Organized crime behind rise in car thefts

Organized crime behind rise in car thefts

Organized crime is behind Canada's car theft epidemic, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). And Quebec is paying the price largely because of the presence of the Port of Montreal, which has become the country's main transshipment point.

Published at 1:01 am. Updated at 5:00 am.


A fashionable crime

Bandits are stealing vehicles more than ever: Reports of organized crime involvement in vehicle thefts have exploded in 2023, according to a recent document from the Canadian Criminal Intelligence Service (CISC). The report finds that vehicle thefts linked to organized crime groups (OCGs) increased by 62% compared to 2022. Traditionally, street gangs and other criminal groups have had multiple illicit sources of income: narcotics sales, human trafficking, money laundering, and firearms trafficking. However, police note that their involvement in these activities has stagnated and in some cases even declined over the past five years. Many appear to have fallen back on the vehicle theft market, which has increased significantly in recent years, the document concludes.

Piracy on the rise

Car theft, a non-violent crime? Not quite, we conclude in light of the SCRC report. In Ontario, we are seeing an increase in “street piracy,” attacks on the driver that allow the thief to take control of the vehicle. Toronto, York and Peel police departments estimate this phenomenon will double between 2021 and 2022. Police officers paradoxically attribute this increase to improvements in anti-theft devices, which make it riskier to steal parked vehicles. “Carjacking is expected to become increasingly common as citizens seek to make their personal vehicles a more difficult target for thieves. »

Port of Montreal, hub

Organized crime behind rise in car thefts

The Port of Montreal is the main exit point for stolen vehicles across the country, the SCRC report broadly highlights. “Container shipping is the primary means of exporting cars internationally,” the report said. Before going abroad, the car is parked in a residential area or in a discreet parking lot for a few days. The criminals involved will then check it to ensure there are no tracking devices. “As this increasingly becomes a threat to public safety and officer safety, the best way to disrupt these networks may be to focus law enforcement on attempting to export the vehicle at ports of entry,” the suggests report.

A wave from east to west

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The phenomenon of vehicle theft is widespread across Canada. However, we note that thefts in the west of the country are often opportunistic crimes, with vehicles stolen while running or left unlocked. In Quebec and Ontario, established networks that may be linked to organized crime are using more sophisticated methods, the report said. Alberta now trails Quebec in vehicle theft, despite having a smaller population. But Quebec isn't left out: Authorities say criminal groups established in our province are increasingly attacking vehicles in Ontario and the western provinces. In Montreal, vehicle thefts have increased by 29% since the beginning of 2023, according to the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM).

Popular current models

Owners of new SUVs beware: The stolen cars are often newer models, i.e. those manufactured between 2020 and 2023. The vehicles sought by criminals are Toyota (RAV4 and Highlander), Honda CR-V, Ram 1500, Jeeps (Wrangler and Grand Cherokee), Ford F-150 and General Motors SUVs (Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe). Why these models? They are very popular in the international market because they are relatively expensive and are not available in Africa and the Middle East. Most stolen goods are also sent to these two locations.

Disguised vehicles

All vehicles are identified by a unique number assigned during construction, the VIN. To stay undetected, thieves “re-enter” the VIN, to use a criminal parlance. In other words, they replace it. The new VIN is either a legitimate number that has not yet been assigned by the manufacturer or that of a similar existing model. In Canada, when a vehicle is reported stolen, the VIN is recorded as stolen, making re-registration nearly impossible. “But once a stolen vehicle has been successfully 're-tapped', it is easy To it in the province where it was originally stolen or in another province,” said the report, obtained by La Press.

A billion losses

If these thefts are profitable for the criminals, they are costly for the insurance companies, the document says. Claims related to this phenomenon cost the country's insurance companies about $1 billion every year. If four-wheeled vehicles are popular with thieves, it's because they are becoming more and more expensive: inflation has caused the prices of new vehicles to rise. In June 2023, the average cost of a car was more than 20% higher than the previous year. “As the value of vehicles is likely to continue to rise, representing even greater potential for profit, CISC expects organized crime participation in the market to continue to increase,” the report said.

Well organized thieves…

Car theft networks are structured organizations in which everyone plays a role. A quick overview to allow you to better understand how it works.


The spotter searches the streets and commercial parking lots for valuable vehicles. He can either sell the information to the underworld or have the target car tracked using a GPS device.


It could be a gang member or a young offender. His job is simple: steal the car quickly and discreetly.


The latter, again usually a young bandit, is recruited to drive the vehicle to the port of Montreal.

…to the top of the pyramid

Since most stolen vehicles are intended for “export,” organized criminal groups also rely on a highly structured network.


This is an intermediary who lists the models and number of vehicles desired by the buyer.


This person, living in Canada or abroad, orders and purchases stolen vehicles across the country.


At the top of the pyramid, the exporter coordinates the transport of stolen vehicles abroad. He can use legitimate companies or start his own companies with fake documents or candidates. Police estimate an exporter makes a profit of $50,000 per container, which typically contains two vehicles.

In collaboration with William Leclerc, La Presse

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  • 18 This is the number of criminal groups operating in the vehicle theft market in Quebec. There are 45 in Ontario and 14 in the other provinces.

    Source: Canadian Criminal Intelligence Service