Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter into the debate today on Bill C-25 on behalf of the NDP caucus.
I am going to draw on some of the comments made by previous NDP members in this debate earlier and during other stages of the bill. I note many of the thoughtful comments made by our justice critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and our finance critic, the member for Winnipeg North, who analyzed the bill and added some helpful comments that I will try and summarize here.
I should note by way of introduction that the bill comes to us as one of a flurry of bills dealing with justice issues. There has been an entire suite of legislation in recent months, some of it good and some not so good. In the NDP's point of view, we believe that some of the bills go too far and some not far enough. I hope I will have time to develop this somewhat.
We believe that aspects of Bill C-25 do not go far enough given the worthwhile goals and objectives stated in the bill. This is one of those situations where the government of the day could have exercised even more authority to solve some of these issues.
Let me start with that one point that I have introduced to explain. Should the bill pass, this would be one of the few places in the Criminal Code where the reverse onus would be contemplated and allowed. This has been controversial in other aspects. For instance, we just finished debating Bill C-9 yesterday that introduced an element of reverse onus. Should individuals be convicted for a third time of an offence from a list of serious offences, the reverse onus would be put on them to prove why they should not be designated as dangerous offenders and locked up for life.
There were howls of derision in the House because the NDP had the temerity to raise the caution that we should only venture into this notion of reverse onus with our eyes open and with due diligence. We think we were justified in that respect and we are taking political heat as a result of it.
It was not a pleasant sight yesterday when we were debating Bill C-9. I was not proud at all of the tone of the debate that took place just because the NDP had the temerity to question the idea of “three strikes and you're out” and the idea of putting the reverse onus on individuals who are convicted to prove they are not dangerous offenders.
Bill C-25, the bill we are addressing today, deals with a reverse onus as well. This is one case where I think the Conservative government has gone soft on crime. I cannot understand why it did not go farther. Even though those members hurled abuse at the NDP for being soft on crime yesterday because we raised a question, in a more respectful way I ask them why they could not have gone tougher on crime in this bill. I will explain what I mean.
In the context of this flurry of crime and justice bills that we are dealing with, we have to establish the notion that crime does not pay. I would hope this would be one way to deter criminals from activities that we are trying to discourage. The prevailing wisdom and the common knowledge out there is that crime does pay.
An awful lot of bad people are getting away with an awful lot of things and living a very good life right under the noses of our police officers and law enforcement officers whose hands are tied. They may have darn good reason to believe that somebody is enjoying these luxury goods from ill-gotten gains from the proceeds of crime, but because the burden of proof is so onerous on our police officers and on our criminal justice system, it is rare that the proceeds of crime are actually seized.
Bill C-25 does suggest that in the event of money laundering and fundraising for terrorist activities or belonging to an illegal organization, the government can in fact seize bank accounts and cash assets from individuals and apply the reverse onus. I think that is laudable.
I would point out, though, that we could have expanded this notion to include more things than just the bank accounts. In the province of Manitoba we introduced legislation. It was defeated narrowly by the two Liberal members of the Manitoba legislature who would not allow it to pass, but we introduced legislation that was very broad and very sweeping. If a person was a member of a criminal organization and was convicted of a crime, the crown prosecutor could go to a judge who could then assess the material possessions of the criminal.
Let us say the person was a member of an illegal organization like the Hell's Angels and the guy was living in a $750,000 mansion with a tricked out Escalade in the driveway, two boats and a Sea-Doo, and all the tools and jewellery et cetera, the trappings of ill-gotten gains and crime. If that individual could not prove to the judge that the toys were purchased by earnings or by some legally obtained wealth, then we in fact could seize the property. The assets would be liquidated and the proceeds would in fact be dedicated directly to law enforcement, so that we can go out and bust more criminals. I thought that was a great bill and I thought that in the bill before us we could have explored some of those notions.
I note that the private member's bill from the Bloc Québécois in the last Parliament proceeded quite a way down the road before Parliament ended and the bill died on the order paper. I think Richard Marceau was the name of the Bloc member who is no longer a member so I can use his name and give him credit. That garnered a lot of support in the House. We thought it was a good idea.
This notion of reverse onus is not foreign to the NDP nor do we oppose it out of hand, but there was derision heaped on us yesterday for raising the idea that we did not believe reverse onus should be used in Bill C-27, the “three strikes and you're out” bill. We opposed it yesterday, but that does not mean that we oppose it all the time.
Some of the legitimate concerns about Bill C-25 that were raised above and beyond that observation from my own point of view were that it would put a burden on financial institutions to monitor, track, and take note of suspicious transactions or even overt exchanges of money that may indicate illegal activity. I think this is a necessary aspect of the bill. We have to rely on the cooperation of the financial institutions to alert us when these suspicious transactions take place.
However, the burden on smaller financial institutions may be quite onerous. I have an email from the director of the largest credit union on Vancouver Island, Mr. Bob Smits. Mr. Smits noticed that we were raising issues about the bill in the House of Commons and was monitoring it carefully.
He raised a concern that in a smaller financial institution like his, the current regulations, even as they exist today regarding tracking, the FINTRAC legislation, and the financial transactions and report analysis legislation have required his small credit union to hire an enforcement officer. He estimates that the cost of compliance with the current law to be over $100,000 a year.
If we compound that burden even further and make the obligation more onerous, we have to accommodate somehow these smaller institutions who want to comply with the law, but who have served notice that they are legitimately concerned that the burden will be passed on to them. They are asking that the government pay attention to the submission made by the credit unions at committee.
I am not sure how the submission was received in committee but I did not notice any substantial amendment in that regard. The only amendment I could find in my research for my speech today was a committee stage amendment put forward by the member for Markham—Unionville. The amendment stated that SIRC, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, established by section 31, “...shall undertake a review of the operations of the centre in each financial year and shall, within three months after the end of each financial year, submit the annual report to Parliament on those operations”.
That is just a mandatory review process, which is not unusual when we are introducing a bill of this nature. I am not sure we took into consideration the legitimate concerns of the Credit Union Central of Canada in its submission to the bill. I want to recognize today that the NDP did take note of CUCC's concerns and we tried to represent its concerns at every stage of the debate on the bill.
One of the points I highlighted in its submission is where CUCC states that “in the absence of compelling evidence of need, Credit Union Central is concerned that the proposed legislation is largely driven by the perceived need to make Canada's AML-ATF regime formally consistent with the new international financial action task force standards, rather than in response to any substantive threat arising from loopholes in Canada's current AML-ATF regime”.
I suppose CUCC is questioning whether better enforcement in support of the existing regime may have been adequate to plug the loopholes. These are the practitioners in the field who do not want us to pass legislation unnecessarily unless we can have a demonstrated need proven to them. They also point out, and we should take note of this, that they do not necessarily accept that the need is commensurate with the level of activity contemplated in the bill.
The one thing that I do take note of and support in the bill is that the bill does include the foreign currency exchange shops. I think this is a logical extension in terms of financial institutions.
I would also note that a lot of questionable activity can be shielded in the completely unregulated financial sector of the payday loan companies, many of which, in fact, offer this foreign exchange and foreign delivery of currency.
As we know, a lot of money leaves Canada every year, expatriated by people who are working in Canada and sending money to other countries. When the completely unregulated payday loan sector started to explode into our communities and started sprouting up like mushrooms on every street corner, we were very concerned. However, one of the things we have not given too much thought to is that one of the services offered by these payday loan outfits is, quite often, wiring money to other countries.
The wiring of money was normally done in a fairly regulated setting until these shops started popping up in every strip mall across the country, sometimes three, four and five of them in the same strip mall. I think we will need to pay better attention to the activity involved in that because questionable people have entered into that industry sector. When people can get 1,000% rate of return on their money, a lot of people are taking note and it is no wonder these little shops are sprouting up.
In one sting case done by the crown prosecutor for the province of Manitoba, they found that 10,000% interest was being charged by one of these outfits. I believe that is a better rate of return than a person can get selling cocaine. There is no other activity in the country where we can get 10,000% return on an investment, other than these payday loan shops, so it is attracting all the wrong kinds of people. I would suggest that might be one place that officials may want to really look for money laundering, illegal transactions, and bring these payday lenders under tight scrutiny and tight regulation.
I do acknowledge that payday loan legislation is pending in this 39th Parliament, and I welcome that.
This bill deals with the legislation governing money laundering as it exists today and tries to strengthen and improve the performance of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre, or FINTRAC as it is known to the practitioners in the field.
FINTRAC, being an independent agency, does report to the Minister of Finance. It places obligations on certain individuals and entities to keep records, to identify their clients and to report certain financial transactions.
The second concern brought to our attention by the Credit Union Central of Canada is the obligation to report activity. First, the onerous burden that may be compounded by this legislation to track activity looking for suspect transactions, but also the obligation to turn in the names of member clients, otherwise seemingly innocent transactions may cross some line where a red flag pops up on a file, the institution would have no choice other than to report that individual. It could be someone who has been a member of that credit union for 20 years. We all know that credit unions are a lot more community driven than are some of the bigger banking institutions. It could put the manager of a credit union, who is a member of the community and who might be the coach of the local hockey team, in the difficult situation of having to turn in one of the parents of the children on that hockey team because of a transaction that was possibly innocent but set off a little red flag.
There are the privacy elements here that we must take into consideration and there is the awkwardness associated with that.
Bill C-25 seeks to improve and strengthen the performance of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre. I come back to the point made by Credit Union Central that perhaps all that is needed is a more robust administration of the existing FINTRAC regime.
It would be irresponsible to speak to this bill without taking into consideration the projected costs.
As I see I have only two minutes left, I will restate two of the compelling arguments brought to our attention by people we trust, about Bill C-25, the Credit Union Central of Canada.
The budget for FINTRAC, as contemplated currently, is $64 million. It may be that more resources will be necessary to offset the impact of the costs of administering the further obligations under Bill C-25 for these smaller institutions. As a former activist in the credit union movement, I try to advocate on their behalf. Let us not put this added financial burden on struggling organizations that are trying to meet the financial needs of individuals in places where the banks have abandoned them.
Quite often, the credit union stuck with the tough work of providing basic financial services that the banks should have been providing if they were living up to their obligations under their charters. They have abandoned the inner cities. Credit unions have fallen in to take their place and this bill might add an unnecessary financial burden on them.