A recent rash of break-ins at the homes of Abbotsford church-goers is just the latest incarnation of an old crime.
Thieves know the majority of drivers keep their insurance papers – listing their name and home address – in their vehicle, usually in the glove box or overhead visor.
Crooks just need to find a vehicle in which the owner has left a garage door opener. That gives them a “key” to the house. If the car is at a movie theatre, the head of a hiking trail, or as in recent cases, a church parking lot, the thieves know they have plenty of time to loot the home.
“ICBC has known for years this is a problem, and they have been reluctant to take steps to solve it,” says Ken Pugh, a university professor from Chilliwack.
“It is 100 per cent preventable,” he maintains.
Pugh spent some time in Saskatchewan, where there is no requirement to keep insurance papers in your vehicle, as there is in B.C. Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) issues a smaller document that can be folded, fitting into a wallet. The rule there is that proof of insurance, if it is not available immediately, must be produced within 48 hours of a police request during a roadside stop.
Pugh said a wallet-sized card system in B.C. is a no-brainer. The work of the so-called “Garage Burgler” in Chilliwack got him interested in trying to effect change, and he’s been trying to get the attention of ICBC officials and politicians.
“If ICBC would only do one thing – take out your personal, private information – this type of crime would be reduced dramatically, and not just in Chilliwack or Abbotsford, but across the province,” said Pugh.
Chantel Funk’s parents were among those victimized while they were at church on Jan. 2. Thieves smashed their car window and stole a Bluetooth wireless device, a TomTom GPS, a garage door opener and their insurance papers. They then went to the couple’s home, and stole electronics and jewelry.
Funk said Abbotsford Police told them they could block out the address on their insurance papers, and although they could be ticketed for altering the documents, there’s a good chance a police officer would be understanding.
She likes Pugh’s card idea better, which could all but eliminate this type of crime.
On Jan. 23, three more people attending church had their cars broken into and tires slashed, and in one case a home was robbed.
Pugh said a class action lawsuit against ICBC involving victims of this type of crime would be warranted.
“They have provided an opportunity for criminals,” he said.
ICBC spokesman Mark Jan Vrem said the requirement to have the original vehicle registration and insurance document in the vehicle when operating on a highway is contained in the Motor Vehicle Act. To alter this requirement, there would need to be a change to the legislation. He added that most North American law enforcement authorities require that original, unaltered documents be available if requested by a peace officer – primarily to help prevent fraud and misrepresentation.
He added that people can follow the letter of the law by having a photocopy of their insurance in the glove compartment, with their personal information blanked out, while hiding the original in another part of the vehicle.
He said motorists can carry the original documents in the vehicle, but should not leave them in it when the vehicle is parked or stored.
Pugh responds that thieves will still smash windows looking for addresses on insurance papers, even if they find them blacked out.
Jan Vrem said he was not aware of what Saskatchewan’s SGI issues its customers.
“ICBC is always looking at ways to improve service for our customers.
“Suggestions to remove the name and address information is something we can review and consider as we look forward to enhancements in our systems,” he said.