Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to comment on this important piece of legislation.
It seems that as fast as we lawmakers create laws and rules and all the rest of it, the folks out there who have criminal minds are able to find ways around everything we try to do. Introducing Bill C-27 is a step in the right direction. I would expect that after it has some time at committee it will come back as a much stronger, more effective piece of legislation after all of us have had chance to comment, to try to beef it up and to stay one step ahead of the bad guys who are clearly out there trying to cause problems.
The proposed legislation would create three new offences. All of them will be subject to five year maximum sentences, including the following: to obtain or possess identity information with intent to use it to commit certain crimes; trafficking in identity information with knowledge of or recklessness as to its intended use in the commission of a certain crime; and unlawfully possessing and trafficking in government-issued identity documents.
In discussions with local police departments and others, they tell us that it is one of the fastest growing crimes around the world and that no one is safe from it. It is so easy to have our documentation copied and returned back into our wallet. We do not even know that someone has stolen it. By the time we find out, who knows if we have a mortgage on our house that we did not have before? A variety of other things can happen too.
However, we need additional Criminal Code amendments that would help to create new offences of fraudulently redirecting or causing redirection of a person's mail, possessing a counterfeit Canada Post mail key, and possessing instruments for copying credit card information. We need these in addition to the existing offence of possessing instruments for forging credit cards. It is so easy to copy any of those keys and get into someone else's mailbox and clean out that mail, including cheques or any other documentation that would give credibility to whatever the thieves have in mind.
While our party supports the efforts to combat identity theft, we feel this legislation could be stronger. At the end of the day, it comes up short, which is why I welcome the fact that this is going to committee. Each and every one of us will have an opportunity to strengthen this and to work together on something that all parliamentarians clearly care about.
The key problem I have with the legislation is that it does not do anything to prevent identity theft. As I said earlier, it is very easy for people to copy documents. The question is, though, how do we prevent it? New technology on our driver's licences and on a variety of other documents means that they are getting harder to copy. The legislation does not talk about prevention, but I would hope that by the time it comes back from committee it would cover off the issue of prevention and make the bill a better bill.
Law enforcement agencies all across Canada have been very clear on this issue for some time. They need modern tools to deal with what is a growing concern for Canadians. They need the tools of the 21st century. Unfortunately, we are always slower at doing that than the criminal minds are.
However, to respond to some of these concerns, my Liberal colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-416, Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act, which would actually provide law enforcement with the tools necessary to combat and prevent identity theft. My colleague across the way has also introduced a private member's bill. I hope that with all of these things combined we will be able to give the law enforcement officers the tools they need. They clearly will know how important the issue is for all of us.
As important an initiative it is to catch the criminals, we need modern new laws, especially to protect the most vulnerable in our society, children and seniors. A week does not go by that we do not read or hear a very sad story about a senior who found out that he or she now has a $400,000 mortgage on a home because someone was able to steal his or her identity. We can just imagine the stress that individual would be under. He or she would be feeling very vulnerable and needing help. We are just catching up to try to do that.
To do that, a Liberal government would make the following changes to the Criminal Code, which again would strengthen our tools.
To protect Canadian children, we will strengthen the laws that prevent Internet luring, something that is of concern to all of us in this House and which we are all working on in a variety of ways. The previous Liberal government passed laws that helped protect children from Internet-based predators, but more needs to be done. New laws are needed to address explicit online conversations initiated by adults with the intention of gaining the trust of a child and luring him or her into being abused.
To protect our precious Canadian seniors, we need to act on the recommendations of the Privacy Commissioner to address the problem of identity theft. There were almost 8,000 reports of identity theft in the past year, resulting in more than $16 million being lost, much of it taken from vulnerable seniors.
Let us think for just a moment about seniors who get statements in the mail telling them they owe $70,000 to some company they do not even recognize. Let us just imagine the panic that would set in for those individuals. We can imagine what it is like when someone suddenly finds out there is a $400,000 mortgage registered against his or her house but has never seen any of that money and knows nothing about it.
All of us should think for a few minutes about how we would feel upon being notified of that and finding out that someone has stolen our identity. All of these things are carried on in ways that have created huge problems. People have to get a lawyer. Their children are upset. All of these problems are caused by what has happened and a lifetime of hard work and savings can vanish in an instant when someone's identity is stolen.
We need tougher laws to prevent this kind of crime. That is where I believe we are all heading in the House with this bill and the others that we are all concerned about.
However, we also need to change some of the private sector privacy laws so that companies are forced to notify customers whose personal information gets leaked. We continually hear about how easy it is to have a credit check done on someone. Once people are doing that, they have our social insurance numbers and our driver's licence numbers and it is very easy to make a phone call and find out more information about us and to build a case to move into stealing our identities.
If our personal information gets into the wrong hands, we deserve to find out about it so that we can avoid becoming victims of identity theft. When a credit agent gets a phone call, he or she should call back and confirm the identity of the person calling for the information and probably should get some photo ID from the caller. The information should not just be given out over the phone. That is extremely unsafe. This kind of change would finally cause businesses to take the security of their customers more seriously.
Often when giving a Visa card in a store, customers are very sloppy about it. They will sign the invoice and leave it sitting on the counter. Someone easily can take that Visa or Mastercard number and go about building themselves that identity to use for their own purposes. Businesses also have a responsibility here.
We also need to look at implementing recommendations of the federal task force on spam, recommendations that so far have been ignored. Spam is clearly the weapon of choice for identity thieves, who use phony emails to trick people into revealing personal information.
We heard one of our colleagues make mention of his office receiving an email confirming a purchase that he had made online and confirming his credit card information. He did not have a credit card with that particular company. Clearly it was just a trap. An innocent senior or someone who is vulnerable could call in to say that the card number was not real and then could give out the correct number. There are all kinds of ways of tricking people into giving out information. It certainly is the weapon of choice.
Canada is the only G-8 country without anti-spam legislation. A Liberal government clearly would change that. Unfortunately, this should have been done already, and we all recognize that, but it is hard to make changes as fast as is necessary in order to stay one step ahead.
We all know that the Conservatives' crime policies are more about scoring political headlines than making our streets safer.
That being said, I am very happy to support this bill to go to committee so that the opposition and all of us in the House can have the opportunity to strengthen and to work at improving this legislation.
We can only build a strong Canada if Canadians feel safe in their communities. It is not just about street safety. It is a about a multitude of areas that many people within our country feel vulnerable and are looking to us as parliamentarians to do a better job.
The Liberal goals of prosperity, social justice and sustainability are not achievable if people cannot be confident that they and their children are protected.