Thank you very much, Chair and committee members.
I'm pleased to be here today to talk about Bill S-4, which addresses concerns about identity-related crimes. Bill S-4 has been passed by the Senate, with some changes that I will bring to your attention. I urge the committee members to give this bill serious study and consideration, but I would also hope that the members would complete their study in an expeditious manner and return the bill to the House of Commons without amendment so it can be passed into law as quickly as possible. Canada needs this law.
Criminals have always concealed their true identities and assumed false ones. What has changed in recent decades is their increasing reliance on technology. Technology has brought us greater convenience and speed of communications and commerce, but criminals also enjoy new opportunities to obtain greater illicit benefits at little risk. The government believes these new threats can and must be addressed with Criminal Code amendments.
In Canada the Criminal Code has always had some offences that target the actual misuse of identity. The most directly applicable offence is that of personation, a serious offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison. If you impersonate a real person, living or dead, with an intent to gain an advantage of some kind or to cause anyone a disadvantage, this amounts to personation. There are numerous secondary offences, such as forgery of documents, including identity documents; and fraud; misuse of credit cards; and other offences in order to protect specific forms of identification, such as a Canadian passport.
Bill S-4 makes some reforms to modernize and update these offences, but its main purpose is the creation of new offences that directly target the early stages of identification and identity information misuse and abuse. The new measures are necessary to close gaps created by new technologies and new criminal operations. While taking physical documents may amount to the crime of theft, simply copying or having information, even if that is done for the purpose of later using that information to commit a crime, is not addressed by traditional property offences or any other offence, unless the Criminal Code specifically addresses it. It is the unique nature of information that poses this problem, information that is not considered property by the criminal law.
The benefit of the new offences is they can be applied before offenders have a chance to actually misuse personal information to the detriment—financial or otherwise—of others. They enable law enforcement to become engaged at much earlier stages of criminal schemes. This will result in a reduction of the more serious kinds of victimization that result when identities are fraudulently abused.
Let me turn now to what I believe are the key amendments in this package. I will also point out certain amendments passed by the Senate's Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, later approved by the Senate as a whole. I believe these changes improve the bill.
The first key element would form a new section 56.1 and criminalize the procurement, possession, transfer, and sale or offering for sale of specified government-issued identity documents without a lawful excuse. At present, simply possessing or trafficking in other people's identity documents is not a crime. We believe it should be—subject to appropriate exceptions, of course. To this end, the bill allows for several specific lawful excuses, such as handling documents with the consent of the person to whom they belong, or carrying out one's job function.
The offence was drafted with a specific and closed list of government documents covered by the offence, such as a social insurance number card and a driver's licence. The Senate was concerned that a closed list would mean that further documents created by the federal or provincial governments, which could be used for identification purposes, would not be covered. So they opened the list slightly, by allowing for inclusion of any document that is similar to the ones used. This was a small but important improvement, in my opinion.
The second key amendment is the creation of a new offence of identity theft and a companion offence of trafficking in identity information. The proposed new identify theft offence deals primarily with obtaining or possessing identity information in circumstances that show intent to commit one of a series of other related offences, such as fraud or personation.
A related offence will be established to cover trafficking in such information, knowing or being reckless as to whether it will be used for one of those same offences. Both offences will be informed by a broad definition of identity information, which covers all the types of information that can be used to identify a person.
Based on the definition, these offences are directed at the mishandling of information. It does not matter whether the information is contained in an official identification document or whether it is merely copied or stored in some other form.
There are also related amendments to the offence of personation. The offence of personation will now be renamed as “identity fraud”, so that the Criminal Code will present a coherent picture of the various stages of identity crime. The offence of identity theft will cover the early stages in gathering and handling of the information; in the middle will be the offence of trafficking in identity information; and at the far end of the spectrum, the offence of identity fraud will cover the actual deceptive use of the information.
Bill S-4 also clarifies and extends certain existing offences in the Criminal Code. The bill will improve the law in relation to credit and debit card offences, misconduct in relation to the mail, and forgery offences.
I would take the opportunity to point out one more amendment made by the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee in relation to an amendment to the credit and debit card offences.
One amendment in the bill added the notion of personal identification number, or, as we usually refer to it, the PIN, to the offence of unlawfully possessing or using credit card data. The Senate expanded the concept to personal authentification information, the idea being that, with the advances in technology, there may one day be forms of authentification associated with credit and debit cards beyond just a PIN—for instance, a fingerprint. The change made by the Senate ensures that developments in technology will be captured by the law. Once again, I consider this change to be an improvement.
The government realizes that officials from legitimate investigative agencies often must conceal their true identities in the course of undercover investigations. To ensure that law enforcement can continue to work under cover to keep Canadians safe from crime, Bill S-4 excludes law enforcement from certain offences in relation to forged documents for otherwise lawful conduct undertaken in the course of their duties or employment. Agencies that produce identity documents are also exempted if they make false identity documents for use in covert operations in good faith and at the request of a government agency.
I'd like to be clear that these measures do not exempt the police from identity theft or personation or fraud offences. They only permit the police to make, have, and use false documents that portray a fictitious identity—just so we're clear.
This concludes my summary and what I believe are the key elements of this package. I and the officials who were good enough to be here with me today would be pleased to respond to any questions you might have.