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Justice minister's government car stolen for the third time in as many years

A Toyota Highlander parked on Parliament Hill on Thursday, June 15, 2023. A similar government vehicle assigned to Justice Minister Arif Virani was stolen in November and later recovered. (Chris Rands/CBC News - image credit)
A Toyota Highlander parked on Parliament Hill on Thursday, June 15, 2023. A similar government vehicle assigned to Justice Minister Arif Virani was stolen in November and later recovered. (Chris Rands/CBC News - image credit)

Politicians and law enforcement officials are confronting a rising number of auto thefts — and it appears that the office of Canada's justice minister is also a popular target for thieves.

Justice Minister Arif Virani's government-owned Toyota Highlander XLE was stolen last November but was later recovered, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons last week.

It's the same car that was stolen and recovered last February when David Lametti was justice minister. Another 2019 Toyota Highlander was stolen during Lametti's tenure in February of 2021 — making this latest incident the third time a federal justice minister's car has been stolen in the past three years.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, left, looks on as Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada Arif Virani responds to a question during a news conference at the National Summit on Combatting Auto Theft, in Ottawa, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.
Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, left, looks on as Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada Arif Virani responds to a question during a news conference at the National Summit on Combatting Auto Theft, in Ottawa, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, left, looks on as Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada Arif Virani responds to a question during a news conference at the National Summit on Combatting Auto Theft in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Federal ministers met with law enforcement, border officials and industry players Thursday for a national summit to address a rising wave of auto thefts.

"It's unprecedented," RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme said during the daylong meeting.

"And the extreme violence that's associated to that and what we're seeing, it's something that was never seen before."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the gathering that the rise in thefts over the past few years "has been alarming." He hinted at tougher penalties.

"Organized crime is becoming more brazen, and the overseas market for the stolen cars is expanding," he said.

When asked what tougher penalties might look like, Virani said Ottawa already has strong measures to address auto left.

"Right now you have provisions that are set out in the [Criminal] Code that deal with the offences of theft and you have offences that deal with organized criminality. It's sort of bridging the two. It's looking at the specific focus of carjacking, which is unfortunately a new phenomenon here in Canada, but it is something that we need to address," he said.

"It takes an individual to steal the car but it takes a complete criminal operation to get it out of the country for sales in parts of Africa or the Middle East. When we look at organized criminality, we have to look at those chains and how to disrupt them."

When asked about his car being stolen in November, Virani's office declined to comment.