48 stolen vehicles recovered in undercover operation: Toronto police

48 stolen vehicles recovered in undercover operation: Toronto police
48 stolen vehicles recovered in undercover operation: Toronto police

Toronto police say officers have seized 48 stolen vehicles as part of an undercover auto theft investigation dubbed Project Paranoid.

Investigators displayed several vehicles at a press conference on Wednesday, along with six seized firearms and several programmed and unprogrammed key fobs.

According to police, information was gathered during a separate undercover drug and weapons trafficking investigation, Project Spectre, in April 2023, and they launched a second investigation in August of that year, focusing on stolen vehicles.

“Project Paranoid demonstrates the resources the Toronto Police Service is devoting to addressing the auto theft epidemic and the positive results of this work,” Toronto Police Chief of Staff Pauline Gray told reporters.

“It also demonstrates the importance of collaboration between stakeholders to address an issue that impacts the well-being of all our communities.”

According to them, 20 of the vehicles found were seized at a shipping location in Burlington, while another 20 vehicles were intercepted with the help of border agents in Toronto and Montreal.

Between the two undercover investigations, police say they arrested seven people and filed 150 charges.

The research was funded by a provincial grant and the Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario.

Toronto police said in a news release that the stolen vehicles were stored at various businesses in the Greater Toronto Area before being sold and shipped overseas, or before being re-licensed and registered for resale.

“These vehicles have been purchased, re-licensed and re-registered, which is actually the first time this has happened in law enforcement,” said Toronto Police Chief Steve Watts.

By assigning a new license plate to a car, a suspect can change the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the car, replacing it with another number, thereby creating a false sense of legitimacy.

Thousands of stolen vehicles recovered: police

Gray said Project Paranoid is just one of many investigations that have led to the recovery of stolen vehicles in Ontario over the past year.

“In 2023, law enforcement agencies in our province will have worked together to recover 15,000 stolen vehicles, valued at over half a billion dollars,” she said.

Programmed and unprogrammed car keys were also seized during the investigation. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

Just last week, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said that a car would be stolen in Toronto “every 40 minutes” by 2023. More than 12,000 vehicles were stolen in Toronto that year.

Équité Association, a national organization focused on preventing fraud and auto theft, said it has offered assistance to police as part of Project Paranoid.

“A vehicle is stolen every five minutes in Canada,” said Bryan Gast, vice president of criminal investigation services at Équité. “The vehicles that organized crime groups in Ontario are targeting are newer and more valuable than ever before.”

Guest says it’s important to address auto theft in the community before stolen cars make their way to Canadian ports to be shipped overseas.

The province and federal governments are working together to combat auto theft across Ontario.

In the 2024 provincial budget presented by the Minister of Finance on Tuesday, $46 million has been allocated for the purchase of four police helicopters. They will be used primarily by police forces in the Greater Toronto Area.

“We are now entering the realm of police pursuits, which are high risk,” Watts said.

“We’re getting into the territory of suspects who drive with complete disregard for everyone on the road. A helicopter is a huge advantage. Air support is a huge advantage.”

At a national summit on auto theft held in Ottawa last month, auto industry representatives urged the federal government to increase penalties for auto theft so that the risk to thieves would outweigh the reward. The federal justice minister said he would consider it.

During the summit, industry representatives also called on the government to tighten enforcement at Canadian ports.