Madam Speaker, this bill is long overdue. The government introduced this bill in the previous session of the 40th Parliament and played political games with it. The government killed this bill with prorogation. Basically, the Prime Minister decided that prorogation would be good for his party and his government.
After the throne speech was read on March 3 and the House resumed sitting, the government waited 60 days before reintroducing the same bill. It was identical to the bill that came before the House in the second session of the 40th Parliament. Not one comma was changed. Every dot on every i was the same. Not a single letter or word was changed. It was identical. This Conservative government nevertheless waited about 60 days after the throne speech before reintroducing the bill. The Conservatives finally reintroduced it at first reading. Those familiar with the House rules know that only the government can introduce a bill at second reading. Neither the official opposition, nor the Bloc Québécois, nor the NDP can do so. Only the government can. So how long did it take the government to propose debate at second reading of Bill C-21on white collar crime? The government boasts that it alone looks after the victims, believes that victims' needs are important, and is working on criminal justice.
The government left Bill C-21 at first reading for over 200 days. During that time, who was asking, praying, urging and begging the government to move debate at second reading? The victims. The official opposition. The Bloc Québécois. The NDP.
I have not heard a single Conservative member publicly ask his or her government to stop dragging its feet with Bill C-21 at first reading and to move forward with a debate at second reading. I have not heard one single Conservative member publicly demand that, but I heard the opposition demand it. I heard the Bloc members calling for it. I heard NDP members calling for it. I also heard many victims wondering why this Conservative government, which claims that victims and Bill C-21 are important, was not following through.
The Minister of Justice used every possible opportunity this weekend to say that there were criminal justice bills that absolutely had to be passed in the House and that he urged the opposition to stop opposing these bills. We just heard the same things from the chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, who rose to ask a question of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. He asked the parliamentary secretary to explain why the opposition was opposed to this bill. That is not true. The opposition has always supported the government's desire to act quickly and effectively with respect to white collar crime and fraud. During the other session of the 40th Parliament, we tried to work with this government to ensure that this bill would pass.
However, the government and the Prime Minister decided to kill this bill by proroguing the House and Parliament. Then, when the House resumed, they waited some 60 days before reintroducing it. And once it was introduced, they waited more than 200 days to move debate at second reading.
How many days did the House spend debating Bill C-21 at second reading after having waited more than 200 days to debate it at second reading? The House took only two days to debate this bill because the opposition parties, notably the official opposition, want this bill to become law in our country. The opposition does not oppose this bill, and none of the three opposition parties slowed down the process of passing this bill. It was the government.
I believe it is important to remind the members of these facts because I am not making this up. Anyone who has a calendar can figure this out based on the date that the government prorogued the House in December 2009. The prorogation lasted nearly two and a half months, and the House resumed its work on March 3, 2010, with the Speech from the Throne. But it was not until about 60 days later that the government reintroduced its bill. Then the government waited more than 200 days to debate it at second reading—if my memory serves me correctly, it was 216 days. I know that it was more than 200 days; I am quite certain about that.
And now for the content of the bill. The bill establishes mandatory minimum sentences for those found guilty of fraud. That is what victims were calling for. Victims called for other things as well, but the government, in its wisdom, decided not to include them in this bill.
The victims were asking for two things. One, they wanted to see stiffer sentencing for white collar criminals; and the government, with its mandatory minimum sentencing of two years for criminal offences that are what we would deem white collar crime, responds to the victims' request.
However, the victims had a second request. The victims wanted the government to eliminate accelerated parole review for white collar criminals. The bill does not address that at all. This is something that opposition parties have been asking for, for several years now, and the government has not addressed it. It does not address it in the bill.
Liberals attempted to bring an amendment to the bill that would have amended the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in order to eliminate the accelerated parole review for the criminal offences that are dealt with in Bill C-21. The chair of the committee ruled it out of order because nothing in Bill C-21 dealt with the conditional sentencing and parole legislation.
I challenged the chair's ruling. However, I have to admit that his ruling was correct because my amendment, which would have eliminated the one-sixth accelerated parole review for the offences contained in this particular legislation, was in fact beyond the scope of the bill.
The chair ruled my amendment out of order. I challenged the chair, and unfortunately the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP upheld the chair's ruling.
There is a piece of legislation in front of the public safety committee of the House of Commons that deals with the issue of accelerated parole review. However, that as well is a bill that the government has been playing political games with and has been holding up, not moving second debate reading and letting it sit on the order paper at first reading for days and days.
We believe the government must act to respond to the request of victims, and not just the victims but of a variety of civil shareholders, that the one-sixth accelerated parole be removed, be eliminated, and not just for the white collar criminal offences but for virtually every offence, if not indeed all offences. In fact, one could describe it as being an offence to the sensibilities of Canadians and of our criminal justice system.
There is another point of white collar crime that the bill does not address. That is the issue that it does not in any way, shape or form attach these criminal offences to institutions.
I would like to read an article by Darcy Henton that was published in the Edmonton Journal on May 5, 2010, headlined “Alberta wary of white-crime bill”. It states:
A white-collar crime bill reintroduced by the federal Conservatives this week received a lukewarm reception Tuesday in Alberta from both a financial crime crusader and a fraud victim.
The justice bill, which had to be reintroduced after it died on the order paper when the prime minister prorogued Parliament last winter, sets a mandatory minimum two-year sentence for frauds over $1 million.
The bill also requires judges to look at several aggravating factors that could increase the sentence and to consider victim impact statements and restitution.
Retired investment broker Larry Elford, who advocates on behalf of investors, said the new bill still appears to contain a loophole that exempts it from being applied to investment institutions.
“It's a wonderful gift to the investment industry,” he said. “It would exempt the largest fraudsters in Canada. I can't understand why they would reintroduce the law with the same loophole.”
Elford said the law wouldn't apply to corporations like Goldman Sachs which is currently the subject of a civil fraud suit brought on by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the national securities regulatory authority in the U.S.
“Any Bay Street operator could sell any product in any fraudulent and misleading manner and this bill would not apply,” Elford said.
Edmontonian Jason Cowan has been pressing for tougher white-collar crime laws since he and a partner were allegedly defrauded of more than $2 million in 1996.
“I think it's absolutely necessary that there are some checks and balances,” he said. “These white-collar criminals are getting off all the time.”
[The federal justice minister] said the legislation will make jail mandatory for fraudsters who bilk their victims out of more than $1 million.
“Our government is standing up for victims of white-collar crime,” he said when the bill was reintroduced Monday.
The justice minister then waited over 200 days before moving second reading debate. That is really what I would call standing up for victims of crime: using their misery, using their hardship as a political ball game. It is shameful.
The official opposition supports this bill. We have from the outset. We have never hidden that. Every single member of the Conservative Party and every single member of that Conservative government knows that the official opposition supports the bill. We supported it in the last session of the 40th Parliament. We made it clear. We were very public about our support. So for any member of the Conservative Party to rise in this House, or outside of the House, and claim that the opposition is opposing this bill or holding up this bill is simply an untruth. Pure and simple, it is an untruth, and no Canadian should believe that Conservative MP who rises in this House, or outside of the House, to claim that the official opposition does not support and has not supported Bill C-21, the white-collar crime bill.
Canadians should then ask themselves, if a Conservative, a member of Parliament, is willing to tell an untruth on something that is so clearly not true and easily refuted, what else are they telling untruths about? What other issues are they not telling the truth about? What other issues are they spreading untruths about? Canadians should ask themselves that question, because why would someone tell an untruth on the issue of claiming that the opposition, the official opposition, is opposing or has opposed this bill or attempted to hold up this bill when the facts clearly show that the government has held up its own bill in order to play political games with victims of crimes? That is despicable. It is scurrilous. It is deplorable.