Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-299, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Competition Act (personal information obtained by fraud). I will use my time today to discuss the proposed amendments to the Competition Act and the implications of the proposed bill for the privacy protections established by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, PIPEDA.
Before dealing with the specifics of these amendments, I would like to briefly comment on the overall intent of the bill. As I understand it, Bill C-299 seeks to protect Canadians' personal information from pretexting, that is, the collection of their personal information through fraud and impersonation. This is a very real concern for Canadians. I fully understand the hon. member's desire to combat the collection of personal information through fraudulent means. The Government of Canada has taken a keen interest in this issue given Industry Canada's responsibilities for PIPEDA and its overall goal of building a safer, more secure Internet.
New information technologies have revolutionized the way business is conducted and helped to make Canadian companies among the most efficient and competitive in the world. However, the electronic collection, storage and transmission of personal information, at the same time, carries the risk that personal information may be misappropriated and used without the consent of the individual to whom this information pertains.
What is particularly problematic here is that the full extent of the threat is unknown. Victims often do not know that their personal information has been stolen. When they do find out it can be months or even years. Victims can register their complaints with a variety of different organizations, such as credit bureaus, banks, credit card companies, federal and provincial privacy commissioners and, yes, law enforcement agencies. However, while it appears that this problem is pervasive, many victims do not report the crime at all. These victims silently suffer financial losses, a loss of reputation, emotional distress and the often difficult task of rebuilding their credit rating.
Those victims who do come forward report that their misappropriated personal information has been used in a variety of ways, including to open up a new credit card account, commit insurance or payment fraud, obtain government benefits, open up a new phone or utility account, or take out a loan in their name.
Clearly, we can all agree that this is a very serious problem, and the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc is seeking to tackle this. However, what is the best way to deal with it? With this bill, the hon. member has proposed a number of avenues through which to do so. It is in this light that I wish to make my comments with respect to the amendments to the Competition Act.
The Competition Bureau is an independent law enforcement agency responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, Textile Labelling Act and the Precious Metals Market Act.
The Competition Act is an extremely important piece of framework legislation touching on virtually all sectors of the Canadian economy. It promotes and maintains competition so that Canadians can benefit from competitive prices, product choice and quality services. Headed by the Commissioner of Competition, the organization investigates anti-competitive practices and promotes compliance with the laws under its responsibility.
The bill seeks to amend a number of sections of the Competition Act to include provisions dealing with fraud, false pretenses and fraudulent impersonation.
As I mentioned earlier, the Competition Bureau promotes and maintains competition so that Canadians can benefit from competitive prices, product choice and quality services. More specifically, the bureau's mandate, as it relates to misleading representations, is to ensure that consumers are able to make informed decisions based on the most accurate information possible.
Under the Competition Act, misleading advertising is dealt with in two ways: through criminal provisions in section 52 of the Competition Act, and through non-criminal provisions in section 74.01 of the Competition Act.
Bill C-299 seeks to amend section 52. Currently, section 52 of the Competition Act contains a general prohibition to deal with the most severe cases of misleading advertising. It prohibits all materially false or misleading representations made knowingly or recklessly in the promotion of a product or business interest. Misleading advertising occurs when a representation is made to the public that is false or materially misleading and such a representation could influence a consumer to buy the product or the service advertised.
Additionally, Bill C-299 seeks to amend section 74.01 of the Competition Act. Currently, section 74.01 deals with deceptive marketing practices which are dealt with through administrative rather than criminal remedies. Under this section, a person engages in “reviewable conduct” where that person, for the purpose of promoting, directly or indirectly, any product or business interest, makes a representation to the public that is false or misleading in a material respect.
“Reviewable conduct” includes representations to the public as to the efficacy or length of life of a product that is not based on adequate or proper testing. It also includes representations to the public in the form of a warranty, guarantee or promise that is materially misleading.
Finally, Bill C-299 proposes an amendment to section 36 of the Competition Act, which deals with the recovery of damages in criminal cases and where there is a failure to comply with an order of the Competition Tribunal.
As I indicated earlier, the Competition Act is a key piece of framework legislation. If this bill is in fact referred to committee, I would urge a detailed examination of the proposed amendments to the Competition Act.
Let me now turn to my comments on Bill C-299's relationship to the personal information Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, PIPEDA, and the privacy protections that it establishes. There are varying consequences to deceitfully or fraudulently obtaining personal information. Individuals may be exposed to the risk of identity theft or their address may be obtained by a stalker or abusive ex-spouse. Alternatively, they may find their information populating a data broker's database or they may merely be subjected to unwanted marketing.
I would note that PIPEDA already addresses certain situations that Bill C-299 proposes to capture in relation to pretexting. For example, PIPEDA requires that organizations obtain individuals' knowledge and consent prior to the collection, use or disclosure of their personal information in the course of commercial activity.
Under the act, consent must be obtained anew for any use or disclosure for a purpose that differs from the purpose for which it was originally collected. On this basis, the act already requires that personal information be collected by fair and lawful means and that consent not be obtained through deception.
A very important aspect of PIPEDA makes organizations accountable for the information that is in their custody, including information that has been transferred to third parties for processing. Accountability is maintained whether these third parties are located in Canada or abroad. In this respect, there may be situations where PIPEDA provides a sufficient and adequate legislative response to the deceptive collection of personal information.
The member for Edmonton—Leduc has indicated that with this bill he aims to provide a remedy for individuals who have been subjected to the invasive practice of pretexting. I agree that effective recourse is essential to dealing with privacy violations.
Such a mechanism exists under PIPEDA, where privacy related conflicts are resolved through mediation and dispute resolution mechanisms with the assistance of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Unresolved matters may be taken to Federal Court, which has the power to order organizations to modify their practices and award damages to the aggrieved.
In light of the wide range of activities related to identity theft and the urgency of addressing the many facets of this issue, I would hope that linkages between this bill and other related government initiatives be considered.
For example, during the first hour of debate of this bill, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada noted that justice officials had been consulting with key stakeholders on improving the Criminal Code of Canada to deal with identity theft, adding that the department was committed to ensuring that Canada's criminal laws contain comprehensive and effective tools to combat identity theft.
The parliamentary secretary noted that he looked forward to working with his colleague, the member for Edmonton—Leduc, on protecting Canadians' personal information from misappropriation. Similarly, I would suggest that the upcoming review of PIPEDA will provide an opportunity for members of Parliament to assess whether the act's oversight and redress regime provides sufficient recourse for victims of privacy invasions such as pretexting.
I expect that a collaborative approach could be quite effective in addressing these issues that are of great concern, including phishing, spyware and related Internet threats, all of which can facilitate identity theft in the online environment.
I take this opportunity to echo the parliamentary secretary's suggestion and express my support for collaboration to ensure the development of a coherent and comprehensive solution to address issues related to the deceitful or fraudulent acquisition of identity information and to identity theft.