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Toronto police recover 48 stolen vehicles amid ongoing rise in auto theft

Toronto police announced the recovery of 48 stolen vehicles and the arrests of seven people Wednesday as they detailed their latest attempt to crack down on the growing issue of auto theft in the region.

Investigators said information gathered during a drug and gun trafficking investigation launched last April led them to open a second investigation in August that focused on stolen vehicles. The two operations resulted in 150 charges being laid against those arrested, police said.

Staff Supt. Pauline Gray said the Greater Toronto Area has seen an increase in car thefts and related crimes.

"The Toronto Police Service has spoken many times about the massive increase in auto thefts in Toronto and across the GTA and how that is contributing to an increase in home invasions, violent robberies and gun violence throughout the region," she said.

"Auto theft is among the top three revenue generators for organized crime groups, and it's not an issue that police services can tackle alone."

In the investigations discussed Wednesday – called Project Spectre and Project Paranoid – Gray said Toronto police officers worked with the Canada Border Services Agency, Halton Region police and York Region police.

The operations saw 20 stolen vehicles seized at a shipper location in Burlington, Ont., while another 20 were intercepted with the help of border agents in Toronto and Montreal. Police said undercover agents purchased five of the other vehicles seized in the investigation. Three more vehicles were found when search warrants were carried out.

Several businesses in the Greater Toronto Area were identified as locations where stolen vehicles were stored and sold before getting shipped overseas, police said.

Several firearms were also seized as part of the investigations.

As police continue working to tackle auto theft, Gray said officers have received training on preventing vehicle theft by Équité Association, a national, independent organization focused on addressing insurance fraud and crime.

Bryan Gast, vice president of Équité Association, said the vehicles that criminal groups are targeting in Ontario are newer and have greater value than ever before.

He said the insurance claim costs of car theft in Ontario have increased by 319 per cent since 2020.

"For the first time, Ontario has experienced over $1 billion in auto theft claim cost in a single year in 2023, which is up from $700 million in 2022," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press