Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today and address Bill C-53, an act to amend the Criminal Code, proceeds of crime, and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Let me begin by congratulating the Minister of Justice on this small but important step forward in the effort to reform our failing criminal justice system. Placing the reverse onus on the criminal to prove that his seized assets were not obtained through criminal activity is long overdue. As members of the House are well aware, the provisions contained in the bill are a long-standing plank in our Conservative Party platform.
A cynic might suggest that the only reason the bill is moving forward under the Liberals is because of the very precarious situation in which the government finds itself. It needs to fulfill a legislative calendar with legislation that is unlikely to result in its defeat. However, I prefer to believe that the Minister of Justice is listening to the common sense policies that our policy is promoting and is simply doing what is right.
The bottom line is Parliament needs to send a message that crime does not pay.
Unfortunately, our criminal justice system is in such a shambles right now after 12 years of Liberal rule, that many people are getting exactly the opposite message. I cannot help but be reminded of the case of Paul Coffin who was recently convicted for defrauding this very government of $1.5 million. While he repaid much of the money, he received no jail time and kept about $500,000. The message in that case for many Canadians is that crime does pay.
Nevertheless, Bill C-53 would ensure that those who are engaged in serious criminal enterprise, especially the illegal drug trade, would never profit from their crimes. Currently, those involved in this illicit trade in my part of Canada clearly see their crime as a profitable enterprise even when caught and convicted.
Apart from the potential stigma of a criminal conviction, those who run the marijuana grow houses in B.C. really do make a good profit. Even upon conviction there is rarely any jail time and the fines are a fraction of the income received from this illegal activity. They see the fines as simply the cost of doing business. My hope is that Bill C-53 is a first small step in a movement to suppress the grow houses, the smuggling of marijuana and cocaine over our borders and related violence that accompanies the drug trade.
With that in mind, I would like to focus on a couple of aspects of the bill that the minister and the justice committee may want to examine in greater detail as Bill C-53 moves through Parliament.
First is the 10 year limitation on seeking forfeiture. Currently clause 6.1 of the bill says that the court may impose forfeiture only if it is convinced that:
within 10 years before the proceedings were commenced in respect of the offence for which the offender is being sentenced, the offender engaged in a pattern of criminal activity for the purpose of directly or indirectly receiving a material benefit, including a financial benefit;
I believe we may want to reconsider limiting forfeiture in this way. It is important to remember that the individuals involved with most crime families and criminal organizations have been involved in criminal activity their whole lives. Yet, according to the bill, if such a criminal were to be prosecuted for organized crimes that took place more than 10 years before being charged, they apparently would be legally entitled to keep the proceeds of their crimes. Admittedly, such circumstances would be uncommon, yet I do not believe we would want to allow a free pass to such criminals.
Consider the case of a mobster who has lived his whole life off the avails of crime, who is finally ratted out by an informant for murders he committed earlier in his criminal career, yet there is no evidence of criminal activity for the past decade. The police finally have the evidence they need to put the don behind bars. However, even with the conviction and jail sentence, the mobster and his family keep the ill-gotten millions he amassed over his criminal career.
The second area the minister and the committee might want to examine further is the sheltering of ill-gotten gains in someone else's name. This problem was brought to my attention recently through round table meetings I have been holding across Canada as part of our party's task force on safe streets and healthy communities.
The leader of the official opposition asked me and Jim Flaherty, a former attorney general of Ontario and Conservative candidate, to head up this task force as we seek solutions to the problem of violent, drug related crime in Canadian society, the same crimes that Bill C-53 helps to address in part.
Police officers have related to me their frustration at attempting seizure of criminally derived assets from a spouse or a family member who are given title to a car, house or other property. Yes, the bill allows for fines in lieu of seizure where assets are inextricably comingled or found to be beyond the direct reach of authorities. However, I suspect that this obvious loophole for sheltering criminal assets could be tightened significantly.
The third area the minister and the justice committee may want to consider is the sheltering of assets overseas by such criminals. Again, the bill allows for fines in lieu of seizure where assets appear to be beyond the direct reach of Canadian authorities, yet fines may never be paid while criminal assets continue to exist beyond the reach of Her Majesty's government. Indeed, even if this new legislation is effective domestically, then we can well anticipate that the smarter and wealthier criminals will seek to deposit and invest their funds offshore.
According to the International Monetary Fund, estimates of money laundering worldwide amount to anywhere from $590 billion to $1.5 trillion.
According to the most recent Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada report:
—recent law enforcement projects in B.C. have discovered organized crime groups capable of laundering proceeds of crime derived from the cross-border smuggling of cocaine and marijuana, totaling approximately C$200 million.
That is just in B.C.
The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, an international-based organization, has recently identified the following worldwide trends in money laundering typologies also evident in Canada: these include the use of wire transfers, and organized crime’s utilization of gatekeepers, as they act as intermediaries with financial institutions in addition to providing an appearance of legitimacy. In addition, casinos, including on-line casinos, white-label Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), and money service businesses, such as currency exchanges are increasingly employed by organized crime groups to launder their money in Canada.
While organized crime groups based in Canada are laundering money here and abroad, Canada is also used by foreign-based groups for the purposes of laundering the proceeds of crime due to the stability of the economy and the soundness of its financial sector. There are individual facilitators and criminal organizations who specialize in providing money laundering services to a number of other organized crime groups.These individuals and criminal groups are not necessarily involved in other types of criminal activity but they do provide an essential component to the successful operation of criminal networks even though they may not be core members of the organization. Some marihuana brokers, for instance, have tasked individuals outside of their criminal organizations with converting the U.S. cash into Canadian currency through currency exchanges on their behalf.
While Parliament is considering the very subject of seizing criminal assets, it is a most appropriate time to be examining how we might strengthen our efforts to reduce the laundering of funds and to repatriate criminal assets from foreign jurisdictions.
Some questions that need answers include the following.
Is there more that can be done domestically to track the flow of funds overseas?
What is needed domestically to help these efforts?
Do we need to impose an anti-money laundering regime on money service businesses and currency exchanges?
Do we need more resources for police or for FINTRAC, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada?
Should we be looking at new treaties with certain offshore banking havens?
Alternatively, are there any jurisdictions that have become extremely problematic for Canada in our fight against organized crime for which the application of limited sanctions may be appropriate?
If the Minister of Justice is serious about forfeiture, then these questions also must be addressed more fully. While legislation alone cannot answer all of these questions, they must be answered all the same.
As I conclude my comments on Bill C-53, I leave members with some thoughts based on what I have been hearing from Canadians as I have travelled across Canada these past weeks as co-chairman of our party's task force on safe streets and healthy communities. Several themes have been repeated at these meetings, including dismay at the toothlessness of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, light or non-existent jail time for serious violent crimes and lax immigration rules that allow criminals to exploit the system. In addition, illegal drugs were fingered as a common denominator in most crimes, while unstable family environments were identified as the starting point for many career criminals.
There is much work to be done to reform the criminal justice system as my task force as reconfirmed. Again, I congratulate the Minister of Justice for adopting this important Conservative policy. I encourage all members to support this bill at second reading.