Nova Scotia

Truck thief's speedy getaway foiled by OnStar security system

Technology from space was able to bring a slow and peaceful end to a police chase in southwestern Nova Scotia last Friday.

RCMP spokesperson says it's the first time she's heard of OnStar being used to stop a stolen vehicle in N.S.

RCMP made an arrest about 90 minutes after a truck was stolen in Yarmouth, thanks to some high-tech backup. (CBC)

Technology from space was able to bring a slow and peaceful end to a police chase in southwestern Nova Scotia last Friday.

It started that evening when someone stole a white Chevrolet Silverado out of a driveway in Yarmouth. The keys had been left in the vehicle.

About a half hour after the theft, police got a report of a commercial vehicle being clipped by a passing pickup truck on Highway 1 in Saulnierville. The description of the pickup matched the stolen Silverado.

Police couldn't locate the vehicle, but they radioed a description to police further up the highway.

According to a news release, the vehicle was next spotted on Highway 101 between Weymouth and Digby. Police tried to stop it, but the truck took off.

"They shut down the pursuit due to safety concerns, weather, road conditions, things like that," RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said.

Unexpected backup

But RCMP had an ace up their sleeve the thief knew nothing about: the pickup truck was equipped with OnStar, a system that uses satellites and GPS to track a vehicle and contact the driver in the event of an emergency.

A GM spokesperson said OnStar can also work when a vehicle is stolen.

"Technology in the vehicle allows us to provide law enforcement with the vehicle's location," said Charlene Poranganel, assistant manager for global emergency services outreach at General Motors Canada.

"We're able to remote ignition block the engine so that if the vehicle is being driven, the moment they turn the vehicle off, they will not be able to start the vehicle again."

Poranganel said once GM verifies that a police request for help is legitimate, the company can offer more assistance beyond simply tracking the vehicle. OnStar can also be used to slow the vehicle down to make it easier for police to arrest the driver.

GM is about to embark on an education campaign starting Monday to inform both public and police about how the system can work in car thefts.

OnStar is used up to 60 times a month in Canada. Most incidents have been concentrated in Ontario and Alberta. Poranganel said of those cases, only two or three involve slowing the vehicle.

Slow getaway

The system is only used once police are in position. OnStar will flash the stolen vehicle's lights as a signal. Once an officer radios that the flashing tail lights have been spotted, OnStar will trigger the slowdown.

"The driver has no indication that this is happening," Poranganel said.

"He or she will start, they'll still be able to steer but if they're pressing down on that gas pedal, the vehicle is not going to be moving very quickly."

She said it's slowed to about 10 kilometres per hour.

Clarke said she's never heard of it being used in Nova Scotia before this incident.

"It's also great for the public and police to know that this can happen," Clarke said.

"And in this case it worked out really, really well and no one was hurt, which is excellent."

About 90 minutes after the truck was first reported stolen, a suspect was arrested without incident. He's due in court in May facing several charges including theft of a motor vehicle and flight from police.


Blair Rhodes


Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 40 years, the last 31 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at