Ontario Proposes Lengthy Driving Suspensions, Licence Bans for Convicted Auto Thieves

Ontario Proposes Lengthy Driving Suspensions, Licence Bans for Convicted Auto Thieves
Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria announced proposed new measures to crack down on auto thieves May 14 at a press conference outside the Toronto detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police. He was accompanied by OPP chief superintendent Andre Phelps, commander of the highway safety division and Solicitor General Michael Kerzner. (Handout photo)
Jennifer Cowan

Ontario is cracking down on violent auto theft by introducing driver’s licence suspensions ranging from 10 years to a lifetime ban.

The government will introduce legislation to suspend the drivers licences of convicted car thieves when “aggravating factors” such as threats, violence, or the use of force or a weapon are involved, provincial Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria announced May 14. Suspensions would also be given to car thieves connected to organized crime.

If the legislation passes, first-time offenders will be given a 10-year licence suspension while a second conviction will come with a 15-year suspension. Those convicted for a third time will receive a “lifetime licence suspension,” Mr. Sarkaria said at a press conference.

“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,” Mr. Sarkaria said. “I know this isn’t a silver bullet … but the joke is on criminals if they think Ontario is going to stand by and not do our part.”

Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association CEO Brian Kingston said the profits generated through auto theft significantly outweigh the risks for Ontario vehicle thieves.

“Measures such as this bring us one step closer to ensuring real consequences for vehicle theft,” he said in a press release.

The province also wants to implement tougher penalties for stunt driving. The proposed legislation would see licence suspensions given to those convicted of stunt driving convictions.

A one-year suspension would accompany a first-time conviction, while a second-time offender would have his or her licence revoked for three years, Mr. Sarkaria said. Those caught stunt driving for a third time would receive a lifetime suspension, reducible to 10 years under certain criteria.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from police forces and community advocates that street racing and stunt driving are becoming more common,” he said. “We will continue to use every tool in our toolbox to stop it in its tracks.”

More than 12,000 immediate roadside licence suspensions were issued for street racing or stunt driving in Ontario in 2023, the highest number since the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

As incidents of stunt driving and street racing continue to grow on Ontario roads, so too do the number of vehicle thefts. One vehicle is stolen every 14 minutes in Ontario, Mr. Sarkaria said.

Auto Theft

Toronto Police earlier this year said auto theft is a growing problem in Canada’s largest city with more than 12,000 vehicles stolen last year for an average of 34 car thefts per day.

Auto theft-related home invasions are on the rise, Police Chief Myron Demkiw said during a March 18 press conference, adding that there has also been a 78 percent increase in violent carjackings since 2021.

Auto theft has become a major issue not just in Toronto, but in large urban areas across Canada. Vehicle thefts rose 50 percent in Quebec, 48.3 percent in Ontario, 34.5 percent in Atlantic Canada, and 18.35 percent in Alberta in 2022, according to a government press release

The acceleration in thefts since 2021 prompted a meeting of ​​political leaders, law enforcement, and industry stakeholders in the nation’s capital in February to discuss ways to stem the number of cars being stolen and shipped abroad. One of the issues discussed during the summit was the link between the rising number of thefts and crime rings.

A large portion of the auto theft in Canada currently stems from organized crime, the government said in a recent press release, which described the operations as “highly lucrative” and “highly sophisticated” with rings operating coast-to-coast.