Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak today to Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct).
On March 14, 2007, the Liberal leader made a major speech in Toronto on fighting crime encouraging the government to bring forward legislation on identity theft and committing that a Liberal government would do that if the Conservative government did not.
It has long been a policy of the Liberal Party to strengthen provisions to prevent identity theft and we will be supporting any provisions that will do that. Hopefully, through that and with the debate today, we will make Canadians who are not aware, who are not part of the almost 10% who have already been victimized, of the jeopardy they are in and the protection they should take for themselves, and also the provisions companies, small and large businesses, should be taking to protect themselves and Canadians from identity theft.
If a criminal steals one piece of mail there can be enough information in it to have serious ramifications down the road for a Canadian citizen. Therefore, everyone needs to be more vigilant today than ever before because this new type of crime can affect people far worse than if someone were to steal all the money one happened to be carrying one day or to steal one's wallet.
Criminals need very little information to inflict tens of thousands of dollars of damage on a person. They basically need a name, address, maybe birthdate and sometimes a social insurance card. With those pieces of information, all sorts of damage can be inflicted upon people costing them thousands of dollars. People should be very vigilant because that is not very much information and criminals can get it easily.
Most Canadian citizens have given that information to dozens of other people for many reasons. The information is all over the place. People need to take care to protect their information because as soon as criminals have a little bit of information like that they use it to apply for bank accounts, credit cards, social insurance numbers and false drivers' licences. It can have terrible consequences for people. Perhaps 9% of Canadians, one in ten of our friends, have already had this occur to them in some way or another at great expense and inconvenience.
Sometimes it is even more sophisticated. Some criminals will impersonate people in order to use their medical plans to get medical benefits. Once again, that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Some criminals are using it to commit mortgage fraud. They will impersonate a person to get a mortgage for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for which the person being impersonated could be responsible. I had a constituent suggest that people applying for such a mortgage should have their picture taken. I would be curious as to the minister's response to that suggestion.
The theft may not be committed directly on the person who is victimized. It could come from one's workplace which has detailed information about its employees. The information could be taken from some other workplace where information was submitted for a good reason. It is very important to us that the information is protected by companies and that they are very careful about access to an employee's personal information.
Criminals are getting people's information off the computer through Internet hackers. They are getting it from mailboxes, garbage left outside, country mailboxes, dumpsters and from recycling bins.
Criminals can get even more sophisticated. If they cannot get the information in that way, they might send out a spam email that looks totally appropriate. They might tell the person that there is a problem with his or her bank account and ask the person to fill in a little bit of information. An unsuspecting person may fill in the information and then the criminals would have the person's bank account number and other personal information.
A sophisticated case happened here in Ottawa where people set up a phoney job ad. When people answered the ad they were asked for a resume which contains the birthdate, social insurance number and address. Instantaneously the criminals had all the information they needed to steal tens or hundreds of thousands dollars from Canadian citizens. They then used that information to apply for credit cards, drivers' licences or SIN numbers and could leave a person responsible for all sorts of damages for money and inconvenience.
If Canadians are not aware of this they should be. It is so prevalent that it now has an official name, “phishing”, where criminals will ask someone for his or her bank account number because of a problem with the person's account. This has been done to hundreds of Canadians.
The telemarketing PhoneBusters is an organization that deals with this problem because it is so big. It suggests that there has already been over 7,800 identity thefts in Canada costing $16 million. It estimates that is only 5% of what is actually happening.
As I said, 9% of Canadian have already been touched by this type of crime.
I ask Canadians to please protect themselves, to be very careful about protecting their birthdate and social insurance number . People do not need to carry their social insurance card with them everywhere they go. It is not needed that often. They should keep their SIN card and birth certificate locked up in a safe place. They should not give out their mothers' maiden name indiscriminately. They should know exactly to whom they are giving their information and for what reason. They should review their credit reports annually to ensure they have no outstanding bills that they did not know about because they did not incur them.
There was a case in England where there were people on the street being interviewed for some survey. People were asked for some personal information that a criminal would want and nine out of ten people provided that information. I would ask Canadians not to be naive about what can happen and to be very careful with their personal information.
Facebook contains a lot of information, and I hope everyone will join my Facebook account, but I would ask Canadians to be very careful not to give out personal information that criminals could use on areas like a Facebook account or a personal website.
When one is asked to go to a website for something, it might appear very legitimate, like a big bank or a major corporation that has a good name, but it could easily be a counterfeit website. Criminals make up counterfeit websites. They put in a company logo and when Canadians log on they get these pieces of information, which is all they need.
The minister was asked what effect this would have on companies that are not protecting people's information. I would implore Canadian companies, small and large businesses, to ensure they are taking the right provisions to protect Canadians. If nine out of every one hundred Canadians are being affected, those could be their employees. If the information comes from their company, they could be sued for thousands of dollars.
There was a study done that suggests that it costs businesses 15 times more to deal with the problems caused by information being stolen from them or having escaped from them inadvertently. That is 15 times more in costs to companies ultimately to deal with all those problems than had they encrypted the information in the first place.
Individuals managing companies or individuals at home must remember that information, such as their birthdate, social insurance number or address, is like cash. To criminals, this information is worth far more than the cash in their pocket. This information must be protected.
The thousands of individuals who have gone through those types of incidents can contact www.phonebusters.com or they can call the toll free number 1-888-495-8501 if they feel a criminal has taken their information. For a much more detailed outline of what steps individuals and businesses should take, they can go to the Privacy Commissioner's website.
Over and above individuals being more vigilant at home and businesses being more vigilant, we need tougher penalties to deal with the people who are stealing this kind of personal information for criminal purposes.
A December 2007Vancouver Sun article told the story of a woman who had her driver's licence and cheque stolen from her mail. The cheque was cashed in September 2006 but nothing else happened until April 2007 when another cheque went missing and was subsequently cashed. Bank accounts were opened in her name and charges were incurred. MoneyMart was after her for fraudulent cheques that had been cashed. More than $2,000 worth of Shopping Channel goods were purchased on her husband's credit card. This person spent countless hours dealing with credit bureaus and, to date, is still fighting charges on the Capital One card. She had to have all her mail forwarded to her work address which is not convenient because she will be starting maternity leave soon. After doing a lot of legwork, she obtained a photo of the thief but she and her husband are still having problems.
Not only does a person have to pay thousands of dollars of debt that was built up by the criminal but an incredible amount of time is involved in trying to clear his or her name.
At the airport I spoke with a person whose cheque had been misused and the person could not get on the plane. Once people get into these kinds of problems, they get blacklisted and are not allowed on planes. We all know how long it takes to solve those types of problems.
Some people can use another person's name to rent an apartment and then use the apartment for producing drugs or for hiding stolen goods. When the deception is discovered, the criminal vanishes and the innocent person becomes the criminal and becomes faced with huge complications trying to clear his or her name, which is an awful process.
As I said, we in the Liberal Party support the provisions of Bill C-27 because we want people who steal identities to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Suggestions have been made that more things need to be done and we will also be pursuing those.
I would like to quote from an editorial in The London Free Press on November 25, 2007:
'It's not enough to make these activities criminal,' Philippa Lawson, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa told CP.
'Criminals will always find ways to take advantage of innocent citizens,' Lawson said. 'We need to take other, equally important steps such as creating incentives for companies and governments to take appropriate security measures, empowering individuals so that they can more effectively protect themselves, enforcing data protection laws, and assisting victims recover their financial reputations'.
We will be pushing for even more strength in this legislation. As I said, close to a year ago our Liberal leader brought this forward and encouraged the government to act on it.
It has even occurred to a member of this House, the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin. There is an article in the paper. Again this is the reason we are pushing so hard for this. His identity was stolen last year and someone racked up more than $6,000 in charges before a collection agency came calling. It took months to clear his name and his credit card record, although he is expected to jump through hoops as the result of his social insurance number being red-flagged by the government.
One distressing thing that he suggested in the article was that the government would not be accepting much in the way of amendments to this law. It was a little distressing in that there have already been suggestions from police and other organizations of things that need to be done. It is distressing that we cannot strengthen the protection for Canadians regarding identity theft, if as members of the committee that is what we hear and there are suggestions. Hopefully, the member was not speaking for the minister, but I did not get a chance to ask that question.
I will quote from a speech given in Toronto on March 14, 2007 by the leader of the Liberal Party:
To protect Canadian seniors, we will act on the recommendations of the Privacy Commissioner to address the problem of identity theft. There were almost 8,000 reports of identity theft in the past year, resulting in more than $16 million being lost, much of it taken from vulnerable seniors. A lifetime of hard work and savings can vanish in an instant. We need tougher laws to prevent this type of crime.
Another recommendation is that we need laws implementing the recommendations of the federal Task Force on Spam—recommendations that have so far been ignored by the Conservatives. Spam is the weapon of choice for identity thieves, who use phony e-mails to trick people into revealing personal information. Canada is the only G-8 country without anti-spam legislation, and a Liberal government led by me will change that.
This bill would create three new offences, all subject to five year maximum sentences: obtaining and possessing identity information with the intent to use it to commit certain crimes; trafficking in identity information with the knowledge of, or recklessness as to its intended use in the commission of a certain crime; and unlawfully possessing and trafficking in government issued identity documents.
Also the Criminal Code amendments would create new offences of fraudulently redirecting or causing redirection of a person's mail; possessing a counterfeit Canada Post mail key; and possessing instruments for copying credit card information, which the minister mentioned in his speech, in addition to the existing offences of possessing instruments for forging credit cards.
We want to go even further to make sure that the police have the technical ability to investigate this type of crime with all the modern electronic means available to them. As the minister said, we want to catch up. I was glad the minister said he would look at the bill. I was sad that he did not say that he would endorse it right away to help the police, but hopefully that will be the conclusion he makes.
I would like to discuss further at committee whether the penalty should be stronger if the identity theft is related to organized crime or terrorism. It should be very significant.
In conclusion, it has been our policy for a long time to support stronger provisions in this area. At committee we want the police and other expert witnesses to provide evidence. If there is any way we can strengthen the bill, we will be looking at that too.