Auto theft has reached unprecedented and epidemic levels in Toronto

A Toronto councillor is calling for action to crack down on the number of auto thefts in the city, including the creation of a dedicated police unit and increased information sharing across the region.

“Auto theft has reached unprecedented and epidemic levels in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area,” Mike Colle said in a motion set to be considered by city council during its meeting on Wednesday.

Colle went on to cite Insurance Bureau of Canada data, saying in Ontario there were more than 12,000 automobile theft claims worth $250.7 million — a 55-per-cent increase between 2016 and 2020.

If ultimately backed by city council and approved by the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Services Board, the creation of a dedicated unit would be in line with services in York and Peel regions where both communities have been grappling with auto thefts.

Peel Regional Police Const. Heather Cannon told CityNews the communities the service patrols, including Brampton and Mississauga, have seen a year-over-year jump in incidents.

Between January and October 2020, she said there were more than 2,800 vehicles reported stolen while during the same period in 2021 there were around 3,200 reports.

“The distress that people have when they come out of their house and they find their vehicle–they had their hard-earned money to pay for these vehicles, and now they’re gone,” Cannon said, calling the number of investigations into thefts and theft rings concurrently on the go at times “overwhelming.”

“A lot of the time these higher-end vehicles either they’re being resold or they’re being shipped to another country.”

She said thieves not only look in neighbourhoods for in-demand vehicles but said they will sometimes pick out an automobile at places like malls, slip a small tracking device near the gas tank or rear bumper and follow it to your home before stealing it later on.

In Peel Region, Cannon said the top five stolen vehicles are the Lexus RX350 (2016 to 2021 models), Honda CR-V (2016 to 2021 models), Range Rover (2016 to 2021 models), Toyota Highlander (2016 to 2021 models) and Ford F-150 (2017 to 2021 models).

Bryan Gast, vice-president of investigative services with the Équité Association — an organization made up of insurers aimed at reducing and preventing crime, said the rising numbers in Ontario are a reason for concern.

“It’s not a victimless crime. There are many aspects to it. Organized crime is behind it,” he said.

“There hasn’t been one year where there hasn’t been a decline, so it continues to evolve and it continues to be a problem.”

Aside from auto theft rings, Gast noted vehicles are stolen for joyriding purposes, for other criminal activity and for resale on the used vehicle market — one that’s fired up right now due to vehicle-related supply chain shortages.

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