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Toyota wouldn't share stolen vehicle's GPS location with police, car owner says

A Vaughan man thought he had done the right thing by equipping his brand new SUV with tracking technology offered by the manufacturer — but when it was stolen, he faced plenty of roadblocks sharing that location with the police chasing after it.

Toyota told him the company needed a police report to allow the real-time location to be shared, even though that paperwork would not be done until the incident was long over — something the owner said didn't help in the middle of the night when the car was fleeing at high speeds.

"It took them 25 minutes, and we got nowhere. We lost time," said Feliks, who asked CTV News Toronto not to use his last name. "It was very unfortunate."

However, Feliks did come up with a workaround: sharing screenshots of the car’s location with officers in York Regional Police, who shared that with Durham Regional Police and ultimately Ontario Provincial Police in Kingston, which recovered the car in a ditch the following day.

That prevented the car from joining thousands of others never seen again in a surge in auto theft that shows no signs of stopping: insurers estimate that they paid out $1 billion last year because of car thefts nationwide.

Security video from Feliks and his neighbour's house shows two suspects approaching the 2023 Toyota Highlander at about 2:00 a.m. on June 3. One breaks a window and climbs inside, while the other waits.

In under 10 minutes, the one inside starts the car. His accomplice takes the wheel and he heads to join another suspect driving off in another car.

“Thirty-five seconds later, the car is gone out the driveway,” Feliks said.

He said he phoned the police, who quickly arrived within minutes. Without the live location, the screenshots on his phone were enough for police to start tracking the car, which was quickly heading east, off and on Highway 401.

YRP Const. Maniva Armstrong said her force shared information quickly with the Durham Regional Police and the OPP.

“Officers in Durham were able to get a sighting of the stolen vehicle and the vehicle fled from them, but it got back on the 401 and travelled east,” she said.

Const. Armstrong said officers decided not to do a high-speed chase of the vehicle for safety reasons. The pressure from officers may have pushed the crooks to literally ditch the car, as the vehicle was found in a trough near Summerstown, east of Cornwall.

“The vehicle had significant damage and was abandoned,” Const. Armstrong said.

When CTV News Toronto reached out to Toyota, a company spokesperson said they are trying to improve the security of their vehicles and the stolen vehicle locator has been a “significant success.”

“We work closely with law enforcement agencies to confront this industry-wide problem. When a customer reports their vehicle to the police as stolen, it triggers a police report which allows us to work directly with police on their behalf,” Michael Bouliane of Toyota said in a written statement. “Once we have the police report, we actively share any information we have with the police.”

Bryan Gast, with insurance investigation service Equite Association, said any tracking, even imperfect tracking, is better than none.

A report by Equite Association shows that car theft across the country is up between 2021 and 2022 by double-digit amounts: in Ontario, by 48 per cent; in Quebec, by 50 per cent; in Alberta, by 18 per cent; and in Atlantic Canada, by 35 per cent.

A report from Equite Association shows car thefts are on the rise. (CTV News Toronto)

Thieves use new technology to hijack the signals that key fobs send to the cars, tricking the car into believing the key fob is there or hacking into an onboard port and starting the car that way.

One big problem is a convenient push-button start requiring no second security feature, like a key. Once it’s defeated, a stolen vehicle is its own getaway car.

The vehicles are sometimes used to commit other crimes or are often sold for big markups overseas. In Ontario, 61 per cent of stolen cars are 2017 models or newer. In Quebec, that number is 75 per cent.

It all adds up to a $1 billion loss last year for insurers — the highest ever — and a massive windfall for criminals.

“They are gaining more than $1 billion. Organized crime groups are selling vehicles for more than what the value of the payouts would be,” Gast said.

Ontario is spending $51 million over three years to dismantle the organized crime groups behind the surge in thefts, which it said happens once every 48 minutes in the province. A Toronto Police Service investigation recovered hundreds of vehicles and charged more than 100 people.

Feliks said police haven’t told him that the car was found, and he’s hoping for answers. But he said he is grateful to the Kingston OPP and hopes, despite the trends, that he doesn’t have to go through this again. Top Stories

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