House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was years.

Topics

Passport Fees
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, my petition calls upon the Canadian government to negotiate with the United States government to reduce the United States and Canadian passport fees. American tourists visiting Canada are at their lowest levels since 1972. It has fallen by five million people in the last seven years, from 16 million in 2002 to only 11 million in 2009.

Passport fees for multiple member families are a significant barrier to traditional cross-border family vacations, and the cost of passports for an American family of four can be over $500. While over half of Canadians have passports, only 25% of Americans have passports.

At the Midwestern Legislative Conference of the Council of State Governments, attended by myself and 500 other elected representatives from 11 border states and 3 provinces, a resolution was passed unanimously and reads, be it:

RESOLVED, that [the] Conference calls on President Barack Obama and [the] Prime Minister...to immediately examine a reduced fee for passports to facilitate cross-border tourism;

...we encourage the governments to examine the idea of a limited time two-for-one passport renewal or new application; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this resolution be submitted to appropriate federal, state and provincial officials.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

October 5th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker Ms. Denise Savoie

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for fraud), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, today I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Newton—North Delta.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-21, particularly given the importance of white collar crime in this country. Over the last few years we have seen more and more of these cases. The Canadian securities administrators note that at least 5% of adult Canadians have been affected in one way or another by this white collar crime situation and that over one-third of these large numbers of victims of fraud are seniors who have invested money and who have obviously been misled. These people take the money and often it is not recoverable.

We also note with interest that corporations have estimated that between 2% and 6% of their annual profits are affected by white collar crime. Over the last few decades this has totalled billions and billions of dollars, so both the average individual in this country and corporations are affected by the activities of these fraudsters who clearly prey, in many cases as I have indicated, on seniors and the most vulnerable in our society.

We welcome the government's legislation, finally, on this and obviously support it going to committee to be reviewed. This legislation has a minimum mandatory sentence of imprisonment for two years for fraud valued at over $1 million. We could get into the issue of where people stand on mandatory minimums, but the reality is that the courts need to be much tougher on these individuals who prey on the most vulnerable and who clearly take people's life savings.

There have been cases recently where these situations have occurred and have caused great personal trauma for people, the Jones case in Quebec, for example. People believe that the individual before them is a reputable individual who tells them they will be able to invest their hard-earned money in certain investments for their retirement. Yet it turns out that they are victimized, and the penalties are not tough enough.

Not only do we have to look at the penalties but we have to look at prevention. How do we stop the fact that 2% to 6% of corporation profits are lost? How do we stop the fact that 5% of Canadians have been victimized? The committee will have to examine it, but it is not simply about the penalties; it has to be about how we can do better in terms of dealing with these kinds of individuals who are preying on our society.

Prevention is obviously important. The bill does not address the issue of the end of the one-sixth accelerated parole provisions for these offenders, which the opposition has called for and certainly the public has called for. There is absolutely no reason why this provision should still be there, and we hope the committee will deal with that issue. That is one of the shortcomings we see in this proposed legislation.

There is no question that the legislation has been a long time coming. It would have been dealt with earlier by the previous legislation that was introduced before Parliament was prorogued. Now we have new legislation, Bill C-21.

The Earl Jones case in Quebec and the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme in the United States are examples of the kind of individuals out there who prey on people and why we need to have tougher legislation. We need to have legislation, in my view, that not only includes the mandatory minimum but also deals with the sentencing issue and the psychological and financial impact on individuals.

The legislation permits victim impact statements after sentencing, but just as it is with an individual who is a victim of a mugging or an offence of that nature, the psychological impacts and the financial impacts in this case are quite significant, which is important. It is important that the courts look at those victim impact statements as well, to see obviously what mitigating factors were involved, but these things have a very long-term effect.

Constituents in my riding of Richmond Hill have been victims of white collar crime, and some of these people are still feeling the effects 10 years later. They should not, but they blame themselves in many cases and ask how they could have been taken in by this individual, how they could have been so gullible. Therefore, they ask what the penalties are, and often it is simply a slap on the wrist, and this is why the mandatory minimum is obviously important. But, it is also important to look at those community impact statements as well.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has indicated its support for this. The Canadian Bar Association has concerns about the mandatory minimum issue, but again we need to deal with the reasons for white collar crimes. We need to deal with what the regulations are. One of the issues the House has been dealing with as well is the issue of the securities commissions, the fact that we have 13 across Canada and the issue of a national regulator. When I was parliamentary secretary to two ministers of finance, we promoted the idea of a national regulator. The government is again talking about a national regulator. It is important because, in trying to keep track of investments and the fact that if people overseas are looking at investing in Canada, it does not make a lot of sense that we have 13 bodies. But there are other issues. There are about 50 entities as well that are also involved in the issue of regulations, as well as dealing with the issues of enforcement, investigation, coordination, et cetera. We have a very bureaucratic system, which is often why these kinds of cases slip through the cracks and why these people are able to advance their particular agenda on individuals who unwittingly fall victim to this.

On the issue of recouping of dollars, when people have taken the money how do we get the money back, if any of it is recoupable? How do we get that in terms of where they have put it? Have they put it offshore? Have they simply spent it? What are the tough penalties to deal with individuals who do this?

In my riding there was an elderly lady who had invested $10,000 with someone she thought was a reliable individual, and unfortunately she never recouped that $10,000. When people are elderly and that kind of savings is gone, it has a tremendous impact. The question again is, what are we doing as legislators not only to deal with the proponents who are involved in this kind of white collar crime activity but as well to prevent it? How can we be tougher in terms of the regulations? How can we be tougher in terms of monitoring? Those are the kinds of things that people want to see. The bill deals with part of that, but it does not deal enough on the prevention side. I hope the committee will do more with that.

The victim restitution issue is obviously going to be extremely important because again that is something that at the end result people are most concerned about, in terms of how that impacted on individuals and their families and their community. How do we get the word out of what happens to these people? Some would argue that a minimum of two years is not strong enough, but from the Liberals' standpoint we do believe that there need to be strong provisions put in place, and if we had not prorogued we probably would have had this a lot earlier. But we have to move quickly on a bill of this nature because this addresses an issue in our society, which is becoming more rampant. When we think of 5% of Canadian adults who have been in one way victimized by white collar crime, that is quite significant. I look forward to future deliberations on this.

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, obviously Canadians welcome greater measures in our laws, policies and programs to protect them from shysters, but one area the bill does not address is one of the largest categories of fraud, which impacts on the public market and the public, and that is environmental fraud.

When I worked in Bangladesh, I discovered that in Asia the government regularly brings fraud charges under its criminal code against major polluters. There have been recent serious cases in my own province of industry filing false reports on pollution. This is not a minor blip or technical matter. Our entire environmental regulatory system is based on self-reporting and if companies do not self-report, there can be significant harm to human health and the environment.

I am wondering if the member could speak to whether the bill should cover a much broader area, including environmental crimes, and in that case, who would speak on behalf of the community in the court.

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, as a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment, I welcome the question. My personal view is that yes, it should be broader. It should deal with those kinds of issues. There are jurisdictions where this in fact takes place. She mentioned Asia, and Japan is another example.

This is a type of fraud, although obviously a different type, one that not only has a major impact on the community but can have significant financial implications as well. Environmental false reporting or fraud is an issue that the committee would certainly have to look at, but there are examples in Japan and Singapore where these in fact are on the books and could be very useful.

Who speaks for the community? That is a good question. Both interest groups in the community at large and we as legislators have to put some teeth into legislation that sends a strong message to companies that we do not want it to occur and if it happens there will be penalties. We have to speak with a very loud voice because, whether the pollution is in rivers or fields, the fact is that it is having health effects. Those are implications that need to be addressed.

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the member talked about a single regulator. With his experience in the previous government with financial matters and being from the centre of the financial universe, the greater metropolitan Toronto area, he would have some experience in giving an answer to this question.

Why is the government behind the United States with respect to the self-regulation of securities, with respect to cracking down on fraudsters, and why does this bill have no response, for instance, to the type of rampant Madoff situations that occur in the United States? Even though the Conservative government emulates the United States in so many ways in its style of politics, why is it so far behind the U.S. regulatory and punitive regime with respect to securities?

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, it partly comes down to political will. It also comes down to the fact that we seem to always be bogged down in jurisdictional issues. There are not only 13 regulators but 50 other bodies involved in the co-ordination, investigation, et cetera. The fact is that this is one area where Parliament needs to act very strongly because the ability for these things to slip through the cracks is very evident.

I do not know of too many countries, in fact I cannot remember one, where there are so many regulatory bodies dealing with this issue. The United States, Great Britain and France all have a single body, and yet we are still debating regulations and jurisdictions rather than who we are supposed to be serving. It is the public that is the victim because of these 13 bodies and the other 50.

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, first I would like to thank the member for Richmond Hill for sharing his time with me. It is always wonderful to work with him as part of a team.

I rise to speak to Bill C-21. This legislation, after dying on the order paper when the Prime Minister decided to prorogue Parliament last year, is finally being revived by the government. This bill is so important and has such an urgency because of the trail of victims that white collar crime has scattered across North America in recent years.

In the United States the infamous Bernie Madoff, while serving as a stockbroker, an investment adviser and a non-executive chairman of the NASDAQ Stock Market, operated the largest Ponzi scheme in history, ripping off thousands of investors for more than $65 billion.

Canada has also had its share of fraud. The highest profile case came to light last year in Montreal. Earl Jones took more than $50 million from dozens of victims in a 20-year long Ponzi scheme. The victims included his own brother to the tune of $1 million.

For too long white collar criminals have received only slaps on the wrist for their crimes. In 2007 there were 88,286 incidents of fraud in Canada. Of those cases, approximately 11% of those responsible were found guilty for their actions. Of that 11%, only 35% received jail sentences and over 60% received probation or a lesser penalty.

The rate of conviction and record of punishment is unacceptable. Because these individuals do not use a gun or a knife, in the past they have been treated with kid gloves. This is absolutely ridiculous because the impact of these crimes is often far more damaging than a simple assault. We are talking about people whose entire life savings, their long-term plans for retirement, their hopes and dreams for the rest of their lives have been taken away from them.

We are dealing with a class of criminals that have no regard for their victims. If a potential victim has to take a mortgage on his or her house to invest in a sure bet, get-rich quick scheme, no problem. How about a senior who has spent 50 years saving for retirement only to have his or her trust broken by someone who guarantees that the senior will never have to worry about his or her money again. Maybe it is a young couple who have saved for their children's education and who are taken advantage of because of their hope to build a better life for their son or daughter.

These are the kinds of stories that have been emerging from these massive frauds for years. They also represent the people who have watched their fraudsters walk over the justice system without any kind of adequate penalty or restitution.

Bill C-21 is a good start toward correcting these voids in our system. It proposes a minimum two-year jail term for fraud over $1 million, and it proposes additional aggravating factors for sentencing. It proposes consideration for victims' impact statements and requires consideration of imposing restitution for victims. It proposes to allow the court to prohibit an offender from assuming any position, volunteer or paid, that involves handling other people's money or property.

I would like to point out that many of these ideas emerged from this side of the House when a group of Liberal MPs from Quebec met with the Earl Jones victims committee and presented nine immediate action items. The spokesperson for the group stated that the Liberal MPs presented for the first time a concrete plan. From the very beginning the Liberal Party has pledged that we will co-operate with the government on the bill in terms of input and fast passage.

Once again, if the House had not been prorogued by the Prime Minister, we would already have a law in place to protect Canadians. Nonetheless, on this side of the House we are pleased to see that the government chose to reintroduce the legislation this past spring.

I would like to make some clarifications of my support for the bill. I would point out the necessity for the bill in its current form to go to the committee stage for scrutiny. There are some huge holes that must be addressed.

Sentencing is important, but so too are the investigations and preventive measures that can be taken before crimes even occur.

Investigators across the country are under-resourced badly and in spite of calls for more funding, the government has ignored this aspect of tightening things up.

Parole for white collar crimes has not been addressed in any way, leaving it unclear whether the fraudster deserves jail time or should go back into the community.

Finally, the one-sixth accelerated parole provisions are outrageous, as they allow these criminals to serve a fraction of their sentence before being eligible for parole. The government has done nothing to correct this glaring error.

Those are the deficiencies in the bill that demonstrate how much work it needs before it becomes the law of the land.

In closing, this is a bill that is a long time coming and one which the Liberal Party was instrumental in helping to craft. For that reason, we are working with the government to get the legislation passed. That being said, we need to ensure that the bill is correct and airtight when it comes to the methods it prescribes for dealing with white collar crime.

This is why I am supporting sending the bill to committee for fine-tuning and improvement.

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I know that many people who are watching the debate today will be very concerned about white collar crime and in particular, their own protection against those kinds of criminal activities.

We need only to think about things like Enron or the case of Conrad Black and the prosecutions that happened south of the border, and here in Canada, many seniors were impacted negatively by what happened around Earl Jones. We have a government that is reacting to a huge public outcry. However, it is not good enough for the government just to say, “We are a law and order government, so trust us, our bills will be perfect and they will be the cure for whatever ails us”. It is important to take a very close look at the legislation that is before us.

It strikes me as legislation that was quick to come forward, but is short on innovation and on real teeth. For example, if we look at the provisions about compensation, the bill says “shall consider making a restitution order under section 738 or 739”, but it does not compel offenders to compensate their victims. I think that for people who have been defrauded financially, this legislation would be very inadequate in terms of meeting their needs.

The question I want to ask the member has to do with things that are not even in the bill, in particular, environmental crimes. This is one of the areas that has to be looked at much more closely and ought to be included in the bill. I wonder if the member would agree that those kinds of provisions have to be part of this legislation before it receives third and final reading.

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I certainly would support those kinds of suggestions. As my Liberal colleague, the hon. member for Richmond Hill stated, on crimes to do with the environment, whether to do with money or substance, they are equally important. That is why we on this side of the House are supporting sending the bill to committee, to let the committee make those changes and make the bill airtight and to take into consideration issues such as the ones the hon. member mentioned.

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I was reading an article on Canadian Business Online from September 24, 2007. The headline was “...Canada's losing war against white-collar crime”. The author was talking about the RCMP's launch of the integrated market enforcement team, IMET, which was an elite squad of investigators who were supposed to work together to crack down on white collar crime, but the results were extremely disappointing.

In the United States, the justice department there racked up more than 1,200 convictions against high-level executives from Enron and other companies like that in the last five years, and the IMET had only managed to get two. There were 1,200 in the United States and only two in Canada, and both of them were against the same person.

It went on to say:

Just ask people on Bay Street who they are afraid of. It’s not the cops, it’s not the [Ontario Securities Commission]. It’s the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission because they have real teeth.

In spite of all of that, President Obama in the United States is re-regulating because he and the Americans do not feel that their system is adequate, and our system is so much worse than their old system was.

When does the member think Canada is going to get tough on white collar crime?

Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-21 is long overdue, but as I mentioned earlier, it would have been the law of the land today if the Prime Minister had not prorogued Parliament so many times.

The Liberals are willing to support the government to pass this bill and make this a law. Now the bill is on the floor and we on this side of the House are supporting sending the bill to committee and making sure that it takes care of the victims of these frauds.