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House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was security.

Topics

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

October 24th, 2005 / 3:30 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to my colleague. I am not in the position that he is in. He is on the committee and he has followed the development of this legislation with a great deal of interest. I am not a member of the committee.

My question has to do with the status of charities, social services, community organizations, and arts and cultural organizations in all of our communities with respect to this legislation. My understanding is that groups such as that would be exempt from the legislation. They would be able to continue with their normal work and normal practices.

I ask this because it is extremely important for the vibrancy of these often very tiny organizations in our communities that they not be restricted by legislation of this type. I wonder if my colleague could give us some indication that I am right.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Werner Schmidt Conservative Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the amendments to the bill that was adopted by the committee had to do with the registration of charities and they would be exempt. The type of registration we are talking about in particular refers to charities that are registered within the meaning of the Income Tax Act. That is the significant proviso. If they are registered under the Income Tax Act as a charity, they would be exempt. That is very significant.

I agree with the hon. member that the lifeblood of many of these charities depends on the ability to solicit by telephone and most people would not object to that.

There was another provision that was accepted by the committed and it had to do with people who perhaps are called by a charity and would wish their names to be registered as not wanting to be called again. The charity would then have to keep that list and not call those people again, but that is a small detail because it does not cover the overall situation. It just allows individuals to make exceptions for themselves for particular charities.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Kelowna--Lake Country for sharing his time.

I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Newton--North Delta to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-37. This bill addresses telemarketing calls by enabling the CRTC to establish and enforce a do not call registry similar to ones already found in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Specifically, Bill C-37 would amend the section of the Telecommunications Act that deals with telemarketers by adding the power to establish databases and to make any order with respect to these databases.

It would also also give the CRTC the power to levy substantial penalties against telemarketers and to contract with a private sector third party to operate the service. Penalties of $1,500 per offending call for individuals and $15,000 per offending call for corporations would be imposed for telemarketers who do not respect the list.

Previous to this bill, Canadians have had access to privately operated do not call registries. The Canadian Marketing Association, CMA, would register consumers for their do not call list. However, not all telemarketers are members of the CMA, so this registration did not eliminate all unsolicited telemarketing calls.

In addition, the CRTC required that each telemarketing company maintain their own do not call list. Consumers could ask to be placed on the list, but only after receiving a call. The list was maintained by the telemarketing company for three years.

We have all received unwanted calls from people attempting to sell goods or services. It could be a telemarketing pitch from the local newspaper, a credit card company, a cleaning service, a charity, or even a politician wanting one's vote.

Sometimes we may welcome these calls because they would provide useful information or a product that we are interested in, but other times, they are nothing but an annoyance.

The Conservative Party supports the establishment of a Canadian do not call registry within parameters clearly defined by this Parliament and with reasonable exemptions provided for charities, political parties, polling firms and companies that wish to contact their current customers. In the original version of Bill C-37, these exemptions were not laid out by the government.

Furthermore, the power to determine these details was delegated by the Liberals to the CRTC and its regulatory powers rather than to the elected representatives of the House. In fact, before going to committee, the bill was almost an empty shell, with most of the details left to the regulations.

The bill is extremely light on details. There are no exceptions to the list. There are no details about how the list would be maintained, what information would be required from consumers, how telemarketers would check the list, how often they must check the list, and who would have access to the list or any reporting on how the list would be run.

As a result, we did not know if there would be any exclusions to the list, how much it would cost or who would operate the list and so on. Maybe it would be like the gun registry fiasco, costing $2 billion rather than $2 million. Those things are not clear.

The government habitually introduces shell bills that lack substance, are written in, often, incomplete, general terms and are very vague in intent. So, no substance, no nitty-gritty, no details, but only a shell.

Much of the law that affects Canadians is not found in the Statutes of Canada but in the thousands and thousands of regulations made pursuant to powers granted by acts of Parliament. This leaves the door wide open to put through regulations that define our laws, without the proper checks and balances.

To curtail that, to plug that big black hole in the regulatory process, I introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-205, which in fact was the only private member's bill to receive royal assent. That bill was introduced by the Canadian Alliance. It restored some accountability to the regulation making process because it brought under the umbrella of the government all the quasi-government organizations like the CRTC and many others. They used to make the regulations but they were not under the purview of parliamentary scrutiny.

I plugged that black hole in the regulatory reforms, but still the government habitually introduces legislation without any detail. It leaves all the details to the regulatory process. In doing so, the Liberal government has effectively gutted the parliamentary process of accountability and transparency in the formulation of laws. Parliament is no longer at the centre of the law making process.

The Prime Minister can talk all the talk about regulatory or democratic reforms, but his track record is the weakest in the history of Canada for democratic reforms existing in this House the way that democracy exists in Canada. In fact, in this minority government, I do not see any real democracy in existence, as the House leader of the Conservative Party said earlier.

During second reading debate I outlined all of these concerns. I concluded my speech by saying that:

—the registry, if established, must be “within parameters clearly defined by Parliament and with reasonable exemptions provided for charities, political parties and companies that wish to contact their current customers” and that we must craft a more detailed piece of legislation so both consumers and telemarketers are clear as to how the do not call registry will work.

After second reading, at committee, the Conservative Party members worked to amend the bill and to add several new clauses to the Telecommunications Act. The following are among the amendments passed at committee.

Three years after the do not call list comes into force, it will be reviewed by Parliament.

Next, any person making a telecommunications call must, at the beginning of the call, identify the purpose of the call and the person or the organization on whose behalf the call is being made. This was a Conservative amendment.

Exemptions are being granted to the following: charities, political parties, candidates, the riding associations, et cetera, and surveys, or calls made for the sole purpose of collecting information for a survey of members of the public.

As for individual lists, all the parties that have been made exempt must still keep individual no not call lists. If a person is called by a charity and asks to be placed on the do not call list held by that charity, the charity is forced to comply and is not allowed to call that individual for three years, which is the current time limit. Of course, the length of time could be changed by the CRTC through the regulations once the bill is passed.

All of these were Conservative amendments.

As I have only one minute left, I will summarize. Seniors are not protected under the bill. Telemarketing companies scam seniors, selling gambling, lotteries, et cetera to them. The bill also does not address unsolicited ads on the Internet, the pop-ups. As well, young children, when learning on the Internet and doing their homework, are bombarded with vulgar and pornographic ads. Nothing has been done about this.

To conclude, I would like to say that a centrally administered national do not call list provides the means for consumers to avoid unsolicited telemarketing calls. A well-run do not call list will provide consumers with choice and protection.

The Conservative Party supports the establishment of a do not call registry within the parameters I have clearly defined. I personally still have many concerns. I have tried to allude to them, but my time is up, so let me close by saying that I will be watching closely and will protect the best interests of my constituents of Newton—North Delta and all Canadians.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague. I understand that we cannot resolve everything. He will probably agree with me that we need not ask too much of the Liberal Party, which would not want to resolve all the problems. I agree with him that the spam mail we are bombarded with on the Internet will probably become the subject of another bill in this House.

As far as phone calls are concerned, I want to know if my colleague agrees that, just as the bill sets out to do, once the list of organizations to exempt, such as charities, is established, individuals should be given the opportunity to decide whether to be put on the list to no longer receive inconvenient phone calls from all these companies that are increasingly specializing in telemarketing.

Does my colleague agree that once we decide which agencies will be exempt from the do not call list, it would be a good idea to have legislation to allow individuals to sign up on a list to no longer receive unsolicited calls? We have to realize how difficult it is to define the not-for-profit organizations to exempt. There is also the whole issue of political parties, as he mentioned. Once we agree on the agencies that could never be excluded, we should pass in this House legislation allowing individuals, who are fed up with receiving phone calls from telemarketing companies, to no longer be disrupted by that type of call. This borders on harassment, even if, in practice, it is not. We need some type of legislation in this House. Does my colleague agree that we must pass such legislation as soon as possible?

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, even though the translation of the member's question was not very clear, I thank the member for bringing forth this issue. I know that the legislation is important and must be passed in the House.

Consumers in Canada deserve protection. They do not want any harassment or intimidation by telemarketers or in other unwanted calls. They should not be forced to receive those calls.

The member is also right. We cannot accomplish everything through the legislation, but we have the responsibility as the chosen elected members to represent our constituents and to raise important concerns relating to this issue on behalf of our constituents.

I brought forward the Internet issue because I have not seen any legislation from the government that would protect our children. The children in my constituency and in Canada deserve protection. They are on the Internet, doing their homework and trying to learn as much as they can, and they are unnecessarily bombarded with those pop-up ads. I am surprised that those ads to which our vulnerable children are exposed are pornographic images.

The government has done absolutely nothing to put into place some sort of measure which would restrict those ads if children are at the computer learning and doing their homework. They are unnecessarily distracted and in fact unwittingly persuaded through those pornographic materials.

In a family set-up, that is not the right thing. We have the violence chip, which can prevent violent movies or other stuff on the TV. Why can we not have the advantage of scientific research put on the home computer so that our children are not exposed to those unwanted, undesirable ads? We do not want to be disturbed by a simple phone call, but how about our kids? They are given all kinds of material that we do not want them to have.

Similarly, there is no restriction on fax lines. The telemarketing companies are going around the law. They are going around the restrictions in the United States, for example, by using fax messaging. The fax message does not display the name of the sender, the company that is sending, or any phone number. What is there in the bill which will make sure that if we get an unsolicited fax message we can put ourselves on a do not call or do not fax list?

Those are important considerations. Otherwise, I am supporting the bill. It is a step forward, but a small step.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on Bill C-37. I had spoken last week on this bill, beginning that presentation with my story of being solicited at home for a vacuum cleaner, one fine Saturday morning at 9 a.m. I find that these examples are far too frequent in recent years.

We know that the field of technology is evolving. The marketing companies are pushing sales more and more, and their salespersons as well. So we have reached the point where, today, this bill will become a kind of consumer protection act, to protect consumer privacy.

I consider the type of call I was mentioning earlier to be out of place, coming on a Saturday morning or often at dinner time. For salespersons know that, as people are very busy these days, it is often early in the morning, at dinner time or after dinner that they can be most easily reached. This is an infringement of the privacy of consumers.

Ours is a world in which everything is moving faster and faster, where the entire working class is confronted with more and more demands. When anyone who works comes back home in the evening, he or she deserves a little relaxation, a little time to spend with the family. This is important, and we speak often about it. There are all kinds of projects for balancing work and family. In Quebec, this is in fact a very important issue.

Imagine, in the evening, when you are at home, receiving two or three telephone calls like this. Often the people who call are persistent. It is difficult to simply hang up on them. They have a good psychological approach: they are open-minded and very kind. People spend time with them, and finally realize that they are being solicited. The more time goes by, the greater the pressure. Often people hesitate to hang up. They can lose 5, 10 or 15 minutes of their time, of their privacy, at the end of which they may say no. All the same, they will have wasted time to the detriment of their family.

The bill we have before us today protects consumers and privacy generally.

Neither can the do not call principle be applied to everyone. We have understood this. At present, the bill provides that charities will be exempt from its application. That means that a charity cannot be prohibited from calling a certain list of persons. The reason for this is fundamental. As I often say to the community groups and charitable organizations in my own riding, if we did not have these groups, it would be very difficult for society to function.

Everyone knows that public finances are limited, both in the provinces and in Canada. Obviously there is growing pressure on public finances, particularly in the provinces, whereas in Ottawa there is a big surplus. In the provinces there are many restrictions. Consequently the government sometimes withdraws from certain sectors of activity, especially social activity. As a result, it is the community groups that come to the rescue of those who are somewhat more disadvantaged.

I find it totally unjustified to tell the Red Cross for example that it will be on an exemption list and will no longer be allowed to phone a number of people whose names are on a do not call list because they do not want to be called. The Red Cross may be a case in point these days, in light of the earthquake in Pakistan and all that is happening in that part of the world.

I believe that they need funding. We can depend on the governments, but we must also depend on organizations of this type. These are often non governmental organizations, people who go to the rescue of victims who are in a very bad situation. The government is not the only one asked to act; organizations of this type also get involved.

They are also active, on a smaller scale, in our respective ridings. Who does not know of the organizations looking after children or battered women?

Solicitation is very important to them. Cutting their funding by telling them that, in the future, they will no longer be allowed to phone 40% or 50% of the citizens of St-Jean is not helping them. And it is not helping the society at large either.

It is therefore perfectly understandable that the bill provide for exemptions. Charities—registered ones naturally—will be in a separate category and protected, because there are sometimes charlatans in that field as well. Traps are to be avoided. People must necessarily be registered to have their names on the do not call list.

The bill also deals with the issue of business relationships. This week, I visited a very dynamic business in my region. It is a computer company and it markets absolutely fantastic software. I was introduced to the woman in charge of marketing. That is all she does all day long. It is quite usual for companies to solicit bilateral service exchanges or to sell each other services, whether they are in the same field or different ones.

Business relationships are very important. We do not want to suppress them with a bill of this kind. However, I do not think the bill is aimed at that issue but rather at excessive marketing to individuals. Business relationships must continue to be protected. I obviously do not need to spell it all out. It is important for companies to be identified and protected so that all business relationships continue.

There are also political calls. Here we are kind of making our own sales pitch. It is important to preserve this right, which I think is a right to information. I often say to young people or people who do not have a lot of confidence in politics: “You know, everything you do is political. Everything you put on your table, the children you send to school or daycare, when you use hospitals, those are all political issues.

It is important, therefore, for political calls to continue. Otherwise, we would be risking anarchy. Many people do not believe in politics. Nevertheless, we must continue, with the means at our disposal, to make as many people as possible aware of how important politics still are. It is a basic right to information.

The same is true of opinion polls. I am not speaking just of political opinion polls but of opinion polls in general about what people like or do not like about society or how they feel social problems should be addressed. We feel that these polls are a very important right to information that must absolutely be maintained.

I was very happy to arrive this morning and discover before delivering my speech that our Liberal friends had finally agreed to unanimous consent on newspapers. That might seem strange because the opposition members, both in the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois, had tried furiously last week to get unanimous consent but could not. Our colleagues must have received some food for thought over the weekend. Maybe they got some telephone calls from representatives of major newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and the National Post saying, “Listen, our Liberal friends, we would like to be exempted from that, too”. However it came about, the result is the same.

So, this morning we found out that newspapers were excluded, just like registered charities and political telecommunications. It is important that newspapers be excluded because, again, we are talking about the right to information. I can say unequivocally that we have some very good newspapers in my riding. Le Canada français is one of them. There are people there whose job is specifically to do telemarketing all day long. If we want our local newspapers to survive, it is important that they be able to go and get subscribers, which are often individuals. It is important to read a newspaper once a week or once a day. I am not talking about advertisement, but about the importance for a citizen to keep informed, both at the local and national levels. So, it is important that the instruments that ensure the survival of these newspapers be protected.

In the end, there was unanimous consent on this issue. I will be pleased to support the bill, which now also includes newspapers.

What is also interesting about the bill is that it provides for a review after three years, to see how things are working out. Some irritants will likely surface, but we will be able to review the legislation three years from now. Such a review is often not included in bills, although it may be less indicated in some cases. However, I think that, in this case, it is perfectly suited to the bill now before us. In three years, we will see if other organizations should be excluded from the scope of the act.

There may be other ways of looking at how the list should be controlled. I will talk about this later on. So, if there is a major problem, we will be able to change some provisions of the act three years from now. This will prevent the government from deciding alone the political agenda, setting the procedure and selecting the issues that come before the House, and from deciding to not present this bill again to the House, even if there are irritants. Such a provision will benefit everyone. It is a safeguard, a protection. If we find out that we erred or that we did not have all the information, we will be able to correct the situation.

I was also surprised to see that the Canadian Marketing Association did not object to the bill. In fact, the CMA president himself said that it was about time we did something. With the deregulation that currently prevails, whereby there are practically no rules in effect in Canada, we are witnessing, as I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, a proliferation of this kind of approach. Frankly, consumers, myself included, are tired of constantly being disturbed. We are also noticing a change, although not for the better, in that there is an increasing number of these calls and companies are becoming more and more insistent. The situation has reached the point where, when I get home, there are always messages on my answering machine. These companies called and they left messages. Out of all the messages that will be waiting when I get home on Thursday, probably one quarter of them will have been left by organizations or individuals doing solicitation and urging me to call them back. Of course, I will not do so. Not only do I not have the time because of my duties as a member of Parliament, but I am also somewhat reluctant to do so because I find these companies to be quite insistent.

So, the CMA too confirmed the existence of a problem that needs to be corrected. It did not object to Bill C-37. I will talk about it in a little while. It wants to be involved to some degree, particularly as regards the registry issue. However, the Bloc Québécois' position on this is quite clear.

Not only is the CMA saying that such legislation was needed, it is also realizing that, in any case, the people whose names will be on that do not call list were not buying from these companies. In its opinion, the impact of such a list will not be that great on its members. So, in the end, it agrees with this measure.

We did not start from square one on that issue. The Americans had a bit of a head start on us. In 2003, they noted the same kind of problem and legislated to establish what is called a do not call registry. It seems to be working. I do not know whether that particular piece of legislation includes a provision like ours for review in three years. One thing that is for sure is that it is already working. Sixty two million Americans have registered. This type of solicitation was bothering them, and they wanted the companies to stop phoning them. The legislation provides for penalties. That is another thing. If we pass legislation, the legislation must not be too soft. It must not be merely an incentive; it should make a real impact. It is important that marketing experts understand that certain conditions have to be met, failing which there will be stiff penalties to pay. This is already in place in the United States. The majority of the 62 million people I referred to earlier are already reporting a sharp decrease in the number of calls received; in fact, 87% reported receiving hardly any calls.

So they are very happy with this legislation. It is time now in Canada to act accordingly.

I want to speak now about the registry and how the CMA wants to become involved. When anyone says registry, of course, the nightmare that people usually think of is the gun registry. I took part in the debate last week. There were a lot of questions about this registry. Let us be very clear. The legislation must be as specific as possible and there must be as much information as possible about this registry.

It would be good if they could tell us every three or four months how much the operation cost for the previous months. We do not want to have the kind of surprise we had with the firearms control registry. It was supposed to cost $2 million a year and now it costs $2 billion. It is the taxpayers who pay for that. This is another scandal. People often talk about the sponsorship scandal, but there is also the gun registry scandal. That is probably the biggest scandal in dollar terms. There is quite a difference between $2 million and $2 billion. A thousand times more. Everyone agrees that this did not make sense.

Our fears are understandable, therefore, when they talk about registries. We want to ensure that there are as many guarantees as possible. But we do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We believe that this is important legislation and one way to exercise control is to have a registry. We are in a tough spot, though, because we saw what happened with the gun registry. It cost $2 million instead of $2 billion. On the other hand, we cannot just cast all these kinds of bills aside whenever the word “registry” appears. That is not the way to see things. By the way, there are a lot of discussions every year when the time arrives for requests for budget surpluses to be given to the Canadian firearms program. People do say that they can hardly believe it.

The basic principle was to control firearms. I get telephone calls myself from mothers who lost their daughters in the massacre of students at the Polytechnique. I cannot resist these mothers who tell me that we have to keep the firearms registry. It is useless for me to tell them that it costs $80 million extra; for them, it is not a question of money. For a society to control firearms, for them, it is non-negotiable.

It is always a bit awkward to be asked to vote more funding for a program that has already cost $2 billion, when it was meant to cost only $2 million annually.

The same thing applies here. We have some concerns, but we do believe that the bill is a valuable one. We just need to pin down the matter of the registry to ensure that it does not get out of hand like the last time. I should make that clear, out of the Liberal Party's hands.

Once again, the opposition members are the ones who raised the issue. The Liberal Party was asked at one point whether it did not find $2 billion instead of $2 million to be sufficient. We are not the ones who dropped the ball. All we did was block it so that it did not roll further out of bounds. If we had not, the tab might well have gone over the $2 billion mark by now.

We keep on insisting that the expenditures be reduced to acceptable levels. We will also insist that the registry that is an integral part of this bill be monitored as closely as possible to avoid a repetition of this pillaging of public funds.

We also do not want the registry to be kept by the Canadian Marketing Association. They will certainly not be given responsibility for it. That would be a bit like asking Colonel Sanders to keep an eye on the chicken coop. That is not what we want.

In closing, I will point out that we will need to address fraudulent telemarketing at a later time. The laws on this are very severe in the U.S., thereby driving the phony telemarketers back to Canada. They operate what are called boiler rooms, from which they systematically swindle people.

Unfortunately, the bill before us does not take this into account. I get the feeling that we would have to amend the Criminal Code instead.

Nevertheless, the Bloc Québécois will be supporting Bill C-37. We are, moreover, very pleased that newspapers have been added to the list of exemptions.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Liberal Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's speech was very interesting. He spoke a great deal about the issue of cost. It is a very important issue that affects every hon. member and all Canadians.

However, he did not say what cost he would find acceptable: $2 million? $10 million? $100 million? From his speech, I have no idea. Although I agree with him that the cost should not be too high, I have no idea what he would consider a reasonable cost. He is the one who used the term “reasonable”.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a $50,000 question.

We are talking about a reasonable cost. When the gun registry was established, we felt that the cost of $2 million a year was reasonable. We had agreed to $2 million a year. Now taxpayers are being told that we want to set up a do not call registry. I think $2 million ought to do it. However, I just have one thing to say to my colleague: we do not want this to end up costing $2 billion, which is what happened with the gun registry.

I will talk to my colleagues. They will probably tell me that this amount could be slightly more or slightly less. However, we do not want any overspending. We want tight control. Perhaps there could be a report to Parliament on a regular basis, every quarter. When a reasonable amount has been determined, then we can ensure it is respected. That is how I see things for now. If we had planned for $2 million for the gun registry, then I think we could plan $2 million for the do not call registry.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal

Mr. Speaker, I have been following the debate with great interest because, as I mentioned earlier, I am interested in the legislation but I am not a member of the committee.

It seems to me this is a case where the legislation has been developed in committee, or at least large parts of it have been, and as we know in the current Parliament the opposition has control of the committee. We are dealing with legislation which has been greatly shaped by the opposition and I am pleased to hear that members of the various parties support it.

I asked earlier about my concern regarding charities and charitable organizations. My colleague opposite gave me an answer to that, that they will be exempt in various ways from this do not call legislation.

I am also concerned about businesses, particularly small businesses in my riding. Quite a lot of these businesses have lists which they already phone. For example, I am on the list of the company that services my car. That firm may phone me occasionally about servicing my car. I believe there is provision in the legislation to protect groups like that carrying on their normal practice.

I wonder if my colleague from the Bloc would care to comment on that so that we can have on the record what the situation is for small businesses that have call lists of their own.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I will go back to the example given by my colleague. If one of his business contacts buys a car from a certain dealer and the car is due for maintenance, the dealer would be entirely justified to call its client to tell him that, based on his mileage, he should come in for a check-up. We have nothing against that.

However, it would not be justified for a car dealership to systematically call people outside its client base to offer them its current specials and urge them to visit it to obtain particular benefits. This can already be seen on television, with the famous ad saying that the product is available to everyone at the employee price. I have nothing against television. Nonetheless, telemarketing consists in calling people systematically in this way and soliciting them, and that is what this bill is about.

Business relations among companies as well as business relations between a customer and his car dealer do not pose a problem. It is like the pharmacist calling his client to tell him he no longer has the necessary medication and inviting him to the pharmacy to renew his prescription. The bill permits this.

In fact, it is important that this be maintained, because otherwise our society would not function. I hope I have answered my colleague's question.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Jean on his excellent presentation. I would simply like to ask him the following question: is it not the industry itself which, having profited from this system as it has, has caused us to issue guidelines today?

These days, some banks no longer have branches, and some people sell products without running a store. It is because of an entire industry that we no longer have corner branches. Every company has turned to the telephone.

In a way, that is what we want to defend against. We want to allow citizens who still want to do business with companies that have branches to have that option, instead of doing business with people who call them on the phone. It is one way of doing business. As my colleague was saying, we do not want to do harm to companies that carry on business relations with individuals. What we want to prevent is banks with no branches and stores with no buildings.

I would like to hear my colleague’s response on this question.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent comment. It has often been demonstrated that companies now will stop at nothing to ensure a profit for their shareholders. That includes closing down outlets.

Not for nothing is the Canadian Marketing Association in full change mode. That change is coming fast, because it has to address the disappearance of places of business. What is more, pressure is being placed on the poor telemarketers. I must say, that is an occupation that I would never want. I used to be a vacuum cleaner salesman, and I would visit customers to talk to them and try to sell them a product. The situation now, on the other hand, is that we are getting calls regularly, every day, to sell us vacuum cleaners, encyclopedias, etc.

With the closure of places of business, we are now in a marketing transition. Companies are putting pressure on their own telemarketers, who are paid for each sale. That is why they become so insistent. As a result, the government is obliged to legislate in this matter.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Jean, on his accurate and enlightened remarks on Bill C-37.

Naturally, like him, I am concerned about protecting my fellow citizens against telemarketing abuse. I agree with him on some of the exemptions that should be included in this bill on telemarketing, namely charities such as United Way and the Red Cross. It is important that they not be on the list that will be established.

I also share the concern of the hon. member for Saint-Jean about the abuse that has taken place in the management of the gun registry. We now know that this abuse has resulted in unconscionable costs in excess of $2 billion.

How does the hon. member for Saint-Jean suggest that the Liberal government avoid allocating excessive funding to the establishment of such a registry?

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4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must say that our Liberal friends will have to pay the price for that soon, after the holidays. We are expecting a second report. People have had enough of the outrageous overspending on this kind of programs and registries.

That is why, earlier in my remarks, in reference to the registry per se, I indicated that it would be important that, as is often provided for in legislation, reports be presented to Parliament on a regular basis, every four months or semi-annually for example, as required, so as to know where things stand with the registry and how much it is costing. First, cost guidelines have to be established; then, Parliament would have to be satisfied that these need to be exceeded. The program must not be allowed to operate for one year or two before we realize, much to our astonishment, that it has cost $2 billion, instead of $2 million as originally planned.

My hon. colleague is right. After the gun registry boondoggle, Parliament will have to be vigilant and keep a close eye on the costs associated with this registry.

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4:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is the House ready for the question?

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4:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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4:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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4:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Bill, as amended, read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from October 21 consideration of the motion that Bill C-64, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (vehicle identification number), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to express my support today for this important government bill, Bill C-64, aimed at combating the involvement of organized crime in the theft of motor vehicles by making it an offence to tamper with a VIN.

The bill was inspired by a private member's bill brought forward to Parliament by our late colleague, Chuck Cadman, namely Bill C-287. In summary, Bill C-64 would make it an offence without lawful excuse to alter, obliterate or remove a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that it was done to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle.

It is proposed that anybody who commits this offence would be liable, if proceeded with by indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or would be liable to a summary conviction. By virtue of section 787 of the Criminal Code, those people convicted of a summary conviction offence where no specific penalty is provided face up to a maximum term of imprisonment of six months and/or a $2,000 fine.

As previously indicated, Bill C-64 was inspired by private member's Bill C-287. Bill C-287 would have made it an offence for anybody without lawful excuse, the proof of which lies on the person, to alter, deface or remove a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle. Bill C-287 provided that if proceeded with by an indictment, an offender would face up to five years imprisonment. Furthermore, if proceeded with by summary conviction, the offender would face up to six months imprisonment and/or a $2,000 fine.

There are clearly similarities and differences between the current government bill and Bill C-287. Many members have indicated concern with the notable difference between the two bills. It has been significantly contentious in debate. I have listened with great interest to both points of view and would like to present my thoughts on the matter now.

First and foremost, Bill C-287 placed what is known as a persuasive burden on the accused to prove the existence of a lawful excuse for tampering with a VIN. Therefore the bill required the accused to prove on the balance of probabilities that he or she had a lawful excuse.

A foundational element of our criminal justice system is that an accused person will not be convicted of a criminal offence if he or she raise a reasonable doubt. Under Bill C-287, people accused of VIN tampering would face the prospect of a conviction even though they may have raised a considerable doubt as to their guilt. Therefore Bill C-287 and this reverse onus raises significant charter considerations.

Instead, Bill C-64 would require an accused to raise the defence of lawful excuse based on the usual tests in criminal law for raising a defence, namely the test of raising sufficient evidence on each element of the defence for it to be considered by the judge or the jury.

By adopting an offence, which would not on its face attract charter litigation, we are contributing to the utility of this offence as a prosecutorial tool as there is more likelihood that prosecutors will proceed on this VIN tampering charge to trial. In other words, it not only can be proclaimed but it can be applied as well.

I think all hon. members would agree that we want to ensure that the laws we pass in this place can and will be used for years to come.

In addition, Bill C-64 would require that the alteration, obliteration or removal of the vehicle identification number be done under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that it was done to conceal the identity of the vehicle. This element was not included in Bill C-287.

The purpose of this element of Bill C-64 is to distance the offence from these people, such as legitimate auto wreckers or mechanics who may in the course of their work alter, remove or obliterate a vehicle identification number. This consideration was made as it would be bad policy indeed to craft an offence under which a large group of legitimate workers might be caught under its scope.

I think all members would agree that the manner in which the government bill addresses this issue is sound.

Various key justice system stakeholders have called on the Government of Canada to enact an offence for VIN tampering.

First, the National Committee to Reduce Auto Theft, a multi-stakeholder group established in May 2000 representing stakeholders from mainly the police community and the insurance industry, released a subcommittee report in March 2003 entitled “Organized Vehicle Theft Rings”. This report, among other proposals, recommended the creation of a distinct VIN tampering offence in the Criminal Code.

In addition, in August 2003 the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution calling on the Government of Canada to create a Criminal Code offence specifically prohibiting the alteration, obliteration or removal of a vehicle identification number.

As well, in 2000 the Canadian Association of Police Boards passed a resolution calling on the federal government to enact legislation to combat theft in their communities which would include the creation of a Criminal Code offence for removing or obliterating a VIN number.

I am pleased to say that we have answered these calls with Bill C-64.

In 2004, there were nearly 170,000 motor vehicle thefts in Canada. This translates to a rate of roughly 530 vehicle thefts per rate of 100,000 people. My family and I are among that number, having had our vehicle stolen from our home last January. I share with many Canadians the feeling of violation and concern that comes with having a vehicle stolen from one's property.

I am pleased to note a slight decline in thefts since 2003 which in that year was 550 vehicle thefts per 100,000 people.

In order to compare certain provincial rates with the national rate, in 2004 the rate of motor vehicle thefts in B.C. was 889 per 100,000 and in Manitoba, it was 1,364 per 100,000. On the other end of the spectrum, Prince Edward Island had a rate of 187 per 100,000 and Ontario had 337 per 100,000.

Despite these variations in the rate of theft from province to province, this crime is still far too frequent in Canada. That is why, in addition to the current bill before the House, the Government of Canada is also committed to examining the issue of motor vehicle thefts more generally with our provincial and territorial partners.

In this regard, on January 25, at the federal-provincial-territorial ministers of justice meeting, as brought forward by my home province of Nova Scotia, all ministers agreed to send the matter of Criminal Code amendments affecting the categorization of motor vehicle thefts and increased penalties for those who steal vehicles and drive recklessly to their senior officials for study and report. Therefore, FPT officials are now working collaboratively on assessing whether a separate indictable offence is needed under the Criminal Code for auto theft and whether the current penalties are suitable for the crime.

In assessing whether Bill C-64 would truly add an additional useful tool for law enforcement, I would outline the existing ways that motor vehicle theft and related offences are dealt with under the code.

The Criminal Code addresses the crime of motor vehicle theft predominately through its theft provisions. If an offender is convicted of theft over $5,000, he or she would be subject to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment on indictment.

In addition, those who engage in motor vehicle theft and related crimes are often charged with the offence of fraud. This offence carries a maximum of 14 years on indictment.

The offence of taking a motor vehicle without consent, such as joyriding, is a straight summary conviction offence and therefore an offender faces a maximum six month term of imprisonment or a $2,000 fine or both when convicted.

As other speakers have noted before, the offence of possession of property obtained by crime is particularly relevant to those who engage in VIN tampering. Since there currently is no specific Criminal Code prohibition against VIN tampering, those who engage in this activity are often charged with the possession of property obtained by crime offence. The punishment for this offence, if the property is over $5,000, is 10 years imprisonment on indictment.

All too often those who commit motor vehicle theft flee from a lawful pursuit by a law enforcement personnel. In doing so, these offenders endanger the lives of not only themselves but innocent third parties, law enforcement and others. If no one is injured as a result of this flight, then the offender would face up to five years imprisonment. Although, in the event that bodily harm results from this activity, the offender faces up to 14 years imprisonment. Finally, if death results the offender faces a maximum term of life.

I think all hon. members would agree that these existing offences provide a wide range of tools and sanctions that would be complemented by the addition of a VIN tampering offence.

I am encouraged also by the recent changes brought forward by my colleague the Minister of Transport. These regulations regarding the mandatory installation of vehicle immobilization devices have been noted as leading to the significant reduction of motor vehicle theft, especially in the cases involving youth. I look forward to a time when all vehicles manufactured in Canada have these important anti-theft devices installed.

I suspect all hon. members can agree that the creation of a Criminal Code offence for the intentional alteration, obliteration or removal of a vehicle identification number serves many purposes. Obviously it fills an existing gap in the Criminal Code in a meaningful way. It also provides a useful new tool for police and crown prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of organized vehicle thefts.

Finally, it responds to the calls of key justice system stakeholders to enact such an offence. At the same time it honours the commitment of our colleague, the late Chuck Cadman, to these and other justice system issues by bringing forward a legislative reform that was advanced by that honourable and distinguished member of the House.

Therefore, I join other members of the House in supporting this bill. I urge all members to do the same.

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, whenever we talk about justice issues all we hear from the other side is talk about maximum sentences, and yet when we read the newspapers and when people see these crimes being committed, seldom is the maximum penalty imposed. I know from my own experience in Manitoba that automobile theft is at an all-time high, particularly in the city of Winnipeg.

The member said that changing some of the wording of Mr. Cadman's original presentation would prevent any problems being created with respect to autobody shops that have to change or alter the VINs. The first part of Mr. Cadman's bill stated that everyone commits an offence who wholly or partially alters, removes, or obliterates a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle without lawful excuse. Would an autobody shop that needs to make a necessary change not be covered? Would it not be operating with lawful excuse and therefore not be considered a part of the extension that has been added to this bill?

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, there has been some sincere discussion on this bill. I think everybody in the House in general supports this bill in the spirit of our late colleague whom my colleague opposite knew very well.

I am not a lawyer, although dabbling in politics every now and then it has been a frequent accusation that has been levelled my way. I cannot speak to those specifics. I do think the essence of the difference between Mr. Cadman's bill and this bill is the onus of proof in this case is on the prosecution. That is really the basis of our criminal justice system, that the prosecution has to prove guilt.

This question has been asked a number of times and there has been a lot of discussion about it and I am sure we will hear more about it. I am certainly open to different points of view. This bill addresses what I believe to be the original intent of Mr. Cadman's bill, but it charter-proofs it. It also indicates that the onus of proof needs to be on the prosecution and not on the accused.

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4:35 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague and as I said off microphone, I think he should thank God that he is not a lawyer.

We have heard a lot of talk in this House in the last year about crime and punishment for crime. I have to say that this particular bill touches me very personally. It is not something I discuss very widely in public, but in my very early teens I was actually involved in joyriding. I have to think of myself at that time and the crimes and the punishments that we are suggesting and what would have happened in those days had penalties of this type been in place.

I would like to point out to my colleague, that I do not have the figures nationally or for the Atlantic provinces, but I do have the figures for Ontario. I have to point out here that the overall crime rate in Ontario reached a historic peak in the early 1990s at the end of the Mulroney era. As far as I can tell, the overall crime rate here has gone down in a most remarkable fashion every single year since.

Violent crimes in Ontario truly did. They reached the highest level on record in 1993, which is the year the Liberal government came into power. The rate has gone down, not every year, but every year except one since. The rate is now at a level which is close to a historic low. The same is true for crimes involving offensive weapons in Ontario. Crimes involving offensive weapons reached a peak in 1994 and have gone down every year since. There are similar figures for homicides.

I assume motor vehicles are property, and for property crimes we see the same thing. We see an all-time high in 1991 and never reached that again. Property crime has gone down to a historic low according to the last figures I have for 2002-03.

By the way, a lot of the lowering of the crimes has had to do with the prosperity we have created. It also has to do with reaching out to poor communities. I know it also has to do with changes to laws and our more restrictive control of guns and things of that type. Given these sorts of figures and given what has happened since 1993 in crime of all sorts, does a lot of the lowering of the crime rates has to do with the mood in our communities?

I know my colleague is very serious about this issue. I would like my colleague to address that aspect of property crime and remember that one of his colleagues did in fact participate in joyrides in his youth.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his honesty about past misdeeds. I must admit I was not quite as shocked as some might be, having gotten to know him in the past year.

I do think that it speaks to the issue of proportionality when he talks about joyriding versus the issue of organized criminals being involved in tampering, obliterating and violating vehicle identification numbers.

I mentioned my own case of being at home on a January night after my wife and I had just brought our child back from the hospital. He had sustained a small injury. We had parked the car in the garage. Then we woke up at 1:30 a.m. to the sound of the police knocking on our door to tell us that our vehicle had been found some distance away. Our personal experience is all that we could think about at that point in time and about the criminal justice system.

There have been a lot of improvements and the crime rate has in general gone down, as my hon. colleague mentioned. However, it does not in any way reduce the burden of ensuring that we continue to do everything we can. In a small way my family and I suffered a minor inconvenience. In a larger way there are people such as Jason MacCullough of my community who was murdered in 1999 and for whom the community had a walk against violence in his memory last week. Anyone who is a victim of crime is one too many.

We have made some progress in this country, but we are also sensitive to the fact that we must do more to protect Canadians. At the end of the day it is one of the things that they most solemnly look to their government to do on their behalf and we are doing it.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the government across the way that there are over 170,000 vehicles stolen annually and that is what the bill is addressing. In the member's comments when he was talking about the onus of proof, if I understand it correctly, I would say that Mr. Cadman's bill put the onus on the person charged to explain why he or she had a vehicle with a stolen VIN.

To me that would be the obvious direction we would want to take. I would suggest that having the crown prove that a person caught with a stolen vehicle knows that it was stolen would simply lead to long, prolonged court cases. It would take forever to find out the truth, as opposed to when a person who is charged has to explain why he or she has a stolen vehicle. I would like the member to explain this to the House and to Canadians.

The member opposite wants to talk about process. We know the Liberal process is to delay, delay, delay and then it issues get out of jail free cards to everyone.

I would ask the member opposite if he would like to explain the difference between putting the onus on the person who is charged to defend why he or she has a vehicle with a stolen VIN and why he would want the crown to prove that a person caught with a stolen vehicle must prove that he or she knew that it was stolen?