Political leaders, police, border agents and auto industry executives will be called together next month to try and come up with better ways to slow the growth in auto theft plaguing most major Canadian cities.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced what he called a national summit on combating auto theft Sunday, just as the federal cabinet began meeting for a three-day retreat in Montreal.

The announcement comes as car theft has become a bigger problem across the country, with regular reports of cars disappearing from driveways and street corners in record numbers.

In 2022, vehicle thefts rose 50 per cent in Quebec, nearly as much in Ontario, and 35 per cent in Atlantic Canada. There were 9,600 vehicles stolen in Toronto alone that same year, 300 per cent more than in 2015.

And LeBlanc said more often the targets aren't just parked cars, but ones where drivers are still behind the wheel.

"One of the things that concerns all of us is it's becoming a violent crime where people are assaulted in the process of stealing vehicles," LeBlanc said.

"So we think it's an important opportunity for us to work with partners across the country and take action to deal with something that's increasingly becoming a concern in every part of the country."

Toronto-area police services say there was a 104-per-cent increase in carjackings between 2021 and 2022.

LeBlanc said he spoke to Ontario Premier Doug Ford about the issue in recent days and Ontario is on board to participate.

#Liberals to hold auto-theft summit in February amid uptick in stolen cars sent abroad. #CDNPoli #CBSA #StolenCars #AutoIndustry

The government said gangs steal cars and work with organized-crime groups to send them to the Middle East and Africa, or use them within Canada to commit crimes before destroying them.

Photos have appeared online of cars still bearing Canadian license plates in used-car lots overseas.

That's despite Ottawa insisting it has strong laws aimed at preventing thefts and tracking protocols meant to stop the stolen cars from being exported in shipping containers.

The summit is scheduled for Feb. 8, and will include municipal and provincial police forces, the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and auto companies. The hope is to identify short and longer-term solutions to the problem.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2024.

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