Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct).
The bill would amend the Criminal Code to create offences of identity theft, trafficking in identity information and unlawful possession or trafficking in certain government-issued identity documents, to clarify and expand certain offences related to identity theft and identity fraud, to exempt certain persons from liability for certain forgery offences, and to allow for an order that the offender make restitution to a victim of identity theft or identity fraud for the expenses associated with rehabilitating their identity.
Like Bill C-26, which we discussed the other day, the auto theft legislation, this bill is only one part of a multi-pronged approach to attack the problem of identity theft. In both cases, the auto theft legislation and the identity theft legislation, we must begin our battle with strong changes to the Criminal Code, which itself was written in 1892 and is in dire need of a rewrite. Judging by the number of lawyers in this chamber, we are shortchanging the public if we do not embark on that rewrite sooner rather than later.
The legislation will go a long way to help the police investigate and take action regarding credit card fraud. All too often I have heard constituents complain that they feel abandoned by the police after their credit card has been stolen and has been used in a fraudulent manner. When they go to the police station they are told to take a number and wait until it is their turn. When their turn comes they are told that there were 30 similar cases that day, and without tough legislation, it is better to deal with it as a civil matter.
By bringing in tough new Criminal Code legislation, we take away that argument that we should deal with it as a civil matter because we are not going to get anywhere with it anyway in the absence of the legislation. Therefore, I think this is a very positive move to deal with that important area.
This happened in a case where the complainant did his own investigation of suspicious transactions, once he found out that the credit card was being misused, and in effect identified the guilty party. He basically turned the entire documented, solved case over to the RCMP, hoping to be thanked for all the hard work and a job well done. However, in fact, the person was told to go home, that the credit card company would just simply absorb the loss and that he would not be out any money.
That certainly did not make him very happy about this whole process, not to mention all the trauma involved in actually having the credit card stolen in the first place and a lot of transactions being put on the credit card, and all the phone calls, and so on, that it takes to resolve this issue.
That type of action merely encourages criminals to do it again and tell their friends, “Don't worry. You can't get caught, and if you do get caught, nothing will happen to you”. This is not a good signal to be sending to the public. We need this tough legislation to allow the police to take action.
If we had had it, the police probably would not have had 30 new cases that morning, because the criminals would know that something was going to happen to them in the first place and they might have thought twice about stealing the credit card.
The next area is to properly resource the police. In Manitoba's case, the parallel I draw is the gang suppression unit and the auto theft suppression unit of the police force. It is basically setting up a special unit in the police department that is resourced and tasked to deal with the problem at hand, to target the highest risk-level of offender. In the case of the auto theft group, I believe level 4 is the highest group. We are not talking about a lot of people. We are talking about perhaps 50 people in the high-risk groups.
We have to dedicate a special unit to go after identity theft.
As with the auto thieves, we are looking at a very small group of people. I would submit that is the situation with identity theft. When I go to one of the seniors' homes in my riding where there are 500 people, it would be safe to bet that not one of them would contemplate committing identity theft, stealing or misusing a credit card, or anything of the sort.
If we eliminate those people and other large groups, we come down to very small numbers. My submission would also be that those small numbers would be the repeat offenders who are doing it essentially as a profession, as a job. We have to aggressively target these offenders.
As I indicated in the case of the debit card and the bank card skimmers, often gangs with overseas connections may be operating here because it is easy. They have little chance of being caught, and certainly they are not treated very badly when they are caught.
There was a ring uncovered in the last couple of years, I believe from eastern Europe. The members of the group came to Canada for the sole purpose of going to various banks and credit unions across the country and putting credit card and debit card skimming equipment on ATMs. Over a three- or four-hour period they collected several hundred pieces of people's information. Using that information, they then proceeded to clean out people's bank accounts and make new copies of credit cards for further use.
In addition, clearly more consumer alerts are required. Part of the answer is getting consumers up to speed in this whole area.
I have had many tea parties in seniors' homes in my constituency of Elmwood—Transcona over the years where I have invited a member of the police force to talk about this very problem. The constable always has the same message: “Don't carry a big purse when you go out. Leave your ID at home. You're only going to Safeway. You're only going across the street. Why do you insist upon carrying a big purse with all your identification and enough contents to go on a trip somewhere when you are going to be back in a half hour?”
In some ways, we are all easy targets for thieves.
Fortunately we are seeing an explosion in the use of shredders. People are shredding more of their documents, and we can all agree with that. They are not throwing their bills out in the garbage like they used to; they are shredding them, which is a good sign.
However, I also juxtapose that to other people, maybe the same people who are happily shredding their documents, who attend the boat shows, the garden shows and the home shows at the convention centre in Winnipeg. I see them there on the weekends happily giving out their personal information when they are filling out applications for different free draws that exhibitors have. They do not consider that this information could be used improperly.
There are a number of other things we are told we should not be doing. Certainly mailbox fraud is a big area, and it is dealt with in the bill. Nowadays a lot of people have their mailboxes locked. That is a very good thing , because people do steal other people's mail and use that information for bad things.
On the last day of debate on this bill, a number of people mentioned we should reduce the number of mailed statements to our houses, that maybe we do not need monthly statements from our financial services people, that perhaps we could get by with quarterly statements.
They also suggest that sensitive information should be kept in a locked box. All too often we see people leaving information out. I guess the government has had some very bad experiences itself over the last couple of years with some members of Parliament leaving information in places when it should have been returned to its rightful place and locked up. We should be more organized in all of that.
Having said that, I may be one of the worst offenders, so I really do not want to go too far there.
It is also recommended that we do not let our credit cards out of sight at restaurants and gas stations. The reality is that we do this every day. Are we supposed to tell a waiter at the restaurant, “Sorry, I have to follow you to the machine to make sure you do not clone or skim my card”?
Another point was not to give credit card information over the phone unless one actually knows the person.
What is the answer? Clearly there is a bigger solution we have to deal with, and that is the whole area of technology and the inception of smart card programs.
I have followed this issue for a number of years. I recall back in 1990 or 1991, the Ontario NDP government at the time, led by somebody in this House I cannot mention, embarked on the first smart card idea. By the way, it was an idea that was way ahead of its time. Only France had embarked on a rudimentary smart card program at the time.
The Ontario government at that time set up pilot projects in Fort Frances and Windsor. It was trying to track the number of Americans who were coming across the border, getting OHIP cards, Ontario health cards, and then coming for free operations and health care.
At the end of the day, the project determined that Ontario had issued more OHIP cards than it had residents in the province. Beyond that, though, the government decided not to proceed further with the smart cards. I am not sure why it did not proceed; perhaps there was a change in government.
The NDP government was succeeded by the Harris government, which announced a new smart card program to run parallel to the program that was being introduced by the big banks at the time. I met with representatives in Toronto, and they gave me a tour through their nice new building. They had a very impressive program.
The government was going to start issuing smart cards at around $10 apiece. There was to be a health card on there and I think a driver's licence. Members should understand that these cards have the potential to have about five different things on them. Smart cards can have a driver's licence, a health card, a fishing licence, and a number of things. The government's plan was to roll out the program at a cost of $8 to $10 a card. Over time the price of the cards dropped, as we know.
While all of this was going on, the banks were going to roll out their system. They actually put off rolling it out for a few years, all the while knowing that people were being victimized. It was cheaper for the banks to pay the losses from the thefts and the misuse of the cards than it was to bring in the smart card technology. They were directly responsible for letting people go through all sorts of anguish for an extra five or six years because they did not want to put out the extra dollars. It was cheaper to lose the hundred million dollars, or whatever it was, per year in the thefts. We could have done something a long time ago in terms of smart cards because the technology was there, but it was going to be a little more expensive at the time.
In fact the banks are just rolling out their cards at the moment. Some members may have them, but if they do not, they certainly will be getting them within the next few months or the next year. I believe they had a plan where they were rolling out in certain areas a year or two ago, but the mass rolling out is just beginning.
These cards are a huge improvement over the old striped cards. The old cards are essentially obsolete and should be phased out as quickly as possible, because they are the easy ones to skim and counterfeit. Hopefully this will drastically reduce the credit card and debit card fraud and give consumers a breather, until these criminals can figure how out to compromise those cards. We may be ahead of the curve for a little while.
I am hoping we are going to have a huge overnight reduction in credit card and debit card fraud, similar to Manitoba's experience with its auto theft program. These cards, as I have indicated, are the answer in the same way that the immobilizers on cars were the answer in stopping auto theft.
Once again, the NDP are supporting actions that actually work. We do not want to head off on crime legislation like the Conservatives do, bringing in a bunch of things that have been proven not to work in other jurisdictions. We want to promote and initiate good ideas that actually have a history of working somewhere else.
We have a multi-pronged approach. We have tough criminal legislation. We have, for example, the auto theft suppression unit of the police, which is working well in Winnipeg and it could be working well nationally. We have the constant monitoring of suspects. We have to do that here as well. There is the whole idea of the mandatory immobilizers in the cars, and the GPS ankle bracelets.
To my friend from B.C., because I know he is upset about this bait car idea that I am not highly supportive of, I want to extend an olive branch. Since we are all trying to get along here in the House, I want to tell him that if he brings that bait car to Winnipeg in February and he can get it to actually work, I will be very happy to support his idea that we should try that as well. I do not think we want to exclude good ideas. Some ideas work better in some parts of the country than others.
In terms of identity theft, once again we have the tough criminal legislation in Bill S-4. We are reasonably happy with this bill. I think there are a couple of changes we would like to see, particularly for lawyers. It was pointed out yesterday that the whole area of mortgage fraud and so on is not covered by this bill. Lawyers across Canada have to be vigilant about that, because they are being presented with false identification from people attempting to get mortgage funds.
Once again, the police identity theft suppression unit has to be set up. We need more consumer alerts, which I have indicated, and the education programs, which we delved into. There is always room for more ideas. I do not think we should in any way exclude anybody with a good idea. Better smart card technology is the key here, because we have to keep ahead of the curve.
One of the members mentioned yesterday that we are dealing with almost $2 billion of losses. In fact identity theft has become so common that insurance companies have been selling identity theft coverage as an extension to house insurance policies for some four or five years now. Insurance companies would not do that if there was not a big market and a considerable demand for these programs. These programs are costly to set up. They need to have negotiations for re-insurance for the whole program.
Clearly this is a program that people are buying, because insurance companies are selling it. It pays to restore people to where they were before the loss. There is a considerable expense involved in trying to get credit cards and ID restored. Has anyone tried to get a driver's licence or a birth certificate replaced? It is a lot of work.
A lot of the identity theft is aided and abetted by the Internet. Criminals trade in stolen information. None of this existed 20 years ago. As one member mentioned yesterday with his Commodore 64, we did not have Internet access in those days and we did not have to worry about these things. The Internet and computers today mean we have a whole new exposure that we did not have before.
The criminals are passing on the information about where to buy these skimming machines and devices on how to clone credit cards. All this information is readily available to up-and-coming criminals who want to expand their lines of work.
Yesterday, the member for Winnipeg Centre asked about requiring the credit card companies to pass on to customers the results of their investigations. I agree totally. It is not included in the bill, but it is an important issue.
If people steal the identities of other people and use their credit cards, the credit care company will not give them any information about where they are at unless they investigate it. They are left to wonder who did it. It can be as traumatic as having one's home broken into and not knowing who did it.
I will proceed with the rest of my speech during the question and answer period.