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A flat-out street-racing fight
Police seize cars under crime law
MPP revs up push for street-racing bill

June 16, 2006.


Just before the latest big-budget street-racing movie hit big screens today, 20 tonnes of the law was brought down on two illegally modified cars confiscated after their owners were caught racing.

Yesterday's public demolition in Markham was the first time in Ontario that seized racing cars (valued at almost $50,000) have been destroyed using a law that was originally designed to curb organized crime.

"I know one thing," Attorney General Michael Bryant said at the demolition, "that on the weekend, these cars won't be back on the streets again."

But with 34 street racing-related deaths around the GTA since 1999 and no provincial legislation to specifically address the problem, one MPP said crushing of two Honda Civics using a law meant for something else is nothing more than a "dog-and-pony" show.

With the release of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the third instalment in the Fast and the Furious franchise that glorifies the culture of modified street-racing cars, calls for tougher laws to stop the trend are mounting.

"This stunt is an insult to the victims and their families and an embarrassment to the government," said Oak Ridges MPP Frank Klees, the former Progressive Conservative transportation minister who last week introduced a private members bill to curb illegal street racing.

Three weeks ago, Rob and Lisa Manchester, constituents in Klees's riding, were killed in what police suspect was a street race.

Klees's two requests this week for his bill to receive unanimous consent — rarely given to private members' bills — were both denied.

The bill has not yet been given a second reading. The cars destroyed yesterday were seized under provincial legislation called the Civil Remedies Act, which was passed in 2002 to help confiscate equipment used in organized crime, particularly illegal marijuana grow operations.

Both of the modified vehicles were involved in illegal street-racing incidents: one in Markham in 2003, the other in Vaughan in 2004.

The drivers were convicted of offences under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (one was also convicted of dangerous driving under the Criminal Code of Canada). One driver had his licence suspended for four months, while the other received a $1,000 fine and had his licence suspended for six months.

The attorney general asked the Ontario Superior Court of Justice — which found the cars to be "instruments of unlawful activity" under the act — to order their forfeiture to the Crown. The Civil Remedies Act was then amended in Dec. 2005 to allow for the destruction of seized property, such as the two cars crushed yesterday.

Bryant says his government is sending a clear message. "We are targeting cars modified to clearly be used for unlawful purposes — street racing."

But Klees says if the government is serious about curbing street racing it wouldn't be using a law that doesn't directly address the increasing use of after-market products such as nitrous oxide fuel systems.

Minister of Transportation Donna Cansfield says she fully supports Klees's efforts to combat illegal street racing.

The bill Klees introduced last week would allow police to issue "on-the-spot licence suspensions" to anyone suspected of street racing, would allow police to impound cars and would provide for fines up to $2,000, and a six-month jail term.

It would also ban nitrous oxide systems, which can drastically boost the horsepower and acceleration of modified cars. Under legislation proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, street racers would face longer licence suspensions and those who kill someone could get sentenced to life in prison.

For a first offence, drivers may have licences suspended for a year, two years for a second offence and three for a third.

"The owner of one of the (destroyed) cars actually had a year's opportunity to put it back to street legal. But he said he didn't want to be slowed down," said York Region Police Sgt. Dave Mitchell.

"The drivers were using them for their intended purpose — street racing."

Both of the vehicles are Honda CRX Civics and retail for about $20,000. One had about $2,500 in modifications, the other more than $5,000.

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