Debates of June 16th, 2009
House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was theft.
- Question Period
- Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
- Interparliamentary Delegations
- Committees of the House
- Valcartier Military Base Act
- Income Tax Act
- Emergency Services Appreciation Day Act
- Divorce Act
- Peary Polar Expedition
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Maa-nulth First Nations Final Agreement Act
- Criminal Code
- Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour
- Health Care Professionals
- Gaby Bouvrette
- Equal Shared Parenting
- IAAF World Junior Championships in Athletics
- Crime Prevention
- Students from Marcellin-Champagnat Secondary School
- Cenotaph Vandalism
- Gatineau Seniors' Support Centre
- Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
- Veronyk Wilson
- Firearms Registry
- Grand défi Pierre Lavoie Challenge
- The Economy
- Employment Insurance
- Conservative Government
- Employment Insurance
- Medical Isotopes
- The Economy
- Medical Isotopes
- Bisphenol A
- Employment Insurance
- The Environment
- Conservative Government
- Product Labelling
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Lobster Industry
- Status of Women
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Points of Order
- Criminal Code
- Business of the House
- Criminal Code
- Business of Supply
- Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, you may wonder what this has to do with identity theft. The overall crime fighting agenda of the government is certainly in issue. I want to pay homage both to my friend from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca and my predecessor, Claudette Bradshaw, who, in founding Headstart in greater Moncton, was very aware of the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome.
The justice committee heard from police forces across the country and during its visits to western police authorities. They said that the prevention of crime was a huge issue. To find the people who are afflicted with this, treat them, intervene and integrate them into society as early as possible is clearly the best way to get away from crimes such as identity theft, car theft and all the other things we have talked about happening at a later stage.
Clearly the member is on the right track. A responsible and passionate government would be proactively thinking about early intervention, child care and early childhood development. So far I have heard very little from the Conservative government in this respect. It thinks that every middle-class parent who chooses to keep his or her child at home is a good thing. I was one of those children growing up. It is not a bad thing but it is not the whole picture.
A whole segment of society has been left out, which, in some cases, gets involved with crime. It would be so much better for the government, the ministers in the front row, to be aware of how to combat crime. The answer is getting to it early.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, I noticed one very important point that I thought should be brought to our attention. The RCMP normally takes the view that this is a civil matter. I have lots of examples of credit card theft. The person goes to the RCMP, is told to take a number, that 20 people have been in before the individual and it will get around to it when it gets around to it because it is a civil matter.
To the extent that this bill would give the RCMP more powers to get involved in this kind of activity is a very good thing and we should proceed with it as quickly as possible. When people who do this kind of stuff realize there are really no consequences, they will repeat what worked for them the first time.
Could the member further his comments on that?
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, I agree that moving this from the realm of a civil dispute to an activity covered by the Criminal Code puts the onus on the police to investigate it and prefer charges.
It delves into another issue that is prevalent, though. The government has promised more resources and officers. Its answer seems to be that it gave the money to the provinces and it is their problem if policemen are not on the streets. However, there is an underlying issue with respect to police forces across the country, which is recruitment and retention.
We are not the government on this side yet and we have to tell the government there is a problem. The Minister of Justice had better start talking to the Minister of Public Safety to ensure all the laws are promulgated and can be adequately serviced by police forces across the country. I hear that they are not adequately resourced and there are issues with respect to recruitment and retention, which the government is not addressing, and that is a shame.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the office of my party’s whip for allowing me to spend the next 20 minutes speaking to an exciting bill about identity theft.
This bill is a singular phenomenon in our legislative process. It came from the Senate first. I do not understand why the government did not lay it before this House and the dynamic Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. True, we do have a number of bills to analyze, but it seems to me that it would have been a sign of great deference if we, in our capacity as agents, as representatives and spokespeople for the public, could have had this bill laid before us first.
Identity theft is on the rise in Canada as it is in other countries. This phenomenon can produce some extremely awkward situations for our fellow citizens. Only this morning, I met someone whose credit card had been cloned. Someone had thus had $5,000 stolen from their credit card. It is easy to imagine not only how insecure this can make a person feel, but also what problems they may have in resolving the situation with the financial institutions. Even though most of them agree to reimburse a person who has been the victim of what is, to say the least, a distressing act, it is still an extremely difficult thing to experience and resolve.
The purpose of Bill S-4, which went first to the Senate before being introduced in the House, is to combat identity theft. When we talk about identity theft, we are talking about the unauthorized collecting and use of personal information, ordinarily for criminal purposes. This is nominative information, such as name, date of birth, address, credit card number, social insurance number, or any other personal identification number that can be used to open a bank account, obtain a credit card, have mail forwarded, subscribe to a cell phone service, lease a vehicle or equipment or an office, and even get a job.
With its usual wisdom and judgment, the Bloc Québécois will support this bill, which seems to it to be reasonable and to properly represent Quebec’s interests. We are opposed to bills that do not reflect the values and aspirations of Quebec. We fiercely oppose any bill that attempts to intrude into areas under provincial jurisdiction.
Bill S-4 will mainly create three new offences. First, obtaining and possessing another person’s identity information with the intent of using it in a misleading, deceitful or fraudulent manner in the commission of a crime is an offence liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years. Trafficking in identity information is the second offence. Here we are talking about an offence that targets people who sell information to a third party, knowing or being reckless as to whether it might be used for criminal purposes. The third offence, in addition to obtaining and possessing identity information or trafficking in identity information, relates to possession or illegally trafficking in identity documents issued by the government or that contain information about another person.
Those are the three main offences created by Bill S-4. I would note again that identity theft and the use of personal information for purposes other than those consented to by the person for whom it is intended are on the rise in Canada.
This certainly has to do with the development of our means of communication and new technologies.
Other changes have been made to the bill. If I had my druthers, I would be talking about the conflict in the Middle East, but I am afraid it would not be relevant to what we are debating here and so I will not.
The Criminal Code provides for other offences under Bill S-4. A new offence of redirecting mail or causing it to be redirected is created.
There is also the new offence of the possession of a Canada Post mail key. Such a key would obviously be counterfeit.
Additional forgery offences are proposed, such as trafficking in forged documents and the possession of forged documents with intent to use them.
Another new offence is the re-naming of personation, which is called identity fraud.
The final offence that is added is a further refinement of the meaning of fraudulently personating another person.
I think it is probably my responsibility to mention that the bill provides for two exceptions which shield people from forgery charges if they produce counterfeit documents for secret government operations. This protects public servants who shadow people, engage in electronic eavesdropping or infiltrate groups. These public servants would be protected under this bill when they are tasked by responsible law enforcement agencies with creating and using secret identities in connection with their jobs. If they are hauled before the courts for unauthorized duplication, counterfeiting, forgery, or the appropriation someone’s personality, they have a defence that will make them immune.
The Bloc Québécois does not doubt that this bill is necessary. There is even a burning need for it. We all know people among our friends or in our families who have experienced unauthorized use of their credit card or debit card or some other people who have had their identity appropriated for nefarious ends.
Identity theft is becoming very widespread. The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimated that consumers, banks, credit card companies, stores and other businesses lost $2.5 billion as a result of identity theft or the cloning of credit cards or other cash substitutes of this kind.
In 2006, Phone Busters received some 7,800 calls from victims of identity theft reporting total losses of over $16 million for themselves or for businesses. The scope of the problem is apparent.
According to a survey Ipsos-Reid did in 2006, one Canadian in four—so about 25% of the population or 5.7 million Canadians—said they had been a victim of identity theft.
We might wonder why we need the Criminal Code to fight identity theft effectively.
When it is a matter of organized crime, importing and exporting stolen vehicles, drugs, when lengthy investigations are necessary, when we want to address the smuggling of certain products, then we can understand that criminal law is probably the best route under the circumstances. But when it comes to identity theft, credit card cloning and phenomena that often have to do with ownership or the real ownership of identity papers, might civil law not be the better route?
The former Privacy Commissioner told a House of Commons committee that the real solution to identity theft would require civil sanctions. She said:
Civil sanctions... are very easy to prove and easy for citizens [to understand].
She was of course referring to civil law as opposed to criminal law. As we know, criminal law is far more complex because, for each offence, there must be proof that the individual not only intended to plan or to take a criminally reprehensible action, which is termed mens rea, but also actually performed that act, which is termed actus reus. In civil law, the proof is far easier to establish, because it is not proof beyond all reasonable doubt, but proof by balance of probability.
The Privacy Commissioner said:
Civil sanctions... are very easy to prove and easy for citizens [to understand]. Small claims courts [there is one in Quebec and I imagine also in English Canada]...may provide a more easily accessible deterrent to the growing industry of ID theft. This means, of course, that I think the federal government has to work closely with the provinces, because a lot of what happens in terms of ID theft falls within provincial jurisdiction.
This poses a problem, because on matters of civil law, the federal government needs to work closely with the provinces, especially Quebec. Quebec is not only the main place where French is spoken in Canada, but also the only province with a civil law system.
That means that the government will have to be flexible, courteous, kind, open and skilful. I must say that these are not qualities the government has been known for in intergovernmental relations.
We need only consider the cavalier way in which the federal government treated Quebec's demand for financial compensation in connection with the harmonization of the sales tax and the GST. The National Assembly of Quebec had even passed a unanimous motion. We need only look at how the government has handled cultural issues and the reconveyance of land adjacent to the National Assembly of Quebec and on the Plains of Abraham.
This is a government that has chosen the federalism of confrontation. It has chosen to be completely insensitive to complaints and, in some cases, even demands that were unanimously supported by the National Assembly of Quebec.
We could go on and on about the Conservative government's insensitivity to the provinces' complaints. If my colleague, the likeable and charming member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, were here, he would certainly give the example of the Kyoto protocol, which has to do with greenhouse gases, and the battle that Quebec and the National Assembly of Quebec waged together. We repeatedly called on the government to honour the promise made by former Prime Minister Chrétien and the treaty he had signed, so as to respect the efforts of a number of industries that had fought very effectively against greenhouse gases.
But the government did not want to respect the strategy of the Government of Quebec.
We need only think of Senate reform. We know that Quebec's National Assembly is worried about Senate reform. We can certainly have different complaints about this institution given that it is not a democratic chamber. We might also say that the Senate is an outdated institution that is ill-suited to a modern parliamentary system. However, we cannot act unilaterally.
The former intergovernmental affairs minister in the Quebec National Assembly, Benoît Pelletier, was my professor of constitutional law. I remember his lectures with a great deal of nostalgia. He was a very good professor and I was a very good student. I remember that the course was on Mondays at 8:30 a.m., too early in some respects. Professor Pelletier would arrive and was able to present his material in a very interesting and lively way. I owe my considerable knowledge of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to him.
Naturally we had differences of opinion and I exercised my prerogative as a student to express mine in the middle of a class on the unilateral repatriation of the 1982 Constitution which, as you know, was opposed by the Quebec National Assembly. Even the former leader of the Liberal party, Claude Ryan, who could hardly be suspected of sympathizing with the sovereignists, had joined with the Quebec National Assembly to denounce the extremely cavalier way in which the matter had been handled.
All that to say that the Senate and the Quebec National Assembly do not want us to review the selection process for judges unless the provinces can formally participate. We know that the role of the Senate, the upper chamber, is to provide the necessary regional balance within the federation.
A little while ago, I was giving a tour of the House to some visitors from Australia, and I believe I explained to them why the House of Commons has a green carpet and the Senate has a red one. First of all, the Senate is the chamber of the monarchy. The Queen never sets foot in the House of Commons. She instead goes to the Senate, as does her representative, the Governor General, who goes to the Senate to ratify legislation.
This is done in the Senate, and not in the House of Commons. The House of Commons is the house of the people, and traditionally, the green symbolizes the meadows, which is where the people first gathered to oppose the monarchy they felt was too authoritarian and self-congratulatory.
These are examples of how the government did not listen to what we would have liked it to hear from Quebec regarding Senate reforms, the GST or cultural issues. I do not want to skip too quickly over the issue of culture.
The current government chose to recognize Quebec as a nation. We know that Quebec is a nation: we have our own history; we have our own vernacular, the French language; we have a different legal system; we have common aspirations; and we have control over institutions and territory. Those are the main characteristics of a nation. The government recognized Quebec as a nation, but in the absence of concrete action to back this up, we have trouble seeing how we can take it seriously.
I remind the House that the member for Joliette, the Bloc Québécois House leader, is an extremely eloquent man, who shows restraint at all times and is not known for excess. Except, perhaps, when it comes to food. But in general, he is an exceptionally controlled man. Now, when the member for Joliette introduced a bill calling for federally regulated companies to comply with Bill 101, we would have liked to have the support of the government and the official opposition. That would have been a very nice recognition of the fact that Quebec is a nation.
Since my time has expired, I will be pleased to respond to any questions my colleagues might have.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's speech was good as usual, although this time I have some differences to take up with him on some of his points.
When people are victims of identity theft or credit card abuses, they are already under a lot of stress when they find out about this issue. Then when they go to the police, they are told that it is a civil matter, that they need to take a number and they will be dealt with at some point.
When the member suggests perhaps there is some body of evidence out there that perhaps civil courts could handle issues like this, in real terms people will not be encouraged or happy to be told that. They will have to take someone to small claims court, but if it is an identity theft situation, they may not even know the person who stole the identity in the first place.
Another issue is the credit card companies do not want to tell people what happened with their cases. They put the cone of silence around the situation and do not report back to them, so they may never know who used their cards. We should require credit card companies to report back to people and let them know who did what and give a resolution of the case.
It is very important we have this federal legislation so the police forces cannot step aside—
The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer
The hon. member for Hochelaga.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, there are two parts to the question raised by my colleague. There is of course the evidence I quoted, given by the former Privacy Commissioner, who found that it would no doubt be more effective to resort to civil law in matters of personal information and transactions, and that this is closer to a civil reality than a commercial reality. In that regard, I agree with the former Privacy Commissioner's testimony.
It is also true that identity theft could lead to criminal prosecution. That is why this bill has been introduced by the Department of Justice. When such offences occur, the crown attorney must lay charges and sentences are handed down, the maximum of which is 10 years. Obviously, we agree that the Criminal Code has a role to play in a number of circumstances.
As for the notion of financial institutions disclosing the identity of the guilty parties, that cannot be resolved through the Criminal Code, but rather through internal regulations and practices established by the financial institutions.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for a wide-ranging discussion. I agree that the option to proceed civilly would be good. There should be criminal charges of course, but to proceed civilly would also give the defendant the chance to recoup some of his or her money if he or she did not get it civilly.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce suggested that another offence be added to the bill, and that was impersonating another person with the intent to solely obtain information pertaining to that person. Does the member agree with that suggestion?
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, when we talk about the crime of personation as identity theft, part of this bill could definitely satisfy the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. It was my understanding that this amendment was proposed by the Senate. We can examine this in committee to see just how far the scope of this offence extends, but I think it is pretty close to what the hon. member for Yukon has suggested.
Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Hochelaga, who gave us an eloquent exposé on the bill and on the current relations between the Quebec government and federal government.
I have three short questions I would like to put to him. First, does he think that we should follow the example of the United States, where, currently, the rate of fraud through identity theft is the highest?
Second, could legislation of this type apply to the identity theft people face with health insurance cards, in Quebec in particular? This type of fraud is widespread and costs the government dearly. Could the government make use of this legislation to eliminate this scourge?
My last question to him concerns civil law compared with criminal law. I have the impression that, in civil law, the sentences are always less harsh and the punishment less severe and that civil law would not discourage people from committing identity theft to the same extent as criminal law.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, as regards the last part of the question, it is true that in civil law there is greater likelihood of a fine being imposed than imprisonment and that punishment is generally less severe when the trial takes place before the Quebec court, for example, or in a civil proceeding rather than a criminal one.
I am less familiar with the American example. There was a small explanatory note on the American model, but because I do not have in-depth knowledge of it I am going to reserve judgment, with my colleague's permission, to avoid stepping off the path of prudence I usually follow when I do not know something.
As to health insurance, in my opinion, it would be covered by this sort of bill since it concerns nominative information. The provisions of the bill could be used to instigate proceedings.
Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC
Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons people commit identity theft is to get resources for illicit purposes. One of the underlying reasons is the individual may have a substance abuse problem. Studies show that an addict steals about $250,000 in various ways, including identity theft, then turns around and sells that information for about $50,000.
The North American opiate medication initiative is a very exciting project that has been going on in Vancouver. Recently there has been an extension to that called SALOME, which is a long-term narcotics substitution program. This program is taking place in Montreal.
Does my colleague think that communities across Canada that would like to have narcotic substitution programs should be able to have them and by so doing the ties between an addict and crime, particularly theft, would be severed?
June 16th, 2009 / 4:25 p.m.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. In a few years, when I am no longer in this House and I think of my years as a parliamentarian. I will always recall his originality in suggesting links that do not immediately spring to mind. Let us put it that way.
Quite honestly, I never thought that identity theft and the search for identity information could be driven by substance abuse problems. I do not have a lot of information on the program to which he referred and do not know if it exists in Montreal.
However, the member's question reassures me that I understand what he is, and that is a humanitarian who wants to make sure legislation is never excessive and who can always be counted on to defend the most disadvantaged. It is most certainly all to his credit.
The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, CBC; the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Don Valley West, Sri Lanka.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill S-4, a substantial irritation in my emotional level. I say that because the bill and this problem has been around the House for way too long a period of time. It has been delayed repeatedly by the government in spite of the reality of the problem for the whole of the country. Large numbers of people are suffering very negative consequences from identity theft criminal acts.
I want to go through it because it bothers me that the government pretends to be strong on crime and says that it will fight it in every way, but the bill is a classic example of how it is attempting to mislead the public in that regard.
The bill was introduced in the last Parliament to address the issue. It has had some amendments since then. It was knocked off its normal rotation because of prorogation by the government in September 2007. It was reintroduced when Parliament reopened. It went through the process of first and second reading. It was sent to the justice committee by March 2008, at which point, we were confronted with a justice committee that no longer functioned because the Conservative chair refused to call meetings or when he called meetings, he would abruptly get up and leave the chair and nobody would replace him. That went on until the summer of 2008 and early fall, when again the government stopped Parliament by calling an election against long-term promise by the Prime Minister not to do that.
We came back after the election and we were into a whole battle over conduct of the government in terms of not seriously addressing the fiscal crisis that both this country and countries internationally were confronting. Then we had another prorogation in December 2008.
We came back after the prorogation and what did we see? We saw this bill, not coming to the House, not to the elected chamber in our Parliament, but going to the unelected chamber down the hall, where it sat. Finally it was sent over here earlier this week.
The bill should have been law by the end of 2007, at least the initial issues that we were addressing, even without the amendments. At the rate we are going, it is not going to be law until sometime near the end of 2009. All of that delay is because of the government.
It is quite clear that the Conservatives cannot claim they did not know how serious the problem of identity theft was in the country. The member from Alberta on the government side introduced a private member's on this issue in a very concrete and extensive way. Unfortunately, it was not the appropriate mechanism to deal with a problem of this size. However, that bill is almost three years old. Therefore, in a very clear and irrefutable way the House has known about this problem for at least three years. It knew what we needed to do about it, as well, in terms of a legislative response.
The Criminal Code, as it is right now, is inadequate to deal with the identity theft problem. We have provisions in the code around forgery, impersonation, creating false documents, but they are a reflection of a technology and a societal norm that is 40 or 50 years out of date for the current situation we have. The ability, for instance, to manufacture large numbers of credit cards is a technology that has only existed for about 10 years. The ability to get personal identification numbers, or PINs, credit card numbers and other identification numbers electronically and in large volume has only been possible as the Internet developed, realistically the last five years.
We knew for at least three years, though I would say any of us working in this area at all knew for much longer than that. The government certainly knew, the Department of Justice knew, and our police forces knew. In spite of all that knowledge, here we are today in the House debating this bill at second reading once again.
The bill itself in fact addresses a number of the issues. When the bill was in Parliament last time, my party was prepared to support it, as far as it went. Its inadequacies are some of the areas it does not touch on.
We heard the question earlier from the member for Yukon about whether it adequately addresses the issue, in the 21st century, of mechanisms one can use to steal an identity from someone and impersonate that person. We will know better once we hear from some more of the experts, but the answer to that question is that it probably does not. I am not sure this bill goes far enough to address that issue. It does in part, and I will credit the government for that, but I am not sure it does fully.
There are some good provisions in the bill. We heard questions today around the difficulty of dealing with identity theft in our civil courts, which has been a real problem in terms of their ability to deal with it, but mostly on the part of the individual who has been wronged to be able to identify the person who stole the identity and profited from it to the victim's disadvantage.
Again being critical of the government, there are not adequate police resources deployed in this area. It is interesting that the approach of the government has always been to concentrate on what it calls serious crime, but it is usually stereotypical of criminals who are drug addicts or other addicts, or have serious mental health problems, who commit violent acts.
If we look at the bills that we have gone through, almost innumerable since the Conservative government has been in power, I do not think we could point to more than one bill that addresses white-collar crime. That is mostly what we are talking about. This has a major impact on many lives, but as I said earlier, we are four or five years behind where we should be down that road.
I say that not only because of the inadequacies, and at times, incompetencies of the government, but we also have to look at it in comparison to what other jurisdictions have done. Western Europe has developed technological levels the same as ours. The United States, Australia and New Zealand are way ahead of us in dealing with the issue of identity theft, ahead by at least half a decade, in some cases as much as a decade. We are playing catch-up to a very strong degree, and we are not doing it well because of the manoeuvring of the government.
With regard to the ability of our police officers to deal with investigations in this area, it is extremely limited. A number of them do not have sufficient training, but overall, there simply are not enough police officers in this country to deal with this problem. They need additional training. They do not get it when they go through their basic training to become police officers, whether that be the RCMP, or provincial or municipal police officers. They need quite extensive additional education in order to be able to combat this crime at the police level.
I know from talking to prosecutors that they feel that they need additional resources to prosecute adequately. Some of those resources are in the form of changes to the Criminal Code and they are, again to the credit of the government, reflected in some of the amendments that we would be passing if Bill S-4 eventually goes through. In terms of the financial resources, they are clearly not there in sufficient numbers.
When this bill went through the Senate, I believe it received either five or seven amendments. A couple of them seemed to be, on the surface, just very technical amendments. One was changing the singular to the plural, but I think there was something more there. So that will be one of the issues we will have to address at committee.
In the provisions, the government empowered our criminal courts to make restitution orders not only for the costs of the proceedings but also the direct losses suffered by a victim of identity crimes, including compensation for replacing all the documentation they have to replace.
In some cases, it can be very significant compensation. For instance, if someone is in the process of trying to obtain a mortgage, their identity is stolen and their name shows up on a debtors list through some of the credit-granting agencies, they may lose their mortgage, and by the time they get it straightened out, they may have lost the real estate transaction and thereby suffer quite severely. It could be thousands, and in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars in damages by the time they straighten it all out and purchase a new building, which by then would be valued higher. They would have taken a real financial hit.
The section that would be amended with regard to restitution would allow an individual to show that evidence to a criminal court and have them order the perpetrator of the crime to compensate the person.
I am sure as people are listening they are thinking that in most cases they would not expect to be able to collect that money back, but the reality with a great deal of identity theft is that, in fact, it is perpetrated by organized crime. So if the individual can be identified, and more importantly, the gang, the organized crime unit, there may be a reasonable opportunity for getting those damages back. The proposed restitution amendment is very appropriate and could turn out to be quite a valuable tool.
With regard to the other sections, the principle sections, creating the offence of identity theft is absolutely crucial. Again, our Criminal Code is so far out of date with regard to the type of criminal activity that is going on here that it is just impossible to use for identity theft as it is being performed now. That is very important, and we are quite supportive of that.
Creating greater penalties and clearer offences for creating identity documents, whether those be ones issued by the government or some other level of government or documents of a commercial nature that would identify a person, in all cases I think these amendments catch that type of activity and clearly make it a crime with appropriate penalties attached.
One of the amendments that came from the Senate was a five-year review that was not in the bill that the government had originally presented. I think that is probably an appropriate amendment, one that we can support. Unfortunately, as so often happens with those reviews, they get done much later than when they are scheduled, in part because the justice committee is so busy. However, we would support that.
I want to address a few comments to the inadequacies of the bill, in particular in the real estate area. I have had some contact with individuals who work in that area. We have had a number of quite notorious cases in Ontario.
In fact, there was a court judgment that I think the average citizen was shocked by, where a couple had bought a condo in the Toronto area and were in residence for I think it was 17 years, but someone else, a criminal, forged documents, created a false identity, went into a lawyer's office and signed documents that put a very large mortgage on that condo, I think it was $200,000, impersonating the real owners. Ultimately this was discovered. The bank took action against the owner. It came out clearly that it was a situation where they had not participated at all in the fraud, but a court in Ontario ruled that in fact the mortgage could be enforced against them.
This ultimately required, I believe, an amendment to the legislation in Ontario retroactively to prevent the consequences of that decision. However, that type of ruling could in fact happen in other provinces, as I understand the situation today.
Bill S-4 does not address that issue at all, as I see it. Again, that is why it is crucial for this to go to committee. Unless I hear opposite from legal experts there, I think this is an area where we need to buttress the bill and put additional provisions in to make it very clear what the penalties will be if that kind of fraud is perpetrated, but also to protect valid legal homeowners and business interests as well.
I have heard from title insurance people in Ontario that there is a current section in the Criminal Code that addresses this in part, but it is way out of date. They are looking for amendments in that regard. It is one of the ones that I think we would have to try to convince the government to support and bring those people in to indicate what the situation is.
I can say that this issue has occupied a significant amount of time of the law societies across all provinces and territories. They have spent, I would say, the better part of the last 10 years trying to get some reasonable controls in place so that type of abuse does not occur.
Lawyers in Ontario, as recently as this past year, have had imposed upon them much greater responsibility to ensure that the person who is sitting at their desk signing legal documents is in fact that person and not pretending to be someone else.
That has taken a great deal of effort by all the law societies. We do not know yet whether it is going to be successful in terms of preventing these types of frauds, but that is what the provinces have done.
Correspondingly, we need to do more at the federal level in the Criminal Code. I think the section of the code that deals with this area and is not addressed at all in the bill, from what I can see, needs to be strengthened quite significantly.
Once we hear more evidence on this, and I am not sure what happened at the Senate as to whether it addressed this problem, I think we are going to find that the whole issue of impersonation appears not to be dealt with strongly enough. We will probably have to look for some amendments to strengthen the bill there.
I will make one final point. We have heard from the banking system and credit card granting companies that they are very interested in coming forward. I am left with the impression that they think there is additional work that needs to be done on Bill S-4 to strengthen it, to try to prevent these types of crimes from happening. Again, it is very important for this to go to the committee for that purpose.
We will be supporting the bill in principle going to the committee, hopefully to strengthen it there and bring it back for third reading and passage and finally get this into place, in spite of all the delays we have had from the government.