Manitobans ponder solutions to auto-theft problem

The Manitoba government has made several moves to combat auto theft. But after a cyclist was killed by a stolen truck this week, Manitobans are struggling to come up with ways to deter thieves.

Immobilizers, GPS bracelets, monitoring programs— the Manitoba government has made several moves to combat auto theft. But in the wake of the death of a cyclist struck by a stolen truck earlier this week, Manitobans are struggling to come up with ways todeter thieves.

Police say the vehicle that struck and killed James Duane, a 58-year-old Winnipeg cyclist, had been stolen.

Two teenagers charged in connection with the death, ages 15 and 16, were being monitored by the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy (WATSS), a program that monitors youth considered at risk of stealing vehicles.

Under the program — a two-year-old partnership between police, Manitoba Justice and Manitoba Public Insurance —justice officials contact the highest-risk auto thieves every three hours with at least one in-person visit every day.

The program is one of several strategies the province has implemented in an attempt to cut down on auto theft.

In March, $500,000 of new funding was announced for the city of Winnipeg to add five police officers to the stolen auto unit, allowing it to operate seven days a week.

In April, the provincial government said 20 of 150 car thieves in the WATSS program would be fitted with GPS tracking devices in the fall as part of a one-year, $336,000 pilot project to fight auto theft.

In June, MPIunveiled a $15-million initiative that forcesthe owners of 200 models of vehicles the insurer considers most at risk of theft to install electronic ignition immobilizers if they live in Winnipeg or commute to the city. Without an immobilizer, the vehicles will be denied insurance.

Even so, Winnipeg is still the country's car-theft capital, and Tuesday's deadly collision is the latest in a series of cases this yearinvolving stolen vehicles injuring or killing people in the city.

The solution to the problemis proving elusive, and Manitobans are mulling over what else can be done.

"The province, I believethey've dropped the ball on electronic monitoring," said Gerald Hawranik, deputy justice critic for the opposition Conservatives, adding that he believes the suspects in Tuesday's crash should have been wearing GPS-monitoring ankle bracelets.

Even once the GPS program is underway, Hawranik doesn't think it goes far enough.

"It's not too expensive. The technology is available.All we need is a government willing to do it," he said.

Most-at-risk list constantly changing

But Barry Ward, a former police officer and former MPI investigator, says GPS monitoring creates a false sense of security.

"If you don't have the acquiescence of the these individuals, then you're fooling yourself," said Ward, a consultant who was instrumental in bringing in Manitoba's immobilizer program.

It's possible to remove the bracelets, Ward says, so the system doesn't work without the agreement of the offender.

Ward says the truck involved in Tuesday's collision had the type of ignition system commonly targeted by thieves— but that model of vehicle isn't on MPI's list of high-risk vehicles, which are required to have an immobilizer under a new provincial edict.

The list has to keep up with the times to ensure the vehicles targeted most by thievesare protected, Ward said.

"The more vehicles that are equipped with immobilizers restricting the individual from stealing them, there's certainly going to be displacement, and they're going to go to other makes and models of vehicles," he said.

Tougher laws needed: minister

But technology can only do so much.Justice Minister Dave Chomiak says stiffer laws are required for young offenders who can't be deterred— and help in that regard may be on the way from Ottawa.

Chomiak says Manitoba's senior Conservative MP, Vic Toews,assured himThursday that the federal government would introduce new legislation in the fall to crack down on youth who commit crimes.

Manitoba has long complained the law doesn't hold young criminals accountable and doesn't keep young offenders in custody long enough.

"We know that there's a core of individuals who do nothing but steal automobiles. If we can't reform them, they will have to stay in custody a very, very long time," Chomiak said.

Chomiak says Manitoba remains committed to sending its own delegation of community leaders to Ottawa this fall to lobby for changes the province wants to see, including stiffer penalties for young offenders and making auto theft a Criminal Code offence of its own.


  • Both teens charged in connection with the death of a Winnipeg cyclist are not involved with the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy, as police told the media and as was originally reported. Crown attorneys and Manitoba Justice officials said only one of the suspects was involved in the program.
    Jul 27, 2007 4:30 PM CT