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Ontario to introduce lifetime driving bans for repeat car thieves

New measures expected to be introduced in the legislature Thursday would start with a 10-year ban for first-time offenders

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The Ontario government has announced stiff new penalties for vehicle theft, stunt driving and street racing, with punishments that could include a lifetime drivers licence suspension for repeat offenders. Here’s what to know about how they’ll work.

What does the new law entail?

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In a press conference at an Ontario Provincial Police detachment on Tuesday, Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria said the new rules would amount to a 10-year suspension of the thief’s drivers licence (in addition to any fines and jail time) for a first offence. A second offence would result in an additional 15-year ban, while a third offence would mean a lifetime suspension.

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“If you’re shameless enough to prey on other members of the community for your own reckless gain then you’ll lose that privilege,” he said.

Is it necessary?

Sarkaria noted that in Ontario a car is stolen every 14 minutes, and that the last three years have seen a 78 per cent increase in violent carjackings. Vehicle theft is costing the province $1.2 billion a year, he added. The problem is so bad that even the New York Times recently took notice, publishing a story under the headline: For Car Thieves, Toronto Is a ‘Candy Store’ and Drivers Are Fed Up.”

Is the law in place now?

Not yet, but it will be introduced in the Ontario legislature on Thursday and is expected to pass given the Conservative majority government.

Would it stand up to a legal challenge?

Sarkaria said he was confident it would. “We’ve seen … in Manitoba, that they have implemented something similar with a five-year suspension. The (Ontario) Highway Traffic Act has instances where you can lose your licence for life as well.” The 10-year ban for a first offence would be the stiffest in the country, he added.

Will the law deter would-be criminals?

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Sarkaria could not say for certain. “It’s about sending a strong message to people in this province that we’re taking this seriously,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can under the provision of the provincial government to come down tough on those … who decide to break the law.”

He noted that driving with a suspended licence could itself result in a $5,000 fie and six months’ jail time.

What about enforcement?

Ontario Solicitor General Michael Kerzner, who was also at Tuesday’s press conference, pointed out that the province this month announced a $51-million investment “to make sure that the OPP, municipal and First Nations police services have the resources and technology to fight (car theft) head on.” Part of that money will go toward creating an organized crime and auto theft team led by the OPP.

What role does the federal government have to play?

Kerzner said Ontario has been calling on the federal government to enact minimum sentencing rules for car theft, and to step up inspections of outgoing cargo from Canada, especially at the Port of Montreal, to stop stolen cars from leaving the country.

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“This is something the federal government can do today if they want to do, and we’re calling on them to do just that.”

Can car manufactures help?

Perhaps, but it’s early days on that front. A reporter at the press conference brought up this point, noting that a thousand-dollar iPhone can be quickly turned into an unusable “brick” if it’s stolen. “Where’s the incentive for the manufacturers to make a car that can’t be stolen with a $200 online key fob duplicator?”

Sarkaria said there were ongoing conversations with manufacturers but had no further updates, except to say that “everybody has a role to play in it.”

What does the law say about stunt driving?

The legislation would also introduce stiffer penalties for those convicted of stunt driving, defined in part as going more than 50 kilometres an hour above the posted limit. A first offence would result in a one-year licence suspension, while the second would bring a three-year ban, and a third would entail a lifetime suspension.

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