Where The F@#% Is My Car?
The alarming surge of vehicle thefts has rendered the Vaughan community fearful, frustrated and facing uncertainty.
Waking up in the morning only to find an empty driveway where your car used to be is a feeling that never fades. Your mind scrambles as you attempt to figure out how this could have happened and why. When you ultimately come to grips with the fact that a stranger or a group of strangers felt confident enough to trespass onto your property and steal your vehicle, it leaves you feeling helpless, frustrated and, most of all, violated.
Guess what? You are not alone. If you are a resident of Vaughan or the York Region, then likely a family member, a colleague or a dear friend has had this happen to them.
According to crime statistics compiled by the York Regional Police (YRP), the year-to-date incidence of theft of motor vehicles is up 78.2 per cent from last year, from 715 to 1,274 vehicles stolen. Of note, keyless ignition vehicles are now the prime targets of car thieves. That is why Mayor Steven Del Duca of Vaughan and his constituents announced a plan to distribute 13,000 Faraday pouches to Vaughan residents.
HOW IT’S STOLEN …
1. Vehicle order is placed.
2. Crews scout communities.
3. Vehicle is found and residence is staked out.
4. Vehicle is stolen and delivered to transport crew.
5. Tracker and plate are removed and loaded onto a transport truck.
6. Delivered to a warehouse to be loaded onto cargo containers.
7. Shipped to Africa and Europe.
8. Unloaded and sold by crime groups.
Across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Hamilton area communities, we have seen not only brazen methods such as kicking down front doors to steal the keys commonly placed near the front entrance, but also sophisticated technological methods known as “relay attacks,” wherein these criminals use vulnerabilities in keyless fobs to steal vehicles swiftly. They can read the radio frequency of the key fobs in a house and relay that frequency to a car on the driveway, tricking the car into thinking the key fob is next to or in the vehicle. The entire process takes only minutes.
The newly released Faraday pouches are designed to block thieves from reading radio frequencies in car key fobs.
Mayor Del Duca says, “The fob protectors are the first tangible initiative we have done for the city to help provide our residents with a tool to prevent auto theft.”
While some see the launch of the fob protectors to be a swift response, is it really?
More importantly, why is Vaughan the hot-spot target area for auto theft?
“Because it is a target-rich environment,” says York Regional Police Deputy Chief Alvaro Almeida. The seasoned officer with 35 years of law enforcement experience believes that due to York Region’s affluence, particularly in the southern region, there is a higher ratio of the desired vehicles for thieves. “The more affluent the community, the more targeted they are as opposed to thieves driving into smaller areas where the target vehicles are not as plentiful,” says Deputy Chief Almeida.
While affluence is a factor, vulnerability goes hand in hand with being unaware.
“The biggest danger is when the public is uneducated and unaware of these risks, which is why we’ve posted many public messages, both on our YouTube channel and in our community safety data portal, to slow down these criminals,” says Deputy Chief Almeida.
Another question is why certain makes of cars are being targeted, i.e., Dodge, Lexus, Toyota and Land Rover. To answer why these are among the most frequently stolen vehicles according to the YRP, consider where they are headed.
The YRP has reported that a large percentage of these vehicles are being stolen for international export. In other words, this is a big business with serious money to be made.
There is an international demand for certain vehicles and the ports are receiving these vehicles, which are being purchased by organized crime groups.
“THE POLICE ARE DOING AN INCREDIBLE JOB, BUT THE MAJORITY OF ALL THESE CRIMINALS ARE REPEAT OFFENDERS. WE NEED STRONGER PENALTIES AND WE NEED TO FIX THE BROKEN BAIL SYSTEM.”
“Another important consideration is it’s easy to procure parts in certain countries where they end up. Especially for gas vehicles, which is why there are not a lot of hybrid vehicles being stolen,” says Deputy Chief Almeida.
In response to international demand for stolen vehicles, Mayor Del Duca says, “We have begun an advocacy campaign with the federal and provincial governments geared toward helping us by increasing the number of inspections at the borders for exports.”
Yes, the YRP has relationships with foreign law enforcement agencies, but what is the extent of that relationship?
“Our investigations’ focus is on what we can establish here and whom we can bring to justice in Canada. We may be able to provide intel to a foreign partner and say, ‘One of your citizens has a criminal organization that’s involved in importing stolen vehicles from North America,’ but nothing can be done to force the investigation further. They are vested in protecting their citizens,” says Deputy Chief Almeida.
So, as vehicle owners, we must take matters into our own hands. What can we do to better protect ourselves and our vehicles before they leave our driveways, let alone are shipped halfway across the world?
Joe Formusa, from the popular Instagram account @notonjoeswatch, a volunteer member of York Regional Police and a community safety consultant dedicated to providing crime prevention tips and statistics to residents across the GTA, says, “When it comes to crime, there’s no single solution. The Faraday bags are great. But that’s one of 25 different things we should be doing. When it comes to crime, the more layers and hurdles you have in place to prevent crime, the better.”
Understanding your own responsibility to protect your property and taking the necessary measures will significantly increase your chances of not becoming a victim of auto theft. The responsibility to protect our homes with fire alarms and fire extinguishers is no different from the responsibility to protect our vehicles.
For Formusa, you are better off being proactive than reactive. “Everybody needs to do their part.”
This means locking all doors and windows, installing exterior lights that are on all night, security cameras that monitor all access points of your residence, staying tuned in to community warnings from the police, using a steering wheel lock and, arguably the most essential, setting up a perimeter motion alarm system.
“Knowing when criminals are there is critical. Perimeter motion detection is a device that notifies you instantly when there’s motion on your property. Before they even get to your vehicle or your doors, you’re going to be notified that they’re there. This is critical because you could set off your car or home alarm and call 911 while the crime is in progress. Reporting a crime in progress is treated differently than reporting it hours after. They will prioritize their response,” says Formusa.
Roughly six months ago, Formusa found himself in that exact situation. As a result of a home renovation, one of his cars had to be parked on the driveway instead of in its usual spot in the garage. He was notified by his perimeter motion detection system that somebody was in his driveway. He called 911 and set off his alarms, the trespasser ran and was arrested by the police soon after. The problem is, most times, these thieves are released the next morning and are soon back on the street doing the same thing.
In May 2023, investigators with the YRP, in conjunction with Peel Regional Police and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), began an investigation of a car theft ring operating out of the York Region and were able to identify three suspects.
After the three were arrested, upon the execution of eight search warrants the police discovered they had uncovered a multimillion-dollar car theft operation. Thirty-one stolen vehicles were recovered, valued at $2.8 million. Police also seized $30,000 in cash, police scanner devices, key re-programmers and more than 100 master keys.
The three men are now facing more than 80 charges, including motor vehicle theft. One of the suspects was out on bail for charges related to a vehicle theft at the time of their arrest, according to police.
“The police are doing an incredible job, but the majority of all these criminals are repeat offenders. We need stronger penalties, and we need to fix the broken bail system. Don’t you think somebody who has been arrested multiple times for the same crime should be denied bail at that point?” says Formusa.
Mayor Del Duca recently wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling on the federal government to urgently modernize Canada’s bail system to ensure that dangerous offenders are kept off our streets for committing crimes ranging from gun violence to home break-ins and auto thefts.
“The solution to this problem is a whole-system approach that involves our judicial system and involves our politicians getting on board. It is not a police issue alone. Even the auto and the insurance industry understand they have a role in this,” says Deputy Chief Almeida.
The fact of the matter is we see the police arrest them and then the system releases them. The relatively low penalties that these thieves face under the current conditions in the courts do not deter them from going back out and committing the same crime. If a comprehensive plan of action is needed for the entire justice system — that is, at the provincial and municipal levels — then what are we waiting for?
Auto theft will worsen if we delay the changes that need to be made. Enough is enough.