Debates of Oct. 20th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #138 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vehicle.
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Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-64 addresses a gap that we have in the Criminal Code which is clear why our former colleague, Chuck Cadman, raised the issue. It deals with the issue of tampering or altering in some fashion the vehicle identification numbers of motor vehicles. The approach he took is somewhat similar to what is in the government bill before us today, and would go toward making the alteration of the VIN number a crime under the Criminal Code and that definitely is something that we need to address.
We have heard from other members that 170,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada in 2004. We all know that there are different types of people who steal vehicles. The bill addresses the theft of motor vehicles by organized crime more than the other two groups which would be the person stealing for what I euphemistically describe as joyriding, or the person who steals it for the use in the commission of another vehicle.
In the vast majority of both of those cases, there will be no attention paid to changing the number since the purpose of the theft is for other reasons. We are told by our police forces that approximately 60% of all vehicles stolen are stolen by organized crime gangs. They are the ones we are really after with regard to this amendment to the Criminal Code.
There is a term in the bill which says how the alterations can occur, but the key word is alters rather than removes or obliterates because the purpose for the resale of the vehicle, once it is stolen, is that a VIN has to be there in most cases. A good number of these vehicles are moved out of province and in a large number of cases, out of country, but when those resales occur, there has to be a VIN on them in most cases in order to have a purchaser accept the vehicle.
There can be a number of times when the purchasers themselves are involved in criminal activity, but in most cases these resales are to people who are innocent third parties and have no idea that the vehicle has been stolen. The reason they know that it has not been stolen is because the VIN has been altered and appears to be accurate reflecting the ownership.
Assuming the bill gets through second reading of the House, it will go to the justice committee. Our party will support the bill for that purpose, but I want to signal to the government at this point, as we have heard already from the Conservative Party and its justice critic, concerns about the first subsection. I share with the member for Provencher concern over why it is necessary to add the additional wording after “without lawful excuse”. It appears to be placing an unnecessary burden on the Crown of another element of the offence that would have to be proven in the court and proven beyond a reasonable doubt in spite of the type of wording.
I look forward to some explanation from the justice department lawyers as to why they felt it necessary to put this in because as I see it right now, and again this is from my experience in the criminal courts, that does not appear to be necessary. We have other offences within the Criminal Code where the terminology “without lawful excuse” exists without additional wording and those Criminal Code charges are of long standing, going back probably to the start of the Criminal Code and have certainly been used repeatedly in any number of criminal charges that have been successful.
The second point I would make with regard to my reservation about the bill addresses the sentencing component. Like my colleagues from the Conservative Party, I am not a believer in the use of minimum mandatory sentences, just the opposite, in fact. I am not promoting that in this case but we need to look at what we are really trying to do here.
We are trying to get at organized crime stealing vehicles. In the course of that activity they need to alter the VIN number in order for their resales to be carried out. If that is the target group of this amendment to the Criminal Code, it seems to me that we should be putting in clauses, as we have done in a number of other sections of the Criminal Code, to address to the courts a mandatory direction that if the individual who is convicted of this crime is identified as being a member of an organized crime gang, that would be an aggravating factor in the sentencing.
We have to recognize as well that in the vast majority of cases if people are going to be convicted of this charge, they are also going to be convicted of theft but they may also be convicted of being a member of an organized crime gang, which is a separate offence. If those convictions are before the court, then I suggest to the justice department that it would be appropriate that their involvement in an organized crime gang would be a fact that the court should be made aware of and that the court should be mandated to take that into account as an aggravating factor in the sentencing process so that the conviction would result in a sentence that would be closer to the top end of the maximum that can be apportioned in the circumstances rather than at the lower end.
On the other hand, there are 16-year-olds who take vehicles and alter them. We have to appreciate that a lot of people think of the VIN number as being a number that is buried somewhere inside the engine component of a vehicle. That is not the reality. The VIN number is oftentimes on or under the dashboard. It is easily accessible and so there may be very unsophisticated, first time criminals altering it, maybe for the purpose of resale. Our courts would look at that fact and then maybe decide there is a potential for rehabilitation and would not want a mandatory minimum because the person was not involved in organized crime and therefore it would not be an aggravating factor.
We are at a stage where the NDP will be supporting this at second reading and referred to committee where the two areas I have expressed concern over can be addressed with perhaps amendments from the government or the opposition parties.
Committees of the House
Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I do not mean to interrupt the debate on a point of order but there have been discussions among all the parties and if you seek it I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
That in relation to its study on Air Liberalization and Airports System, 6 members of the Standing Committee on Transport be authorized to travel to Washington, D.C. from Monday, October 31 to Wednesday, November 2, 2005, and that the necessary staff do accompany the Committee.
Committees of the House
The Deputy Speaker
The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Committees of the House
Some hon. members
(Motion agreed to)
The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-64, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (vehicle identification number), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
October 20th, 2005 / 4:50 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-64. I very much have enjoyed the commentary of the previous speakers. It raises that even a bill that is only one clause long and refers to amending the Criminal Code can raise some very important issues, such as sentencing, the unintended consequences and the like
However, on balance I think members will find, as we have in the speeches already, that there is all party support for this, not just because it happens to be coming from one of our former colleagues, Chuck Cadman, but because this fits in with the demands of Canadians to ensure that we fill some of these loopholes.
Bill C-64 would make it an offence to wholly or partially obliterate or remove a vehicle identification number. Canadians will understand that VINs are very unique to all cars and are there for identity purposes, but that car theft in whole or in part is a very serious problem.
In this bill, the punishment for the offence, if it proceeds with indictment, is a five year maximum term of imprisonment, or if proceeded with by summary conviction, a six month term of imprisonment and/or a fine of $2,000. This is not a matter to be taken lightly.
Just for the interest of the House, the term motor vehicle is defined in the Criminal Code and therefore would mean a vehicle that is drawn, propelled or driven by any means other than by muscular power and does not include railway equipment, so we are talking about basically motorized vehicles.
Motor vehicle theft is certainly not a victimless crime and I think that probably all members in the House have had experience in their own ridings and communities. When we talk about the theft of personal property, whether it be from outside or within the home, this is an invasive activity that tends to undermine the safety and security of our communities and creates a lot of consternation. Obviously, we should not consider this to be a victimless crime.
In addition, it has considerable impact on the vehicle owners. There are insurance matters, law enforcement, health care and correctional issues. The consequences and the ripple effect when this kind of thing occurs is staggering.
A report put out in 2000 indicated that the cost to the insurance industry alone from motor vehicle theft claims was in the range of $600 million in the year 1998. We do not have any more recent figures but when we consider the magnitude of that we understand that just because there is insurance and it may be covered, we do not get something for nothing. Obviously, through the insurance premiums we pay, they are geared to the lost records that are incurred with regard to the areas being covered. In this regard this is a major component of the cost of premiums for insuring vehicles.
Vehicle theft can take many forms. It can be a crime of opportunity, thrill, addiction or it can be even more sophisticated, requiring distinct roles and responsibilities, networks and combinations of criminal offences. We have certainly seen many movies on this subject matter itself. I can recall seeing one very recently where the big idea was to steal 60 cars in one night. To see the tools, they obviously did a lot of research, but it is amazing how efficient organized crime can be when it comes to vehicle theft.
One of the ways in which organized vehicle theft is facilitated is through the act of removing a vehicle's existing identity, and that is what this bill is all about, the vehicle identification number.
The first stage of this process involves criminals who work the streets seeking specific models or luxury vehicles. The next stage of the process involves intermediaries, or so-called chop shops, who will take the cars and modify them, disguise them or chop them up for parts. The process requires the vehicle be stripped of all existing labels and plates. It is the kind of thing that is so efficient it is absolutely amazing that it could happen so often without being noticed in communities.
I guess it should not be a surprise to us when we consider the situation of grow houses and the prevalence of grow houses in communities across Canada that seem to be able to operate without detection for very long periods of time, all for the benefit of organized crime.
The primary focus of the bill is to give some of the tools that are necessary to address the situation where the unique identify of a vehicle is disrupted.
Organized vehicle theft is lucrative and comparatively low risk. It also is increasingly international in scope. We have seen many stories where ship containers are being filled with certain cars that are very attractive to international destinations. If we were to look at some of these shipping yards, we would understand why it has been so difficult to detect this. This bill would be extremely important for the law enforcement side.
An example of this elaborate criminal activity was provided in a 1998 report where it was explained how a Vancouver area organized crime group operated by stealing vehicle identification numbers from salvage yards in Vancouver. It would then travel to Toronto, steal the cars that fit the make of the stolen vehicles and then apply the stolen vehicle identification number from the Vancouver vehicle onto the Toronto vehicle.
As we can see, there is some sophistication here, which makes this particular offence quite serious because it is facilitating major activity with regard to organized crime.
One report notes that theft rings need only put out money to pay for the theft of a vehicle and the cost of shipping, which together generally costs less than 10% of the value of the vehicle itself. Obviously, it is an extremely lucrative business and there is a lot of incentive for those who would participate in this criminal activity.
There are a few limited situations where some people may legitimately alter the vehicle identification number in the execution of their lawful work, and the intent of the bill is not to deal with that. We have had discussions through the debate today about the possibility of having an amendment where we are dealing with whether or not there is a need to identify the motivation, whether the motivation for alteration was with regard to taking away the identity of the car.
We also must ensure that those persons who have a legitimate reason, which is part of the bill in terms of requirement for having a lawful excuse, to incidentally tamper with a vehicle identification number, will be protected from criminal prosecution.
The offence, as designed in Bill C-64, accounts for these legitimate behaviours, such as inadvertency, by requiring that the tampering be committed under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did not so conceal the identity of the motor vehicle. The member for Provencher raised some concern about this aspect .
I suspect, being where we are in the legislative process, that work will be done to consider whether or not an amendment or some language amendments may be required to make absolutely sure that the bill is functional in the way that it was contemplated.
The particular circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference are not spelled out in the legislation, nor should they be. They are open-ended to allow for crown prosecutors to lead evidence of intent, such as the application of a replacement vehicle identification number, altered vehicle documents, or fraudulent resale to an innocent buyer. Ultimately, this is a finding the court would make based on the evidence presented by the Crown.
Ultimately, motor vehicle theft is occurring at a very significant rate. I am pleased, however, to note that the rates have decreased slightly in the last year according to the latest reports. This is due in part to the numerous successful law enforcement strategies which are being employed across the country. For example, targeted law enforcement has been extremely successful in the bait car program operated throughout Vancouver, which is run by the Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team, also known as IMPACT.
Essentially, bait cars are vehicles that are equipped with GPS tracking technology, as well as visual and audio recording devices. When an offender attempts to steal a car, an alarm is triggered at the monitoring station. Police are notified and are able to safely disable the vehicle, make an arrest and use the recorded evidence of the theft in the prosecution.
The fight against auto theft, organized or otherwise, will require similar creative law enforcement techniques if it is to be ultimately successful.
The situation is clear. Members of criminal organizations are reaping large profits on the backs of legitimate motor vehicle owners.
Therefore, I certainly hope that all members will support the bill, and to the extent that there are any concerns whatsoever, we take the time necessary to make whatever amendments are necessary so that we can pass this bill in honour of our late colleague, Chuck Cadman.
Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON
Mr. Speaker, I have listened to a number of the speakers today with respect to this bill. I have a little bit of background in law enforcement.
The issue is about the addition to what Mr. Cadman originally proposed. Has the member opposite given consideration as to whether this particular bill is not also useful in other criminal activity besides the theft of a motor vehicle?
I ask that question with the understanding that certain models of the same year of vehicle are worth considerably more money if they are purported to be a model different from a base model. We could be talking in terms of $50,000 to $100,000 for the vehicle.
By adding what we have here “to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle”, is only applicable if one is trying to steal the vehicle and put it off as another vehicle of similar value. I am wondering if the hon. member would give me his opinion. What it does is it allows the individual to make that change. If we take it out, the individual has no lawful excuse to change the number other than to enhance the value.
That is not a victimless crime. Certainly there is organized crime and there is crime that is organized. There are people out there altering VINs for the purpose of enhancing the value of the vehicle.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I gave an example in my speech where it was found that some people were taking a VIN off a Toronto car and putting it on the same make of car in Vancouver.
As the member described, it could have some unique characteristic which gives it a different value. Clearly, the bill does apply in that case. I suspect that the point the member raised is in fact covered by the bill in its present form.
Mark Warawa Langley, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise again in the House and speak to what is being touted as the government's bill to honour our former colleague, Chuck Cadman.
I remember a few months back being at the funeral honouring Chuck. The Prime Minister was there along with many of us to honour and remember Chuck. There was a promise made at his funeral that the Prime Minister would bring Chuck's bills before the House to honour him. That made many of us very happy because Chuck had introduced numerous bills over the years. Of course his wife, Dona Cadman, and his family were there, so it was wonderful to hear that the Prime Minister was going to do that in Chuck's memory.
Chuck in dealing with auto crime had presented some bills in the House. Bill C-413 was introduced in March 2003 and then was reintroduced in February 2004 and Bill C-287 was introduced in November 2004. Unfortunately the government never did support those bills of Chuck's regarding VIN altering.
Today we have been dealing with Bill C-65 on street racing and Bill C-64 on vehicle identification altering. However, our excitement that the Prime Minister was going to do the right thing was short-lived. There was a comment made by the justice minister that these bills were invoked in the name of Mr. Cadman saying that they were intended as an appropriate tribute to his legacy.
Chuck Cadman worked very hard to make Canada a safer place and to fight for victims' rights. He did an incredible job. Some of us here still have that passion to work for Chuck. It is unfortunate that Chuck did not see those bills passed while he was with us.
On October 1 a local newspaper, Now , ran an article titled “Chuck's bill likely to be law”. The community was excited that Chuck's bills were going to become law, that the Prime Minister was going to keep his promise. People were excited. Then we looked at the bills and found that they were not Chuck's bills at all. The government was using Chuck's name and had altered and watered down his bills. We became very disappointed.
Dane Minor was Chuck's campaign manager and worked for years with Chuck. He wrote a letter to the editor about Chuck's bills becoming law. It stated:
I read this article with a growing sense of disgust. Several weeks ago the prime minister announced on the front pages of national and local papers that his government would pass Chuck's private member bill into legislation as an honour to Chuck. My immediate reaction was a positive one. It would be a fitting memorial to Chuck. Then the justice minister announced his watered down version. This isn't Chuck's bill in either intent or design. It is a cynical attempt by the Liberals to use Chuck's good name while doing little or nothing to change the existing laws.
One of the things that drew Chuck into the political arena in the first place was a visit by a former justice minister to supposedly discuss the Young Offenders Act with Chuck. The man blew into town, spent five minutes getting his picture taken shaking Chuck's hand and went back to Ottawa saying meetings with victims showed his government cared about victims and the faults of the YOA. Chuck was disgusted and it was incidents like these that led him to become a MP to truly change things.
This “new” legislation from the Liberals is the same type of political stunt. [The] Justice Minister...said his government tweaked both bills to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and address “operational deficiencies”.
There is a word here I will not repeat.
Chuck had one of the best legal advisors in Ottawa on his staff and his bills were well within the Charter. The ultimate ridiculousness of [the justice minister's] version was the reason for removing penalties for repeat offences: “because the police across this country don't have tracing or tracking records so we would know if it was a first, second or third tracking offence.”
If the Liberals truly want to honour Chuck Cadman I suggest they pass his laws as written and actually give the police the resources to find out how many previous offences there were. If they don't have the courage to do that, at least have the decency to stop using his name in a self serving bid to gain political points.
That was from Dane Minor's letter. I phoned Dona shortly after that. I asked Dane if it was okay to read the letter in the House and he said yes. I asked Dona if she was okay with that and she said yes too. She asked the House not to present Mickey Mouse watered down bills but to pass Chuck's bills the way Chuck had written them. They were good bills. If we pass the Liberal bill, all it does is protects the criminals. That is what I heard from Dane and Dona.
For years I was involved with dealing with auto theft. Like Chuck, I spent a number of years working for ICBC and I dealt with crashes and auto crime.
I found some very interesting statistics on auto crime. The typical auto thief is a 27-year-old male. He is addicted to crystal meth. He has 13 prior criminal convictions and he is stealing the vehicle to commit another offence.
There are auto thieves who are stealing the car for a joyride. Some steal cars for transportation to get from point A to point B, some to their court hearing. There are some kids who steal vehicles. There are vehicles being stolen by organized crime. Primarily the number one offender is the typical thief who is addicted to crystal meth and is stealing it to commit another crime.
The bill presented by the government as a bill to honour Chuck, this watered down version which I do not support because of why the Liberals have done it, is to deal with the changing of the vehicle identification number. That can be done in a number of different ways and it is connected with auto crime, with organized crime.
It is a small minority of the vehicles that are being stolen. Last year there were 170,000 vehicles stolen. The Insurance Bureau of Canada says that it is costing Canadians over $1 billion a year. When we include the police costs and the loss to Canadians it is $1 billion a year for auto theft. A portion of those are vehicles that are being stolen to change the VIN. What kind of theft is that? What do they do with the vehicles? Why are they changing the vehicle identification numbers?
Some of them steal the car to sell it for parts. We have heard that. That is a percentage of them. They will take the car apart and sell the pieces. A lot of the new vehicles, in fact most of them, have a VIN attached to every panel and every fender. Every component in the car will have the VIN hidden on it. That is something we may want to consider.
If we are talking about amending the bill to make it a bill that would work, we are talking about altering on a vehicle but it could be a vehicle or components of a vehicle. That is a big problem. The car is stolen and then parted out because the thief thinks that the parts are not traceable. Another way that organized crime operates is to steal an expensive vehicle, alter the VIN and then sell it.
I have constituents in my riding of Langley who bought a motor home. It was their dream to buy a motor home. They bought it from a reputable dealer, or so they thought, and it turned out to be a stolen vehicle, a vehicle that had an altered VIN. My constituents had taken out a mortgage. They were going to sell their house. The motor home was going to be their home. It was a beautiful $140,000 motor home. It turned out to be stolen. It was taken from them.
The province of B.C. refunded the PST because of the fraudulent VIN. My constituents had done the due diligence. They did a check on the vehicle and everything was fine. They had it checked out, but it turned out to be a stolen vehicle. The VIN had been changed to the legitimate VIN of a vehicle that was not stolen.
This is all too common. Thieves will steal the registration from another vehicle. The registration has a VIN. The thieves will put that legitimate VIN from a vehicle that is not stolen onto the stolen vehicle so the buyer does not realize it is a stolen vehicle. My constituents bought the vehicle. Unfortunately, it was taken back. The police found it.
I wonder if I am going over my time, Mr. Speaker, because I am getting some heckling from my honoured colleagues across the way. I would ask them to be patient.
An hon. member
Take your time.
Mark Warawa Langley, BC
Thank you. I will take my time. I will ask my hon. colleagues to pay attention because we are talking about a very serious matter.
These constituents of mine lost $140,000. The province of B.C. gave back the PST they had paid. If we do the math, that is 7% of $140,000, which is about $10,000. That is a lot of money. They got back the PST from the province of British Columbia and they asked the federal government to give back the GST.
Unfortunately, the government is refusing to give back the GST to this wonderful couple in the latter years of their life. The province did the right thing, but the federal government loves to overtax Canadians.
My constituents are victims of auto theft. It is a huge problem. Vehicles are broken up for parts or sent overseas or the VIN will be changed deliberately.
As I said, there is an obvious VIN. It is usually on the front left-hand corner of a vehicle, right where the windshield meets. It is out of the way. It cannot be seen from inside. A person must look at it from the outside. There is also a hidden VIN on each vehicle. Sometimes there are a number of them, but primarily there is one on each vehicle. The police can find out from the VIN on a suspicious vehicle if it has been changed.
It is very important to check. It is very important to me. In my former life as a city councillor and working for ICBC as a loss prevention officer, I had to tackle problems, whether they were crashes or crime. We always looked at the three Es: education, engineering and enforcement.
For education, we would tell people that auto crime is a problem in the Vancouver area. We would teach them how to protect themselves from being victims of auto crime. Vehicle owners should not leave their registration in their vehicles. They should leave it at home or keep it on their person, because if somebody breaks into their vehicle and steals their registration, they can actually sell that vehicle without the vehicle owner even knowing it because they have the VIN. They can make a fake VIN and put it on another stolen vehicle. The vehicle owners would not realize that their vehicle has been stolen. It is still in their possession, but thieves have stolen their VIN.
We told people to use a steering lock on their steering wheel. We told people that if they did not have an immobilizer, they should get one. We told them that if they did have one, they should make sure it was a good one that was approved and that worked. A lot of new vehicles have an immobilizer that does not work. People must have a good one.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia have information pages to educate people on what works and what does not work in protecting their vehicle. We told people not to leave valuables in their vehicle because that can attract thieves. We did everything we could through education. In engineering, we had those steering locks and immobilizers. We also had the bait car program through engineering, to try to go after auto thieves.
The very frustrating part was enforcement. The police would try to catch these people, but the courts kept letting them go. I asked the parliamentary secretary what the sentencing was and he said this legislation will be used to combat auto crime.
What is the track record? This is going to be added to other forms of legislation. Bill C-64 is supposed to help combat auto crime. What is the typical sentence?
Right now if someone steals a car and gets caught that person typically says he did not realize the vehicle was stolen. People will claim it was given to them by a friend. That is the excuse they have. In court it is tough to prove that they knew the vehicle was stolen and it is tough to prove that they stole it.
If they are convicted, they get the typical sentence, which is probation. If they get caught again, they receive probation for breaching their probation. These people are repeat offenders. It is a small group of people who are stealing these vehicles. These are high risk people. The typical person stealing vehicles is addicted to drugs and is a high risk individual. Yet these people keep on getting probation for breaching their probation.
There is a sense of frustration within our communities across Canada with the fact that sentencing is not being done appropriately, that the courts are not taking this problem seriously. We are asking for mandatory minimum sentences.
My private member's bill asked for mandatory minimum sentences. I did research. I consulted with my colleagues. I found that the average cost in terms of damage to a stolen vehicle is $4,600. There should be a minimum fine of at least $1,000 if the average cost is $4,600. That seems very conservative to me. The other option was to have the individual serve three months in jail, or both, but of course the Liberals do not support sentencing with consequences. They would prefer to have these people released back into the community with probation.
Chuck wanted to see some consequences. He wanted to see some good legislation and he provided good legislation. His bill would have made it an offence for anyone “who, wholly or partially, alters, removes or obliterates a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle without lawful excuse”. That would be a good piece of legislation. Right now it is not illegal to do that. It should be. Chuck knew that. As Conservatives we know that and we would support that.
What did the Liberals do? They added this clause: “and under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle”. That puts the onus on the Crown to prove the intent of the offender. Why did the person do it? Did the person do it to conceal the identity of the vehicle?
I believe that taking the VIN off a vehicle should be an offence unless there is a lawful excuse. A lawful excuse would be if the vehicle had been damaged severely or was totalled, and if, for example, the front half was going to be taken off another vehicle and those two vehicles put together. That would be a lawful excuse to change the VIN to match the hidden VIN. That can be done.
However, thieves also now have the technology to create a false VIN. If the VIN is taken off because the car is stolen, that is not a lawful excuse. That should be an offence. It seems too obvious. I am not certain why the Liberals do not agree with that. Taking the VIN off without a lawful excuse should be an offence. If someone changes those numbers, or if those numbers are removed or obliterated, that is an offence unless there is a lawful excuse.
I support Chuck's intent. To add that extra watered down onus on the Crown to prove that the offender had the intent to conceal makes it very difficult. I ask the House to support Chuck Cadman's bill, not this one.
This is a watered down version of Chuck's bill. Dona Cadman and Dane Minor are both asking the House not to support this bill because it is using Chuck's name and we should not do that.
We should honour Chuck. If we are going to pass Chuck's bill, let us pass Chuck's bill as written, not a Liberal bill.
Randy Kamp Dewdney—Alouette, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Langley for his very informative speech. I learned a lot. We do not always learn a lot from some of the speeches we hear, especially those from the other side.
Quite apart from the details of the bill, I think we all agree that there is a problem with auto theft and particularly with organized rings of auto thieves, which this bill is going to try to address. I think that was Chuck's intent in all of this.
There is something that I am curious about. We looked at Bill C-65 earlier today and now we are looking at Bill C-64. Both were intended to be tributes to the legacy of a great parliamentarian and we are going to miss him around here. What puzzles me, and perhaps the member could comment on this, is that both of these initiatives were pretty significantly opposed by the Liberals. The government was not going to allow these things to get through committee or to even be amended or anything like that.
I am curious about why there has been the change of heart. Not that long ago, just a couple of years ago, the government did not like these things. Now it brings this legislation here. I wonder why.
Mark Warawa Langley, BC
Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, I was at Chuck's funeral. I believe these bills were brought forth to honour him. I know that promise was made. That is why we have these bills before us.
A month ago for the first time I experienced having a private member's bill voted on. Everybody on this side in the Conservative Party supported my bill to have auto crime dealt with as it is a serious problem. My bill would give a sentencing guideline to the courts so that there would be increased penalties for repeat offenders, so that there would be consequences. Each time a person steals a car, the sentence would become a little more severe. It is a concept that we believe in. We believe in accountability, honesty and truth in sentencing.
Unfortunately, the justice minister gave direction to the Liberal caucus that it was not to support my bill. Chuck experienced that. I had a taste of what it felt like. Now we are presented with bills from the government to honour Chuck, yet his family and his campaign manager are saying that these watered down versions dishonour Chuck, they do not represent what Chuck wanted, and his family and his campaign manager do not support them.
I would ask the government to do the right thing: to amend and reintroduce these bills in the House the way Chuck wrote them. That was the promise that was made. In presenting Bill C-64 and Bill C-65 as the government has, it has watered down Chuck's bills. Actually, Dona Cadman said it best when she said they protect the criminals. That is not what we are here for. We want to see justice. Let us honour Chuck Cadman and allow his bills to be here, not these Liberal bills.
Message from the Senate
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.
It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
Intergenerational Transfer of Farms
Private Members' Business
Denise Poirier-Rivard Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should take action to promote the intergenerational transfer of farms by implementing the following measures: (a) increasing the allowable capital gains deduction for agricultural property from $500,000 to $1 million, exclusively for transactions as a result of which a farm remains in operation; (b) extending application of the rules governing rollovers to all members of the immediate family under 40 years of age; (c) setting up a farm transfer savings plan that would enable farmers to accumulate a tax-sheltered retirement fund; (d) make the rules governing property ownership more flexible so that young farmers can obtain a larger share of a residence held by a company and use their registered retirement savings plan to acquire an agricultural enterprise; and (e) transfer a recurring envelope to the government of Quebec and the other provinces for encouraging young people to go into farming
Mr. Speaker, as hon. members are no doubt aware, the population of Quebec, like that of Canada and the rest of the western world, is rapidly aging. The generation that built modern Quebec, from the Quiet Revolution until the present day, is fast approaching retirement age. It is therefore our collective duty, and I am sure we agree on this, to pass the torch to those come after us, so that Quebec may continue to develop its potential at least as much as it has over the past 40 years, if not more.
If that philosophy of passing the torch to future generations is valid for all spheres of economic, social, cultural and intellectual activity in modern Quebec, it is all the more so for agriculture.
In 2005 do we still need to prove how important agriculture and feeding the country's people are to all of the countries of the world? There is a close connection between the regions of Quebec and its major urban centres; while the latter represent industrial, commercial and cultural productivity, the former represent food self-sufficiency and the source of life. Most human beings today lead materialistic and urban lives, but they still need to eat three times a day, and always will.
It is in that perspective of continuity of working the land that we must look today at the question of the future of agriculture in Quebec and Canada.
I myself am a farmer. I have worked in this field for the last 25 years, apart from the last two which I have had the privilege of spending in the company of my colleagues here. It is primarily as a person involved in the field of agriculture that I decided to actively enter politics under the banner of the Bloc Québécois. Our 2004 election platform was and still is relevant to the major challenges that Quebec will have to face in agriculture. It is this important challenge and this questioning concerning the next generation of farmers that I come to present in the House of Commons, in the hope that we can find some solutions and societal choices that demonstrate intergenerational solidarity, for the love of our farming community.
When the economy is bad, the first to be discouraged are the job seekers just starting their careers. They are what is commonly called “the next generation”. This phenomenon is even more pronounced in agriculture. Whereas the economic cycles of recession and expansion follow each other almost naturally, farming has had difficult times for too long. Market globalization has enabled farms on the other side of the planet to compete directly with our local producers. Of course, this globalization trend has had certain advantages. It must be acknowledged, however, that the world of agriculture is not as flexible as the electronics or automobile industries. You need land and heavy machinery to produce a harvest. Furthermore, there is no question that this is the only field of production that is dependent with such uncertainty on climatic conditions. With one thing affecting another, the next generation of farmers is not knocking down the door.
The key word has been uttered: “uncertainty”. Our ancestors saw farming as a safe investment marked by stability, but can the same be seriously said today?.Unfortunately, the vocation of agriculture is demanding more and more financial, physical and human resources in order to face growing uncertainty. It is our duty as elected representatives of the people to find solutions that will permit the farming industry of Quebec and Canada to continue to work for the years to come.
The next generation, these young people to whom we have handed down a love of agriculture, needs help. In order for their ambitions to become tangible reality, they need some clear proposals and real solutions to real problems. I shall start, therefore, by drawing as accurate a picture as possible of the agricultural realities.
First, a general comment: there are fewer and fewer farms in Quebec. Between 1996 and 2001, which was a time of economic growth, the number of farms in Quebec fell by 10% to 32,000. In some traditionally agricultural regions, such as the Lower St. Lawrence, the number of farms decreased by as much as 50%. At its annual convention in 2004, the Union des producteurs agricoles adopted the objective of not falling below this historic floor of 32,000 farms in Quebec.
In addition, farmers' incomes are far from increasing at the same rate as the size and value of their farms. According to some studies, the value of one acre of arable land rose from $606 in 1981 to $1,600 in 2001.
The average assets of Quebec farms rose from just under $700,000 in 1997 to $1.12 million in 2002. But net average income of farmers rose only from $34,000 to $39,000 in this same period. That is a considerable concern to the generation that will replace them over the next few years.
In view of the fact that the average age of Canadian farmers is 50, that 35% of Quebec farmers are over 55, and that about 12% of farmers intend to retire next year but 26% of those have no one to take over, there is an urgent need to take action in order to ensure the survival of the agricultural way of life in Quebec and Canada.
As we know, youth is not necessarily synonymous with wealth. One of the basic problems highlighted by the three facts I just outlined is that it is difficult if not impossible for our young people with agricultural ambitions to acquire the basic tools of the modern farmer unless substantial help is forthcoming. Government inaction, reinforced by market forces, will have no other effect than to concentrate agricultural wealth in just a few hands, that is to say, to create “mega-businesses” and “super-farms” that will only discourage small farmers and lock them into a vicious circle leading to the loss of their agricultural heritage and the inevitable end of any possibility of renewal.
That would be the end of a middle class of farmers, the end of family-owned farms on a human scale. That is what we have to avoid for the sake of the future of farming in Quebec and Canada. In order to increase the chances that farmers will be successful, we have to prevent extreme market forces from encouraging only the mammoth operations with their tendency to monoculture at the expense of small farmers and the healthy diversity of their crops.
The Government of Quebec understands the problem. La Financière agricole du Québec has a financial support program for aspiring farmers that provides several different kinds of assistance, including establishment capital grants between $30,000 and $40,000 for students with a degree in agriculture, secure rate establishment loans, in which La Financière caps the interest rates on the first $500,000 that a start-up farming operation borrows, and many advisory services.
For its part, the federal government provides preferential loans, advisory services and a few tax measures that can facilitate the transfer of the family farm from one generation to the next through Farm Credit Canada. But this is not enough. In contrast to the United States, Great Britain and even Quebec, the federal government does not provide any direct, unconditional grants, such as the establishment grants for example.
It is mainly in regard to the federal measures that my party and I wish to elaborate and further enrich the discussion today in order to analyze how we could contribute to the objective established by Quebec farmers, namely preserving 32,000 farms on all the agricultural land. The federal government must do its fair share.
In order for this ambitious objective to be achieved, an additional 400 young people will have to set themselves up in agriculture in order to create 900 to 1,100 new farms a year, according to figures provided by the UPA. In order to do this, there are three critical areas on which we will have to focus: taxation, savings and cooperation.
The tax problem is related to the problem of selling and buying a farm. When farmers are ready to retire, the financial problem is not as much that taxes are due on the sale of their property as the difficulty of finding a purchaser whose offer is close to the market value of the farm. Since the market value of farms has increased substantially—as we just pointed out—and there are not very many purchasers in the next generation because of a lack of resources and financial supports, farmers have to dismantle their farms, more often than not, which forces them to pay more taxes and does nothing to help transfer the farm to future generations.
In order to increase the benefit of transferring a farm as opposed to dismantling it, would it not be advisable—and this is the Bloc Québécois's first proposal regarding taxation—to increase the allowable capital gains deduction for agricultural property from $500,000 to $1 million for the sale of a farm operation to another farmer?
This would allow farmers who sell their property to avoid having to pay too much in taxes because of a lack of potential buyers, and it would also encourage hesitant young people to go into farming.
In other words, since taxes paid on transactions would decrease, this measure would allow the seller to dispose of his assets at a lower price while guaranteeing him the same amount of money and encouraging young people to go into farming. Basically, if we want to encourage, from a taxation point of view, the transferring rather than the dismantling of agricultural property, we have to increase the gap between the rates that apply to transfers and dismantling respectively. Some conditions could be set. For example, the proposal in the case of a farm that remains in operation could be set at 75%. This would have the effect of preventing speculators from taking advantage of the system.
Moreover, as we know, unlike other taxpayers, a person who operates a farm can, without paying taxes, transfer directly to his children and to the children of his children some of his agricultural property. In order to encourage a larger number of young people to go into farming, why not extend the application of the rules governing rollovers to other members of the immediate family under 40 years of age? If we did that, some brother, sister, niece, nephew or cousin would very likely be interested in taking over the family heritage.
Two simple measures that could provide a win-win situation for both the purchaser and the vendor.
The second problem, as we see it, after taxation, is savings for farmers. If we want to attract newcomers to farming, we have to be able to encourage them to plan for their retirement, despite the numerous investments and expenses they will run into for starting up and running their business. Since a farmer's income fluctuates and they are not all able to contribute to an RRSP, why not set up a farm transfer savings plan to allow farmers to build up a tax-sheltered retirement fund? The governments could make a contribution, like they do for registered education savings plans. Such contributions could be conditional on maintaining the farm.
In that same vein, we could also amend the rules of the Home Buyer's Plan so that a young farmer could use his existing RRSP to acquire the farm, which would usually come with a home. This fourth measure would be feasible only if the maximum HBP withdrawal were increased.
Finally, after the taxation and savings that will help young farmers socially and economically, we feel that it is important to set an objective right away in regard to cooperation between farm organizations and government stakeholders. The effect would be to channel their activities in a more coherent way toward the renewal of the farming generations.
Since Quebec and the provinces are the levels of government closest to the farming world in regard to funding and services that promote the renewal of agriculture, it seems reasonable to suggest that the federal government should transfer a recurring envelope to the Government of Quebec and the other provinces to help the next generation of farmers.
The Government of Quebec could use this envelope for a number of next-generation-related purposes: extending the availability of the start-up subsidy; improving interest rate protection and increasing eligibility ceilings; providing more generous grants for young people who are starting up a farm; and setting up some sort of structure such as a single window providing information on farms without a next generation and young farmers without a farm.
It is possible to have a voice, to ensure that there will a next generation of farmers. But to ensure a future for farming and our youth, it is imperative for government to take action. We cannot just let things slide. The people have given us not just a mandate to represent them but also the power. And the power means the opportunity to use the means at our disposal to take action and influence the course of events. It is up to us, as the political stakeholders, to do what is necessary to ensure that the path from the farm to the fork is not closed to future generations.