A Toronto woman whose car was stolen three times in the past year — and who had a rental car stolen too — says nobody is taking the problem seriously enough.
Kristin Shensel, a real estate broker, said her car, a 2019 Range Rover, was stolen three times since January 2023 from the street in front of her house. A rental car she used last year, a Jaguar, was also stolen.
Her car was first stolen in January 2023, then again in June 2023 and again on Wednesday night. The rental car was stolen two days after she got it in February 2023.
"If everyone wasn't making money off this car theft problem in this country, then they would stop it. The insurance companies would put an end to it, the car manufacturers would put an end to it. No one is stopping it because no one cares," Shensel said.
Until the problem affects the bottom line of insurance companies, car manufacturers and rental car agencies, she said she doesn't think it will be solved.
"Until people start losing money, nobody is going to come up with a solution. It's all on the back of the consumers to fight against. It's exhausting."
Shensel said her Range Rover was recovered twice but she won't keep the vehicle if it is recovered again. This time, she said, she'll go with a different vehicle.
"It was a deal and it came in front of us. I absolutely regret all of it. If we get the car back, it's gone," she said. "I will get something much more modest."
Increased penalties for criminals on the table
The latest car theft to befall Shensel came ahead of a daylong auto theft summit in Ottawa on Thursday that drew representatives from government, municipalities, and law enforcement agencies. All agreed the problem is complex with several potential remedies and requires a whole-of-society effort.
Officials committed to finalizing a plan, to be released in coming weeks, to tackle a phenomenon that affects thousands of Canadian households annually.
"The rise over the last years has been alarming," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the gathering as it got underway.
Cabinet members, police and municipal leaders surround Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc as he speaks during a news conference at the National Summit on Combatting Auto Theft, in Ottawa, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Trudeau described how Canadian vehicles are turning up in places like Ghana and Nigeria.
"Organized crime is becoming more brazen, and the overseas market for stolen cars is expanding," the prime minister said.
"Cracking down on auto theft means bringing law enforcement, border services, port authorities, car makers and insurance companies together."
'It's highly profitable,' OPP says of car theft
Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique, whose service operates in a province considered a hotbed for car thefts, said the criminal penalties typically handed down for car theft aren't strong enough.
"It's highly profitable and there's very low risk," he said. "We need to see stiffer penalties. We absolutely need to have a deterrence for these crimes."
Carrique told summit participants how lucrative the grand theft auto industry can be. Spotters, who identify vehicles to steal, can make between $75 and $100, he said, while exporters can make up to $80,000 by exporting a stolen vehicle overseas, where its resale value can double.
"This is a very complex criminal market facilitated by criminal organizations," Carrique said.
The federal government says an estimated 90,000 cars are stolen annually in Canada, resulting in about $1 billion in costs to Canadian insurance policy-holders and taxpayers. (Image by Freepik)
The federal government says an estimated 90,000 cars are stolen annually in Canada, resulting in about $1 billion in costs to Canadian insurance policy-holders and taxpayers.
Some of the solutions proposed at the summit were increased penalties for criminals involved in auto theft and cracking down on the technologies used to steal cars.
Bryan Gast, vice-president of investigative services of Équité Association, a national not-for-profit organization that supports Canadian insurers, said the Range Rover is on the top 10 list of most stolen vehicles and it has a push to start button, which means keyless ignition and keyless entry are some of its "vulnerabilities."
Gast said the stolen vehicles can fund organized crime and terrorism. "It's to the crisis level," he said.
No one arrested in 4 vehicle thefts
Shensel, for her part, said her car did not end up in a shipping container or overseas when it was stolen the first two times.
The first time, it was dumped in a west-end Toronto parking lot and recovered by police. The second time, it was dumped around the corner from her mother's house about 800 metres from Shensel's home. A neighbour called police about the car and Shensel picked it up from the police.
The Range Rover had a steering wheel club that obviously did not deter the thieves, she said.
Her big concern now is that the rise in auto thefts will "jack up" rates. "Everyone's insurance is going up because of what happened to me," she said.
In its 2024 auto outlook, Ratesdotca says car insurance premiums are expected to keep climbing in 2024, with inflation and rampant auto theft driving the charge. The organization noted that Ontario's regulator has already approved rate increases for about two dozen insurance providers in the first quarter of the year.
According to Toronto police, Shensel has reported four vehicle thefts since January 2023, one being a rental. None of the cases have been closed because none have resulted in arrests, police said.
Police statistics show that there were 12,170 cars stolen in Toronto last year. Of that number, 4,494 were residential thefts.