Blue Line


December 4, 2015  By Bob Lucas

844 words – MR


The new face of auto theft in Canada

by Bob Lucas


Henry Ford’s mass production of the automobile transformed our way of life to a dependency greater than any addiction known to man. We now depend on transportation for easy access to the global market.

Mass production of vehicles led to both legitimate and illicit profits.

Technology to battle auto theft has evolved from a simple key operated ignition switch to the latest in cutting edge electronic controls and immobilizes. As demand and technology changed so did the innovative skills of those who profit from auto related crime. The criminal element is also aided by offshore manufacturers who market new devices and clone diagnostic equipment.

Typically, law enforcement follows on the heels of the criminal. Despite this, vehicle thefts have dropped dramatically. The conventional methods of stealing a vehicle have become obsolete due to advancements in technology and new legislation (after lobbying) forcing manufacturers to implement improved theft deterrents.

These statistics are artificial, however, because many vehicles are obtained through the commission of crimes such as fraud, which are not captured by current statistical coding from contributing police agencies. This is why the new face of auto theft is now referenced as auto crime.

Auto crime is not only domestic. It funds criminal enterprise and terrorist groups. Every vehicle has a value, whether it is a burned out pile of metal or a luxury limousine. Vehicles are the preferred form of international currency because, unlike large sums of money, they are not tracked.

A recent example of the continuing auto theft problem is the almost daily images of ISIS fighters travelling in long convoys of Toyotas. Auto crime has become more sophisticated and involves higher end, more expensive vehicles. The monetary impact hasn’t diminished and we are experiencing an increase in the percentage of vehicles not recovered due to international exportation.

On the domestic front we are now experiencing an increase in auto crime fueled by the strengthening American dollar, which has increased the theft and exportation of stolen vehicles to other countries. You can expect increased demand for late model Canadian used vehicles by American consumers, thanks to the increased purchasing power of their currency. This will result in a void that will be back filled by stolen vehicles with changed Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) to mask their true identities.

There are several different methods of obtaining a new identity for a stolen vehicle and all are orchestrated to represent the vehicle as legitimate. It takes a minimum of three years to train an investigator to become competent in auto crime investigations and vehicle identification. The unfortunate part of this is that in recent years a large number of police agencies have dismantled their auto crime investigation sections, thus losing expertise in this field.

Fortunately some Canadian police agencies have recognized that auto crime and theft is on the rise again and are making efforts to rebuild their expertise. Until this happens Canadians looking for a “good deal” will become vulnerable to re-VIN-ed vehicles entering the market. Buying outside a registered dealer will become a risky undertaking. Caveat Emptor (“let the buyer beware”).

We cannot rely on technology to safe guard our vehicles. Fortunately we have the tools and legislation to confront auto crime; we just need to train law enforcement again to meet the demands. The public also needs to be educated on how to become less vulnerable. Well-equipped and knowledgeable offenders target vehicles and are happy to wait until their target is in an suitable environment.

We have to continue our proactive approach to identify, arrest and prosecute offenders and pressure manufacturers to make their vehicles more difficult to steal. However, as history as shown, auto crime investigations are primarily reactive.

In April, 2011 Bill S-9, the , was enacted, providing Canadian law enforcement with four new offences for auto theft investigations and broadening the power of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). Distinct offences were created for the commission of a motor vehicle theft, VIN tampering, trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking in property obtained by crime. This now permits the CBSA to prevent the cross-border movement of property obtained by crime, including stolen vehicles.

Recently, auto crime investigation courses have resumed. This training is at an advanced level and prepares investigators to teach front line officers how to recognize a suspect vehicle obtained by crime and articulate the grounds to make a lawful seizure so it can be detained for follow-up investigation.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI) exist to assist auto crime investigators with resource data bases, continued training and investigative support.

The Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) has partnered with the Canadian Police College (CPC) to present the (SVTITC) supported by IBC, the OPP and the Ottawa, York and Peel police services.


Bob Lucas is an OMVIC investigator. Contact:

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