Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-27, dealing with identity theft.
In May 2007, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics undertook a study on identity theft. At the time, we began to hear witnesses and look at this issue, because it is a serious problem. This issue directly affects individuals, but it also has an impact on our cities, our nation, our country, and even at the international level.
In fact, Canada is the only G-8 member that has not yet legislated against spams, which are often used for identity theft purposes. Some countries point to Canada as a haven for spammers. So, it was time to take action in this area.
It goes without saying that the Bloc supports the principle of the bill. As I just mentioned, identity theft is a very serious issue. We have to modernize the Criminal Code to reflect the reality of identity theft.
When she appeared before our committee, on May 8, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said that, in her opinion, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which was implemented six years ago “is not a tool that, alone, enables us to combat this phenomenon, even if this legislation imposes restrictions on the collection of data. The safeguard principle permits the secure and confidential holding of personal information. It also makes it possible to limit the time during which information may be kept, as well as the number of persons who have access to it.”
However, as Ms. Stoddart pointed out, this is not enough, and this is why an act on identity theft is a welcome initiative.
According to Ms. Stoddart, concerted action by the different levels of government is required. The Bloc Québécois is not alone to say so. Let me quote her again. She suggested that “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”.
Provincial jurisdiction does not mean only certain fields of responsibility. We are really talking about the jurisdiction of the provinces or that of the Quebec nation, because Quebeckers have jurisdiction over the management of their fields of responsibility. Ms. Stoddart gives the example of those people who have had their houses sold out from underneath them. That is something that falls entirely within the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
Generally speaking, this Conservative government appears to be incapable of working in cooperation with Quebec and the provinces. Examples of this would be the aid package for the manufacturing and forestry sectors and the implementation of the Kyoto protocol.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes that amending the Criminal Code will not be enough to eliminate identity theft. More measures will have to be put in place by governments, including: public information to reduce victimization; regulations to provide a better framework for the management, storage and disposal of information by companies; and measures to ensure greater standardization and security in the process for issuing and verifying identity documents. The federal government has a crummy track record in terms of the management of personal information. It will have to set an example, but I will come back to that later.
The purpose of this bill is to curb identity theft, that is the unauthorized use of personal information generally obtained for criminal purposes. Information such as someone's name, date of birth, address, credit card number, social insurance number or any other personal identification number can be used to open a bank account, apply for a credit card, get mail redirected, sign up for cellular phone services, rent a vehicle, equipment or premises, or even get a job.
Bill C-27 creates three new basic offences, and all of them carry a maximum penalty of five years.
The first one involves obtaining and possessing identity information with the intent to use it in a misleading, dishonest or fraudulent fashion to commit a crime.
The second offence, which involves trafficking in identity information, targets those who give or sell information to a third party, while being well aware that this information could be used for criminal purposes, or while not caring about it.
Finally, the third offence involves the unlawful possession or trafficking in government-issued identity documents that have the information pertaining to another person.
Some witnesses confirmed to the committee that, under the Criminal Code, a person who copies—in a convenience store, a grocery store or some other business—a credit card or an automated teller card, does not commit an offence. Right now, it is very difficult to charge such a person for using personal information.
Bill C-27 will correct this situation. From now on, individuals in a business who copy a credit card or an automated teller card when someone gives it to them for a few moments will be liable to prosecution under the provisions of Bill C-27.
Bill C-27 also includes other changes to the Criminal Code. It creates a new offence for directly or indirectly redirecting someone's mail, for possessing a copy of a Canada Post key, and also additional forgery related offences, such as the trafficking in and possession of forged documents with the intent of using them. The bill also redefines the offence of personation with the notion of “identity fraud”; by specifying the meaning of the expression “fraudulently personates any person”; by adding the offence of possessing instruments for copying credit card data, in addition to the existing offence of possessing instruments for forging credit cards.
As I was saying earlier in reference to those individuals working in businesses who might copy a credit card or an automated teller card, this will now be an offence.
In addition, the bill introduces a new power that would enable the tribunal to order the offender, as part of the sentence, to make restitution to a victim of identity theft or identity fraud for the expenses associated with rehabilitating their identity, such as the cost of replacement documents and cards and costs related to correcting their credit history. This is extremely important because many people come to our constituency offices and complain that they have been victims of identity theft and are having a hard time recovering their identity. Sometimes they complain that it costs them a lot of money to recover their identity.
Obviously, because the exception proves the rule, there are exceptions. The bill before us provides for two exemptions that would protect people who create false documents for secret government operations, as well as public servants—law enforcement officers—who create and use secret identities in carrying out their duties, from court action for identity fraud.
Identity theft is a very worrisome problem. According to Public Safety Canada, identity theft is now one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada and the United States. In 2004, identity theft cost over $50 billion U.S. Identity theft costs consumers, banks and retailers a lot of money. In 2002, the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimated that consumers, banks, credit card companies, stores and other businesses lost $2.5 billion to identity theft.
In 2006, the Ontario Provincial Police's PhoneBusters program—an anti-fraud call centre created in January 1993 by the OPP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Competition Bureau—received 7,800 calls from victims of identity theft who declared personal and business losses amounting to over $16 million. However, PhoneBusters recognizes that these statistics do not provide a complete picture of the situation. The organization believes that the number of calls received represents but a small fraction—perhaps 5%—of the actual total. According to PhoneBusters, payment card fraud, which is a major element of identity theft, accounted for 42% of identity theft incidents reported in 2003. According to the RCMP, total losses due to credit card fraud amounted to $200 million in 2003.
In addition to these financial losses, victims of identity theft suffer damaged credit ratings and compromised personal and financial records.
In a 2003 study, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reported that victims of identity theft spent an average of $500 million U.S. to recover their identity and restore their credit rating.
According to a 2006 Ipsos Reid poll, one Canadian adult in four—24%, in fact, or about 5.7 million Canadians—said he or she had been a victim of identity theft—4%—or knew someone who had been a victim—20%.
This Civil Code must be dusted off. The offences currently in the Criminal Code were defined for the most part at a time when the traditional concept of “property” applied. The problem with identity theft is that personal information is not considered property. In applying the provisions of the Criminal Code, if it is impossible to establish a direct causal link with an economic loss or another serious injury, it becomes very difficult to prove that someone committed a crime such as identity theft.
Roughly 40 provisions of the current Criminal Code could apply to identity theft. For example, subsection 342(3) of the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence to possess and traffic in credit or debit cards and related data for the purpose of using them or obtaining services provided by the card issuer.
The provisions on forgery apply to people who knowingly make false documents in order to use them or pass them off as genuine documents.
A person who uses a false document, knowing that it is forged, in order to defraud another person, can be charged with fraud and uttering forged documents.
Offenders who assume a false identity for economic or other gain—for example, to avoid being linked to criminal offences—can be charged with identity theft.
Simple possession and collection of personal information are not crimes under the Criminal Code.
In a letter dated November 21, 2007 to the member for Hochelaga, the Minister of Justice stated that he intended to introduce a bill to amend the Criminal Code in order to solve the problem of identity theft. I stress the word “solve”.
The minister is a bit too enthusiastic. The bill is a step in the right direction. However, the Criminal Code is an unwieldy instrument for fighting identity theft: the rules of evidence are strict. Other measures will have to be put in place to effectively fight identity theft.
The Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, has on several occasions called for amendments to the Criminal Code in order to more effectively fight identity theft, and she also recognizes that this tool is not very effective. She stated,
I don't think it's just an issue of the Criminal Code. As you know, our law administrators hesitate to use the Criminal Code: the standards of proof are higher, and the charter may apply, and so very often you have to have a fairly clear-cut case to use the Criminal Code.
There is one requirement for Bill C-27: the federal government must work closely with Quebec and the provinces. Once again, the Privacy Commissioner maintains that the real solution to the problem of identity theft lies in civil procedures:
Civil sanctions that are very easy to prove and easy for citizens, for example, to take to small claims courts, which 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.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes that amending the Criminal Code will not be enough to solve the problem of identity theft. Other measures will have to be put in place by governments: education campaigns—I spoke of these earlier—to reduce victimization in particular; regulations to provide more stringent oversight of how businesses manage, store and dispose of information; and measures to promote greater uniformity and security in the process of issuing and verifying identification documents.
But this government is incapable of collaborating with the provinces. Some of the solutions for combating identity theft rest with the provinces under the constitutional powers in relation to property and civil rights.
This government seems to be extremely reluctant to collaborate. Examples of this abound. The present Conservative government refused to collaborate with Quebec and the provinces on bringing forward a real plan to assist the forestry and manufacturing industries. The Conservative government rejected a series of unanimous requests by the National Assembly out of hand, requests that included honouring the Kyoto protocol, abandoning its plan for a single securities commission, a plan rejected by all of the provinces except Ontario, abandoning its reform of Parliament and reversing its decision to scrap the court challenges program.
The Conservative government succeeded in upsetting all the provinces with its reform of how the seats in the House of Commons are allocated. Senate reform has upset a majority of provinces. Equalization payment reform has been a bitter pill for Quebec and Ontario and the provinces with offshore oil resources.
So the Conservative government, which should be working with the provinces to combat identity theft, has instead retreated to its corner and made a few changes that are necessary but that have a limited effect on the problem in question.
The government seems to be in more of a hurry to give the impression that it is doing something than in developing a coherent strategy for effectively combating this plague.
And then, before handing the provinces new responsibilities for enforcing the Criminal Code, did it so much as make sure that they had the resources to enforce the new identity theft provisions?
This is the federal government, which is supposed to set an example. Even though it has a sorry record when it comes to managing personal information, it will have to set an example. The federal government is proposing to penalize people who use identification documents such as social insurance cards fraudulently. This is the same government that is not doing enough to protect and strengthen the integrity of social insurance numbers. In June 2006, the Auditor General estimated that there were 2.9 million more social insurance numbers in circulation than the estimated number of Canadians aged 30 and over.
Bill C-27 makes it an offence to falsely represent one’s self to be a peace officer or public officer. In December 2004, the media revealed that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority had lost control of its uniforms. From January to September 2004, CATSA issued about 75,000 uniform items to its 4,000 or so screeners. Of those items, a total of 1,127 were reported lost or stolen.
Examples of mismanagement of personal information by the federal government abound. The federal government wants the public to believe that it is taking the question of identity theft seriously, but in its own actions it ignores the problem.
The Bloc Québécois supports the amendments to the Criminal Code, but also calls on the federal government to adopt exemplary practices in this area.