Police, border services seize 598 stolen vehicles at Montreal port, most from Ontario



MONTREAL — Ontario Provincial Police and the Canada Border Services Agency say they prevented nearly 600 stolen vehicles from being exported overseas after searching 390 shipping containers at the Port of Montreal. 

Around three-quarters of the 598 seized vehicles, with an estimated value of $34.5 million, were stolen in Ontario, police said.

OPP deputy commissioner Marty Kearns told reporters in Montreal on Wednesday that investigations by police in Ontario led them to believethat a large percentage of stolen vehicles in that province “were destined for illegal export via the Port of Montreal.” As a result, he said, police and federal agencies in Quebec and Ontario launched Project Vector. 

“As our intelligence indicated, the vast majority of recovered stolen vehicles, more than 430, were taken from the Greater Toronto Area,” Kearns said.

Thieves target relatively new vehicles, including high-end pickup trucks and SUVs, which are then exported to markets in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America, he said.

No arrests have yet been made as part of the three-and-a-half month operation.

Kearns said the operation has taken millions of dollars away from organized crime, and sent a message “that we are here, we are active.”

“We’re not done … we anticipate arrests and charges in the near future.” 

Kearns said Project Vector is the latest in a series of police operations targeting vehicle thefts. In March, a provincial task force in Ontario arrested seven people, who face 34 charges, and recovered 18 cars. Another 34 people alleged to have committed offences related to vehicle theft were arrested in Quebec as part of a joint operation between the OPP, Quebec provincial police and Montreal police, he said. 

Project Vector partner Équité Association, an anti-crime organization funded by insurance companies, has estimated that around 70,475 vehicles were stolen in Canada in 2023, with more than 30,000 of those in Ontario.

Annie Beauséjour, Quebec regional director general at the Canada Border Services Agency, said collaborating with police allows border agents to work more efficiently to identify shipping containers that may contain contraband or illegally obtained goods at Canada’s second-busiest port. 

“More than one million containers pass through the port each year and the vast majority of the goods they contain are legitimate,” she told reporters. 

All containers flagged by police as potentially containing stolen vehicles are searched by border agents, she said. 

CBSA is also conducting its own operations in the Port of Montreal, at rail yards in Toronto and the Port of Vancouver, Beauséjour said. 

In addition to the interceptions announced on Wednesday, border agents seized 1,204 stolenvehicles at the port last year, she said, adding that “our CBSA team in Ontario has made over 300 vehicle interceptions in rail yards in the Greater Toronto Area since the beginning of 2024.”

Some of the recovered vehicles have been involved in other crimes, Kearns said. 

“For example, one of the recovered vehicles was linked to a carjacking involving a handgun, another vehicle was stolen from a driveway and then used for a residential break-in just hours later. In another instance, thieves invaded a home during the early morning, confronted the homeowners and made off with two vehicles,” he said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2024. 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press