can eventually get around any updates.

"It's a very, very competitive arms race," said Huw Williams, representing the Canadian Auto Dealers Association.

"The real problem is organized crime is stealing cars," said Damon Lyons, executive director of the Canadian Vehicles Exporters Association. "It's not manufacturers building cars that get stolen."

Thieves becoming more brazen

Lyons says even if anti-theft technology could outpace organized crime, thieves would find a way.

"As we see, they're going to knock down your door and they're going to take your keys, and hopefully they don't shoot you in the process."

Violence attached to auto theft has been on the rise, police say. Carjackings in Toronto are double what they were this time last year, according to Toronto police chief Myron Demkiw. The Toronto Police Service also reports home invasions related to auto theft rose 400 per cent last year.

Similar to last month's national auto theft summit, auto industry representatives urged the federal government to increase penalties for auto theft to make the risk for thieves outweigh the reward, and to strengthen enforcement at Canadian ports, where stolen cars are smuggled to foreign markets for sale.

"Organized auto theft is among the top three revenue generators for criminal organizations," said York Region's police chief Jim MacSween, President of Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. "It represents a growing and serious threat to public safety."

Police say solutions must be collaborative

Police at the summit said the auto industry is just one part of the solution to Ontario's auto theft crisis. Municipal agencies from the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, as well as the Ontario Provincial Police, said in a joint news conference that stronger enforcement efforts and continued collaboration between government, law enforcement and the auto industry are key to solving the crisis.

Police chiefs from the GTHA on a panel at the Ontario auto-theft summit. In a joint conference, police said government, law enforcement and the auto industry must collaborate to address the auto-theft crisis.
Police chiefs from the GTHA on a panel at the Ontario auto-theft summit. In a joint conference, police said government, law enforcement and the auto industry must collaborate to address the auto-theft crisis.

Police chiefs from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area on a panel at the Ontario auto-theft summit. In a joint conference, police said government, law enforcement and the auto industry must collaborate to address the auto-theft crisis. (CBC)

Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah called law enforcement "the cornerstone of disrupting auto theft."

The number of stolen vehicles in Ontario has gone up 116 per cent since 2019, according to collective data from Peel Regional Police (PRP), Ontario Provincial Police, Toronto Police Service, York Regional Police, Durham Regional Police, Hamilton Regional Police, Niagara Regional Police, and Ottawa Police Services.

In the Peel Region alone, about 7,400 vehicles were stolen last year — the highest per capita in the country, according to police. In Toronto last year, that number was over 12,000, amounting to one theft every 40 minutes.

Since last year's inaugural provincial auto theft summit, Ontario has created a provincial carjacking joint task force and the federal government has committed $121 million to the province to crack down on auto theft.