Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-21. While it has been a bit of time since we talked about the bill, perhaps I will give an overview.
Bill C-21 has been put together to address the issues of white-collar crime. It behooves us to reflect a little on how white-collar crime has changed since generations of our constituents and, in fact, generations in Parliament.
The nature of white-collar crimes then were equated with the proverbial jokes associated with the door-to-door vacuum salesmen or whatever. I say that in a manner of juxtaposing, not in levity. The nature of Ponzi schemes are quite different. They involve the manipulation of shares and pyramid type sales. They victimize citizens of all ages, in particular those citizens who are not familiar with up-to-date technologies.
I am reminded of this. In my constituency, even as late as yesterday, calls were coming into my office with respect to seniors being met at the door by people who wanted to look at their water heaters. Then they tried to get them to enter into agreements to replace the heaters. Some people signed on the dotted line only to find the scheme dramatically raised their charges. There are legal implications involved and very serious things happen.
We need to look at our constituencies and ensure we have a legislated regime in place that is understandable. They need to know the kinds of technology and the victimization used. Only a few months ago the government brought forward legislation aimed at looking at the kind of technology used and the type and extent of victimization, where seniors, in particular, were robbed of the ownership to their homes. They had been tracked for months through the interception of their mail. Their accounts were skewed and the banks were unfortunately transferring ownership of their properties. They were duped and victimized in a manner that we could never really understand perhaps 20 or 30 years ago. However, with the kind of technology and the criminal insights used, victims of all age categories are subjected to these kinds of things.
With that background, I am pleased to respond to Bill C-21. I will give an overview of the bill and then I will look at perhaps some of the shortcomings where the bill could have been firmed up even a little more. Perhaps in the future it will be.
The bill includes a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment for two years for fraud valued at more than $1 million. It provides additional aggravating factors for sentencing. It requires consideration of restitution for victims, allows sentencing courts to consider community impact statements, to issue prohibition orders, preventing convicted persons from transacting property and money of others.
We are in favour of the bill, but it does not go far enough and I will try to elaborate a little on that.
We believe the amendments put forward by our party, which were not accepted by the combined opposition, the government and the other two parties, would have strengthened the legislation. As illustrations of that, the Liberals proposed that mandatory minimum sentences of two years should apply to practices such as market manipulation of shares and Ponzi schemes.
The bill does not do enough to eliminate accelerated parole review for white-collar criminals. Canadians investors, especially seniors, do not deserve to be victimized by white-collar criminals. They deserve better than what the government has presented through this bill.
The principles behind the stricter sentencing rules are important, but they are not enough to prevent frauds from happening. Sentencing is important, but prevention, as has been said many times with respect to the criminal justice system, is equally as important in white-collar crime. We would like the government to consider why it has not used this opportunity, as it has in the past, to do more with respect to prevention.
Finally, although we are glad to see the legislation, we also call on the government to act on white-collar crime, as it has been overdue for years.
I will go through a few of the shortcomings of the bill.
While we support the bill on stricter sentencing guidelines, we are concerned it is too narrow in scope to truly be effective in the full spectrum of fraud with which it attempts to deal. The bill does not limit early parole for those crimes and it does not address the lack of police resources currently allocated for white-collar fraud. As I said before, we put forward amendments that were aimed at strengthening the bill by extending the two-year minimum sentence provisions to practices such as market manipulation of shares and Ponzi schemes. The amendments were rejected by the other parties.
The legislation was introduced in response to high profile white-collar crimes, including Norbourg Financial Group and the Earl Jones issue in Quebec. In the wake of the Madoff Ponzi scheme's revelations in the United States, many Canadian investors have grown increasingly concerned about this type of white-collar fraud.
Other than the title, the bill is the same as Bill C-52, which was introduced during the previous session, but died at prorogation.
What are the major components of the bill?
The bill introduces mandatory minimum sentences of two years for fraud involving over $1 million, regardless of the number of victims. It specifies aggravating factors to be considered at sentencing, including the psychological and financial impacts of victims, the age and health of victims, as well as the magnitude and duration of the fraud. It requires the court to indicate what mitigating and aggravating factors were considered relating to the sentence.
It allows the court to prohibit an offender from assuming any other position, volunteer or paid, that involves handling other people's money. It goes without saying that is highly desirable. It requires the judge to consider the whole manner of restitution, which is the repayment to victims where possible, and it requires judges to consider community impact statements.
Generally speaking, it is interesting to juxtapose a cross-section of stakeholder reaction with respect to this bill. It has been mixed. Victim groups have been lobbying the government to strengthen white collar criminal provisions. Some have expressed the view that the bill falls short because it fails to address the accelerated parole review rule.
The Canadian Bar Association has expressed its opposition to the bill, citing that it would increase pressures on an already taxed criminal justice system and does not improve on what is already available in the Criminal Code. It also opposes the mandatory minimum sentences in favour of judicial discretion at sentencing.
From a policing perspective, however, the RCMP has expressed its support for the bill, indicating a mandatory sentence for such crimes has the potential to be used as a deterrent. In spite of what I said earlier, the RCMP takes that position.
In terms of amendments, as I mentioned rather obliquely before, the Liberal justice critic introduced an amendment in committee that would add market manipulation of stock prices, shares, merchandise, or anything that is offered for sale to the public to the definition of what could be punishable by a two-year minimum sentence. The amendment failed in committee as the government, Bloc and NDP voted against it.
The Liberal justice critic also recommended that an amendment be introduced to modify the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in order to eliminate the one-sixth accelerated parole review rule for white collar criminals. This amendment was ruled out of order by the committee chair and was subsequently upheld on a challenge with the support of the Bloc.
A technical amendment, however, was adopted with support by all the parties. The amendment would require the court to issue an explanation of a restitution order only when a victim seeks restitution and the court decides not to make such an order. The amendment addresses concerns by the Canadian Bar Association to relieve some pressures on an already taxed system.
In my overview of the legislation, I indicated the type of victimization that occurs. I also talked about enforcement and what the government has in place in response to the issue that was raised. In terms of integrated market enforcement teams, these IMETs under the program have been put in place, funded through the RCMP. They are operational in four of Canada's major financial centres and their mandate is to investigate and lay charges for serious Criminal Code offences involving capital markets.
While the legislation does not, in the Liberal Party's view, go far enough with respect to that kind of victimization that takes place under the Criminal Code with respect to shares and Ponzi schemes, there actually is an enforcement regime in place called the IMET program. According to the 2007-08 IMET annual report, the program's total budget increased from $13 million in fiscal 2005 to $18 million in fiscal 2008 and is approximately $30 million today.
The investigations indicate how important it is that we deal with this particular issue.
In 2008-09, 17 individuals were charged with almost 1,000 counts and 5 individuals were convicted. Their sentences ranged from 39 months to 13 years.
According to the RCMP's 2009-10 Report on Plans and Priorities, it is anticipated that annual funding of $30 million will be allocated in the fiscal year to support the investigation and prosecution of fraud offences.
I posit that the investigative processes and the teams are in place.
According to the statistics, a compelling case could be made for focusing additional attention, which the bill does not, on this kind of crime involving shares and Ponzi schemes and so on.
An adult criminal court survey, which collects information on appearances, charges laid and so on with respect to this kind of fraud, found that a prison sentence was imposed in almost 4,000 cases in 2008. In the same year a conditional sentence was imposed in nearly 1,000 cases. Probation was given in 6,000 cases. Fines were levied in 1,200 cases. Restitution was granted in nearly 2,000 cases. Other sentences were imposed.
These statistics do not provide details on the monetary value of the fraud or the type of fraud, which can include securities-related fraud, such as Ponzi schemes, insider trading, accounting frauds that overstate the value of securities, as well as mass marketing fraud, mortgage and real estate fraud and many other deceptive practices.
I only include these statistics to indicate that as the bill was going through committee, the statistics were available and the issue with respect to share manipulation was not addressed and is not addressed in the bill. The bill could have been improved had the opposition's amendments been accepted.
Despite the lack of statistics, in the bill, sentences are imposed on fraud over $1 million. Before and after Parliament's introduction of conditional sentences, a case of large scale fraud by persons in a position of trust have typically resulted in substantial jail sentences. The range has been estimated at between 4 to 15 years for large scale fraud although a sentence of less than two years and conditional sentences have been imposed where there have been important mitigating factors.
Clause 3 of the bill adds four aggravating circumstances which we believe improve the situation that I have referred to. Those circumstances are: the magnitude, complexity, duration and degree of the fraud; the offence had a significant impact on the victims; the offender did not comply with licensing requirements or professional standards; and, the offender concealed or destroyed records related to the fraud or the disbursement of the proceeds of the fraud. That will substantially improve the legislation that presently exists.
For that reason we are in favour of the legislation. We do however rest our case on the fact that an expansion of the bill could have dealt better with share and stock manipulation and the kind of Ponzi schemes that have victimized thousands of people.