#InterestingTechNews! SUV stolen from Toronto driveway shows up 50 days later - AirTags tracked vehicle from Canada to Middle East, offering glimpse into shipping routes used by car thieves

When a Toronto man looked out at his driveway on a holiday Monday last August and saw his SUV was gone — the second one to be stolen that year — he said one thought came to his mind:

"Not again."

Using Apple AirTags he had hidden in the vehicle, Andrew tracked the 2022 GMC Yukon XL to a nearby rail yard, then to the Port of Montreal, and ultimately to a used car lot in the United Arab Emirates.

After pleading with police to help retrieve the truck, he hired a private investigator and even contacted Interpol, to no avail.

CBC News has agreed to conceal Andrew's full name and identifying details, as his family fears reprisals for fighting back against the thieves. 

Andrew's extraordinary efforts provide a rare glimpse into an overseas shipping route used by criminals amid Canada's auto theft epidemic.

"We've done everything we possibly can, save going over there and trying to take it back ourselves," he said in an interview. "I want my truck back."

Andrew holds a picture of the bent steering wheel of his SUV, with an anti-theft lock still in place, taken shortly before it was stolen on Aug. 7. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)

Police approached truck, but didn't retrieve it

After a vacation away from home last summer, Andrew and his wife returned at around 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 7 to an unnerving scene. Parked in the driveway, their SUV's steering wheel was bent inward — the anti-theft lock still secured — and the driver's seat was set further back than usual. 

The couple recognized the signs that criminals had dropped by and tried to nab their Yukon. They'd had the same model SUV stolen from the same place in May.

They planned to have a quick meal and then block the SUV with their other vehicle, but they never got the chance — by the time they were done eating around 9:15 p.m., Andrew said, the SUV was gone. 

After Andrew received his second Yukon earlier that year, he hid two tiny Apple tracking devices in the vehicle to locate it in the event of another theft. Once the SUV disappeared, he said he watched on his smartphone for hours as the AirTags pinged in locations across the Greater Toronto Area. 

Andrew said he alerted Toronto police, as well as Peel and York regional forces as the vehicle crossed into those nearby areas. Then, two days after the theft, Andrew said an officer finally moved in. 

One of his AirTags pinged from Canadian Pacific Kansas City railway's (CPKC) terminal in Vaughan, north of Toronto. He phoned York Regional Police and later heard directly from an officer who agreed to take action.

Andrew texted the officer a screenshot showing the precise location of the AirTag. As the officer approached the rail yard, Andrew's second AirTag started pinging at the same location, suggesting the Bluetooth signal emitted by the device had connected to the officer's smartphone. (The tracker relies on nearby GPS-enabled devices to determine its location.)

A Toronto man says a York Regional Police officer texted him this picture on Aug. 9, showing shipping containers on a rail car at the Canadian Pacific Kansas City railway's terminal in Vaughan, Ont. The man's stolen SUV was "definitely in one of those containers," the officer texted. (Name withheld)

Andrew received a picture taken from inside a police car, parked near two containers sitting on a railcar. "It's definitely in one of those containers," the officer said in a series of text messages viewed by CBC News. But the York officer said they didn't "have the authority to open the containers." Instead, they directed Andrew to the railway's private police service.

Andrew said CPKC police didn't respond to the scene that night and the train carrying his truck took off soon after. "That's the pinnacle of the frustration," Andrew told CBC, "knowing that it's still here, but it's about to disappear."

CPKC spokesperson Terry Cunha declined to discuss the incident, but said in a statement the railway "works with federal, provincial and local law enforcement agencies executing a number of strategies to identify and recover stolen vehicles."

A week after Andrew's car was stolen, a location tracker placed it at the Port of Montreal. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

Next stop Montreal, then overseas

By Aug. 11, one of the AirTags was pinging from a rail yard in Smiths Falls, in eastern Ontario, then three days later from the Port of Montreal.

Again, Andrew said he alerted local police, but watched helplessly as the AirTag went offline for nearly a month. It surfaced again on Sep. 6, an ocean away, at one of Europe's largest shipping ports in Antwerp, Belgium. 

Then, on Sep. 26, the tracker — and the SUV — showed up at a port near Dubai, some 11,000 kilometres from Toronto.

Andrew's father, a retired lawyer, had taken on the case in his spare time and spent hours researching how to get the vehicle back. The family hired a private investigator in the U.A.E. who found the vehicle in a used car lot. He sent Andrew pictures of the Yukon parked next to other GMC and Chevrolet trucks for sale.

The vehicle identification number (VIN), still visible through the windshield, matched that of Andrew's stolen Yukon.

CBC has verified the VIN and the existence of the used car lot in the U.A.E. A reporter found a similar Yukon — made to "Canadian specifications," according to the listing — for sale online near Dubai last week for roughly $80,000. Andrew said the vehicle even had the same mileage as his Yukon: 46,000 kilometres.

Circumstances "unusual," says senior detective

Asked about the incident, the Toronto Police Service confirmed in a brief statement, "the case is still very active."

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) declined to comment on Andrew's case. Spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said in an email that local police investigate vehicle thefts, and that the CBSA "acts on 100 per cent of referrals from them to stop stolen vehicles from leaving the country."

The agency said it intercepted 1,806 stolen vehicles in 2023, a 34 per cent increase from the previous year.

A senior Ontario Provincial Police detective told CBC it would be "unusual" for law enforcement to be unable to retrieve a stolen vehicle if they were told its location.

"If we know it's at a container lot or a container yard or the ports in Montreal, we'll make every effort to obtain it and get it back," said Det. Insp. Scott Wade, deputy director of the province's Organized Crime Towing and Auto Theft Team.

A 2022 GMC Yukon XL is seen near the Toronto driveway where it was stolen in May 2023, three months before a nearly identical Yukon was reported stolen from the same spot. Andrew said there was only one difference between the two stolen SUVs: this one had silver rims, the other had black rims. (Name withheld)

He urged victims of auto theft not to try to reclaim the vehicle themselves without first contacting police.

Wade said in an interview it's "alarmingly common" for criminals to move stolen vehicles in containers on trains or trucks, then to export them to the Middle East, Europe or northern Africa. Previous CBC News investigations have also uncovered stolen Canadian vehicles in West Africa.

"Right now, they're making so much money shipping cars that the low risk and high reward is too lucrative for organized crime [to pass up]," Wade said.

Andrew said the second vehicle theft from his driveway made him want to take action, because it felt like "a violation." 

"You read in the news every day that there's more and more cars being stolen," Andrew said.

Andrew and his father have contacted both Emirati police and Interpol to demand they retrieve the vehicle. On Monday, he said the Yukon remained parked in the same used car lot in the U.A.E., according to the location of the AirTags.