Sunday, April 20, 2008

If You Can't Beat 'Em...Steal Someone's Car?

I never have been quite able to understand the willingness of the public to go along with ideas put forward by government as "crime fighting" initiatives without putting the least bit of thought into it.

I mean, how can you argue against any idea that is aimed at fighting crime right?

Well, it appears that as citizens we'd better get vocal pretty quick or get ready to turn over your private property to the state...for no apparent reason.

The big kick nowadays is for the government to deflect responsibility for doing a terrible job enforcing laws by distracting the public with shiny things...big ones...with four wheels...

The premise is simple enough...catch a guy committing a crime (that has been a crime for decades but is happening more frequently and voters are getting pissed off about it) and show how tough you are on that crime by seizing his car...well maybe not his car, but someone's car.

It's a win-win right?

Illegal guns are still all over the place and you are really doing absolutely nothing to stop that, BUT, the government has managed to take someone's car away so you sure can't blame them for the problem...


The Criminal Code of Canada already has a special offence for unauthorized possession of a firearm in a motor vehicle. If prosecuted as an indictable offence, the maximum punishment is prison for 10 years. It seems to me that jail is what Parliament intended as a way to curb such persons' mobility...not state-sanctioned auto theft.

Why not demand that this law, already on the books, be used vigorously? Because it is much easier to just take property without proper justification than it is to prove a criminal offence in court.

The concern I have is that this is starting to become the solution for everything...can't stop prostitution, take people's cars...can't stop gang violence, take people's cars. If we just sit and watch this become a trend, where will the government stop? You drove your car to the 7-11 before stealing that candy bar so, on the exact same logic as the prostitution and gun thing, we're taking your car. And why stop at cars? Why not take the running shoes a guy is wearing when he commits a "dine and dash" or take the prescription eyeglasses he used to facilitate writing a fraudulent cheque?

Now, as though it isn't bad enough that the provincial government is flailing to legislate criminal law (which is exclusively Parliament's jurisdiction) consider the other problems with this:

1. They don't seem to care whose car it is they seize. If someone borrows a car and is found in it with an illegal gun, then the "perp" is not punished when the car is taken, the owner is. Sure, they will propose a process where the rightful owner can get the car back, but it will at best still be a nightmare of red tape.

2. They don't seem to care about the law of possession...which requires actual knowledge of an illegal item before you are punished for possessing it. If you are in the car and so is the illegal gun, your car will be gone...even though you will not have committed any criminal offence. Here's what the MLA proposing this law said:

"If you have four gangbangers driving around in a vehicle with an unregistered gun or even a registered gun not registered to them, they can't all say I don't know how it got here," Hehr said Thursday.

"You know what? That person has an obligation to know what's in his vehicle, and otherwise that vehicle's going to be transported downtown and it's going to be sold."

It's a fine bit of rhetoric, but if you have a single mother driving from her second job to night school who is stopped for speeding and finds out the hard way that her kid loaned her car to a "friend" who used it for a drug deal earlier that day, then how good are we going to look taking that car downtown to be sold? I mean, she has an obligation to know what's in her car so, she should lose that car for not having done a better contraband search EVERY TIME she gets in and out of it.

3. Measures such as these seriously undermine the concept of equality before and under the law. A guy carrying an illegal gun on his bicycle is subject to one set of penalties where the guy committing the exact same crime but in a car faces far more serious penalties. Further, the "gangbanger" the MLA describes who is driving a barely running drug jalopy worth $500.00 loses out differently than the farmer whose license lapsed and is driving a $65,000.00 work truck.

4. The offenders apparently intended to be caught by this law are those doing drive-by shootings resulting in serious bodily harm and death. Will it bother them in the least to have to steal a car before doing the next hit so that they don't lose their personal Mercedes?

I guess as a lawyer who knows about Constitutional challenges to legislation, I should not be trying to talk the government out of this idea, rather I should send a thank-you card for the business they are proposing to create for me and my colleagues.

As a citizen and a property owner though, I fear the intrusions that government will make in the name of "public safety" that will leave us fighting to keep our stuff when we shouldn't have to. Hopefully others out there will agree.


Blogger Laurie, Owner of Halo Secretarial Services said...

What a totally scary idea this proposal is. You are right - the current methods for dealing with criminal activity are the appropriate ones - not vehicle seizures that don't have to prove guilt before action is taken.

8:07 a.m.  

Post a Comment

<< Home