Vehicle theft hit record high in 2022: insurance industry report

By Terry Davidson

Law360 Canada (June 7, 2023, 10:45 AM EDT) -- Vehicle theft in Canada has become a “crisis” for insurers — with Quebec and Ontario leading the way, according to a new report from an industry organization.

Équité Association’s Vehicle Theft Trend Report for 2022 shows that, for “the first time in history,” insurance companies lost more than $1 billion in stolen vehicle claims — which “impacts Canadians at a time when inflation and affordability are putting excess strain on consumers,” according to an accompanying news release.

The culprit: organized crime.   

“The trend clearly indicates that organized crime syndicates are looking at stolen vehicles in Canada as a low-risk/high-reward opportunity, regardless if the vehicles are for export or domestic sale,” states the release. “Illegal profit margins are very high and the risk of prosecution is considerably low.”

According to the report, Quebec and Ontario led the pack, with the former seeing a year-over-year increase of 50 per cent in 2022 versus 2021, and the latter seeing an increase of 48.3 per cent.

In those provinces, most of the stolen vehicles were relatively new — 2017 models or newer — due to crime rings wanting to reap maximum profit through “overseas sales.” The vehicles typically have their vehicle identification numbers scrubbed and replaced before being sent out of the country.

This, or they are “sold domestically to unsuspecting Canadians.”

Collectively, Canada’s Atlantic provinces saw an increase of 35.6 per cent, with most of the snatched vehicles in those provinces being made between 2010 and 2016.

Bryan Gast, Équité Association

Bryan Gast, Équité Association

Bryan Gast, Équité’s vice-president of investigations, told Law360 Canada that geography plays a role, noting these areas are close to the U.S. border and ports leading out and into the Atlantic Ocean. 

“Organized crime is at the root of this,” said Gast. “They have networks … established in West Africa and throughout Europe, in a variety of places. They’re already set up, and it’s a quicker path across the Atlantic.”

In a statement, Équité president and CEO Terri O’Brien said vehicle theft “has reached a national crisis.”

“We know for certain that vehicles in Canada are being stolen by domestic and international criminal organizations. The proceeds are then being used to finance domestic drug trafficking, arms dealing, human trafficking and international terrorism. These crimes hurt our communities, and puts Canada in the spotlight internationally as a source country for illegal trade.”

Équité recommends a “layered approach” to reducing vehicle theft, states the report.

Recommendations include the use of “visible or audible” anti-theft devices, vehicle immobilizers and tracking systems. It also points to basic prevention, such as locking doors, ensuring windows are closed and parking in well-lit areas.

Gast was asked what Canada’s federal and provincial governments can do to curb the numbers. To this, he said a collaborative effort is needed on the part of all stakeholders.

“Everybody’s got to work together — the federal government; the [Canada Border Services Agency]; the police; insurance; auto manufacturers — [in] making it more difficult, one, for the vehicle to be stolen and, two, for the criminals to be able to steal these vehicles and successfully export them out. … They are turning to this as opposed to making money from drugs and weapons because it’s a high reward, low risk venture for them.”

Still, he said, strides are being made, pointing to recent action taken in Ontario.

Last month, Ontario’s government announced it would invest $51 million over three years to create a new response to auto theft by organized crime. The initiative includes the creation of a new auto theft prosecution response team, community safety grants and an “Organized Crime Towing and Auto Theft Team.”

At the time, Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey said in a statement that the province needs “a strong approach across the justice sector to stop the rise in auto thefts.”

“[These] investments will support the creation of dedicated auto theft prosecution teams and enhanced court resources to investigate and prosecute criminal organizations, and ensure justice is served,” he said. “Our auto theft focus will support our ongoing efforts to ensure communities remain safe and that we hold offenders accountable.”

According to Ontario’s government, a car is stolen every 48 minutes in the province.

Équité, funded by Canada’s largest insurance companies, works with members, law enforcement and other industry organizations in fighting insurance crime.

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