It can happen in seconds – you start your car to warm it up and come back to find it’s been stolen.
That’s what happened to Josh Bruins. He walked out of his apartment on Setter Streets early on Saturday morning and started his car to warm it up. Five minutes later, it was gone.
“You panic, your heart drops,” he said.
He’s one of around 250 Winnipeggers who have had their vehicle stolen in the first half of January. The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) said of those cases, 44 per cent involved the vehicles already running, and 73 per cent had the keys inside.
“We’ve cautioned against this for years, because thieves are finding away,” said Const. Dani McKinnon, a public information officer with the WPS. “They’re watching. They see you dash in and out of your house, even if it’s just for a moment, a few seconds, and they will take it.”
McKinnon said even if you have a remote start vehicle, there is still a risk as the car may still be drivable until it is shut off or runs out of gas.
The number of stolen vehicles actually dipped slightly in 2023 compared to the year prior.
On average, over the past five years just over 3,200 vehicles are stolen in Winnipeg each year. It’s a concerning number for the Winnipeg police, and its setting off alarms right across the country.
It’s prompted the federal government to hold a national summit in Ottawa on Feb. 8, to come up with a solution.
“The scale of the issue around auto theft requires a coordination between all governments – federal, provincial and municipal,” Dominic LeBlanc, Canada’s minister of public safety, said at a news conference in Ottawa on Sunday.
“Police forces, border services officers, auto manufacturers, all relevant actors need to take action quickly on the issue of auto theft.”
The government says it has seen an uptick in the car thefts, with gangs and organized crime groups shipping them to the Middle East and Africa, or using them to commit crimes in Canada before destroying them.
Here in Winnipeg, McKinnon said most stolen vehicles are used for other crimes committed in the city, or used as a weapon.
“We’ve seen a number of police cruiser cars recently be rammed in stolen vehicle altercations,” she said. “Other cars are being hit, parked vehicles. Pedestrians are at risk. This is a very dangerous situation.”
McKinnon said police do have a high recovery rate for stolen vehicles – though not all are drivable when they are found, and others are never seen again.
However, she said these crimes are easily preventable.
“I know it sounds a little corny, but it is the truth. We all have a role to play. So if you can do your part to prevent it, please don’t leave your vehicle running.”
Since his car was stolen on Saturday, Bruins has been searching the area around his apartment every day. He’s posted pictures of it on social media. In that time, he’s heard from several other Winnipeggers dealing with the same thing.
“It doesn’t surprise me now. It would have surprised me two weeks ago,” he said.
He hopes to find his car soon. If he does, he plans on making some changes so something like this doesn’t happen again.
“I think I’m going to just stay in the vehicle and just warm it up with me inside. That’s the best safety measure I can think of – just staying inside the vehicle.”
Bruins’ car is a black 2017 Hyundai Elantra with a licence plate KHF-739 and an ‘Every Child Matters’ sticker in the rear driver’s window.
Anyone who sees Bruins’ car or any other vehicle they believe was stolen can call the Winnipeg police non-emergency line or 911.
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