The past few months have seen a disturbing increase in car theft across Toronto and the wider GTA, according to police. Over the past year, close to 10,000 vehicles have been stolen in Toronto alone, with Toronto police being able to recover around 1,000 of them. Perhaps more alarming, however, is what the Toronto Police Service (TPS) describes as the rise of carjackings. In 2023, there were over 300 carjackings in the GTA.

For legal reasons, it’s important to understand the distinctions between car theft and carjackings. Car theft occurs when a vehicle is unattended and doesn’t involve direct confrontation with the owner. In contrast, carjacking is a more violent crime where a thief uses force or intimidation to steal a vehicle when the owner is either inside or near the car. Carjacking is the more serious offence because it often involves weapons and physical aggression. 

Both crimes typically occur overnight or in the early morning. There are certain areas in the city that have seen more car theft than others. For example, Toronto’s division 32, which includes the Bathurst Manor and Bedford Park neighbourhoods, has seen the most thefts with over 1,000 cars being stolen in 2023. Another high-profile area is division 23, which has seen over 500 thefts.

Additionally, York Regional Police have claimed that some of the most targeted vehicles for theft include the Lexus RX350, Toyota Highlander, and Dodge Ram 1500. In general, the Équité Association has found that, in Canada, common and popular vehicles are more targeted than expensive ones. 

TPS has characterized this recent rise in theft as a “new and evolving public safety threat.” It has responded mainly by pairing up with the Ontario Provincial Police to lead the Provincial Carjacking Joint Task Force. This task force, which includes surrounding municipal police forces, is addressing the situation by launching collaborative investigations for auto crimes aimed at disrupting criminal networks. These efforts are being funded by the Criminal Intelligence Service of Ontario and the provincial government.

Although this new initiative is a good start, I believe the TPS needs to do more to address this crisis. Simply increasing police presence probably won’t be enough. The TPS needs to invest in more modern data analysis technology to better identify theft patterns and allow for more targeted deployment of resources. It also needs to start implementing more bait cars around the city. This practice involves equipping cars with tracking and surveillance equipment, then leaving them unattended in order to attract thieves and catch them in the act of stealing.

Some of my proposals were touched on during the 2023 Toronto mayoral election. For example, mayoral candidate and former chief of police Mark Saunders outlined a five-point plan to combat this issue during his campaign. In addition, his plan described the importance of creating an effective online process that speeds up the reporting process. Saunders also discussed getting the federal government involved since the overseas shipping of cars affects Canadian borders. I believe taking these steps would drastically reduce the number of stolen cars from the GTA and help keep residents safer.

Following these steps is especially important considering how the TPS has noted that younger people are becoming more involved in these thefts. Among other attacks, the prevalence of teenagers’ carjacking is evident in recent attacks in Markham. On July 13, two people in a Mercedes CLA45 were the victims of a carjacking when two suspects approached them with a handgun and demanded their vehicle, wallets and phones. Six teenagers, aged 15 to 18, were charged with various crimes in relation to the incident, including possession of firearms and possession of stolen property. This attack is consistent with the recent trend of teenagers getting involved in violent carjackings.

It is important to stay safe in these turbulent times. Halton Police have recommended car owners a series of safety tips to follow in order to prevent being targeted. These include making sure to keep car doors locked at all times, installing safety cameras and proper lighting in driveways, and reporting any suspicious activity. Halton Police also advise against confronting the perpetrator in the case of a carjacking. Instead, victims should avoid the perpetrator and contact the police immediately. 

Let’s hope that the TPS takes further steps in addressing this crisis to ensure the safety of car owners among both U of T students and the wider Toronto population.

Rubin Beshi is a third-year student at Woodsworth College studying political science and English. He is the Local Affairs columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.