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Ontario to suspend driver’s licences of convicted auto thieves

Premier Doug Ford's government will try to combat record rates of auto theft in Ontario by slapping lengthy driver's licence suspensions on people convicted of the crime.

Doug Ford government proposes 10-year licence suspension for 1st offence, lifetime for 3rd offence

Surveillance camera image of vehicles in a dealership lot.

Premier Doug Ford's government will try to combat record rates of auto theft in Ontario by slapping lengthy driver's licence suspensions on people convicted of the crime.

The government will introduce legislation to suspend the driving licences of convicted auto thieves when "aggravating factors" such as violence, threats or the use of a weapon are involved, or when vehicles are stolen for the financial gain of organized crime.

"Driving is a privilege, not a right. If you're shameful enough to prey on other members of the community for your own reckless gain, you'll lose that privilege," Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria said Tuesday.

Once the legislation takes effect, anyone convicted of motor vehicle theft under the Criminal Code could face a 10-year licence suspension for a first offence, a 15-year licence suspension for a second offence and a lifetime licence suspension for a third offence.

Sarkaria made the announcement alongside Solicitor General Michael Kerzner at an Ontario Provincial Police detachment just off Highway 401 in Toronto.

The legislation will be tabled Thursday and it is certain to pass given the large Progressive Conservative majority at Queen's Park.

"It is unacceptable that people are being forced out of their vehicles at gunpoint and forced to look over their shoulders while pumping gas or pulling into driveways," Sarkaria added.

Sarkaria said the government is "very confident" the suspensions could survive a legal challenge. But Toronto criminal defence lawyer Stephen Hebscher questioned the constitutionality of the proposed changes.

"The proposed license suspensions may be unconstitutional, as they may constitute legislation in relation to criminal law, which is the sole jurisdiction of Parliament," said Hebscher, who practices with The Criminal Law Team in North York.

Hebscher said that, in his opinion, "there would have to be a link between the auto theft and highway safety" for the legislation to be constitutional under the division of powers between the provinces and federal government.

He added threat of licence suspensions may be ineffective in reducing auto thefts.

"Studies have continually found that it is the likelihood of getting caught, and not the severity of the punishment, that is a deterrent to someone committing a crime," Hebscher said.

WATCH | Sarkaria confident in legality of licence suspensions:

Ontario 'very confident' tougher driving laws are constitutional: Transportation minister

7 minutes ago

Duration 0:42

The Ontario government will introduce legislation that would suspend the driving licences of convicted auto thieves. Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria said Tuesday the government believes the law would stand up to a legal challenge, citing precedence in Manitoba.

The legislation would also introduce stiffer penalties for those convicted of stunt driving, defined in part as travelling more than 50 km/h above a posted speed limit. A first offence would result in a one-year licence suspension, three years for a second and a lifetime suspension — reducible under certain conditions — for a third conviction.

"In the simplest of terms, speed kills. All too often we see drivers disobey the speed limits across the province and this is unacceptable, especially for the diligent drivers that follow the law," Kerzner said.

Record rate of auto theft in Ontario: police

The OPP says organized crime targeting luxury vehicles to sell outside of Canada is driving an unprecedented rate of auto theft in Ontario.

Last year was the first ever that auto theft claims in the province exceeded $1 billion, according to insurance companies. Early indications for 2024 suggest the pace of theft has not slowed down — the OPP said nearly 3,000 vehicles were reported stolen during a seven-week stretch earlier this year.

The Ford government pledged $51 million over three years for the creation of a new organized crime and auto theft task force led by the OPP, as well as for a major auto theft prosecution team.

WATCH | New funding for police to target auto thieves:

Ontario's budget includes funding for police in the fight against auto theft

2 months ago

Duration 2:48

One of the lines in this year's budget targets a growing crisis in Ontario and across the country. Auto thefts have skyrocketed in recent years with the element of violence also increasing. Dale Manucdoc has more on what the province is doing to help.

Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw said in March that 12,000 vehicles were stolen in the city in 2023, which amounts to one theft roughly every 40 minutes. The city has also seen a 78 per cent rise in violent carjackings over the last three years, according to provincial data.

Meanwhile, York Regional Police reported an 82 per cent increase in auto theft the first six months of 2023 compared with the same time period the previous year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened a national auto theft summit in February, and suggested his government is considering tougher penalties to combat the crime, but has not announced any sentencing changes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Crawley

Senior reporter

Mike Crawley covers provincial affairs in Ontario for CBC News. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in B.C., filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist, then joined the CBC in 2005. Mike was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.

With files from Lucas Powers

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