House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was theft.


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

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 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.

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12:30 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at second reading of Bill C-27 , An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct).

I believe it is important to debate this matter. With the development of new technologies, we are all confronted, at one point or another, with a situation where we have to identify ourselves by using personal information. For example, we use PINs when doing our banking at an ATM. Just imagine the amount of personal data and the number of financial transactions circulating on the Internet every day. Do we know how businesses and governments manage their immense data bases that contain our personal information? These issues affect everyone, without exception. Our personal information is recorded, catalogued and stored somewhere.

Attempted identity theft is a common occurrence. A thief could find a useful document in your mail. He could use it to pass for you and commit crimes in your name. Scam artists steal names, addresses, and birth dates that they use to apply for loans and credit cards or to open bank accounts in your name. Imagine the damage they could do using your name, not to mention the serious consequences for your reputation and self esteem.

That is why identity theft is a security issue that cannot be ignored. This type of fraud will only grow with the passing of time. Those watching us surely know someone who has been a victim of identity theft. It has disastrous consequences for the victim. It can even lead to misunderstandings with the law because fraudsters can commit crimes and use the identity of their victims. How does an individual whose identity has been stolen prove to the police or government organizations that they were not the one who committed the crime of which they are accused? It is an almost impossible task.

Bill C-27 would curb identify theft by cracking down on the unauthorized collection and use of personal information for illegal purposes. This includes the possession of several private identifiers, such as a name, address, social insurance number, or any personal number that could be used to obtain a service. Bill C-27 would create three new offences that could be punishable by a maximum of five years in prison.

The first offence deals with obtaining and possessing identity information to commit a crime. The second deals with trafficking this personal information and targets individuals who sell or deliberately hand over this information to a third party, knowing that it could be used illegally. The third deals with individuals possessing or trafficking another person's government-issued identity documents.

I remind members that thieves obtain personal information in different ways. Some use direct means, such as highly sophisticated phishing techniques. The RCMP says that criminals also use e-mails or websites that look official, but falsely represent legitimate businesses, financial institutions and government agencies. The goal is to obtain sensitive, personal financial information by phishing the person who receives the e-mail. The public must constantly be vigilant against this type of fraud. This is why people must always be careful when giving out their personal information. They should also find out how their information will be used, why it is being collected, who will view the information and how the information will be protected.

Getting back to Bill C-27, it makes several changes to the Criminal Code in order to curb identity theft. It also creates offences for redirecting mail, the possession of a counterfeit mail key, the possession of instruments for copying credit card data, and the possession of or trafficking in counterfeit documents. In addition, Bill C-27 clarifies the meaning of “personating a person” and renames the offence of “personation” to “identity theft”. It gives the courts a new power to order that, as part of the sentence, the offender make restitution to a victim of identity theft or identity fraud for the expenses associated with rehabilitating their identity.

Finally, the only people exempted are those who make false documents for covert government operations or who allow public officers to create and use covert identities in the exercise of their duties—meaning here law enforcement personnel.

Bill C-27 is intended to keep up with today’s realities because in the near future the identity theft problem is only going to get worse. It is imperative, therefore, to update the Criminal Code and adapt it to current realities as well as possible. According to the Department of Public Safety, identity theft has become one of the fastest growing kinds of crime in Canada and the United States.

I should emphasize, though, that we should be concerned not just about the increase in this kind of crime but also about the costs that we collectively incur as a direct result of this illicit activity.

The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimated that in 2002 alone, consumers, banks, credit card companies, stores and other businesses lost $2.5 billion as a result of identity theft. According to the RCMP, the total losses due just to credit card fraud in 2003 amounted to $200 million. The complaints filed with the Phone Busters program of the RCMP and the Competition Bureau provide a good example of the social cost of identity theft. Just in 2006, more than $16 million were stolen from Canadians by fraudsters. Phone Busters estimates, though, that this is still just a small percentage of the real losses due to fraud, perhaps about 5%.

Considering individual human beings, we must remember that victims of identity theft are often left with a compromised credit rating and a messy personal and financial situation. Everyone is affected, without exception.

I remember an Ipsos Reid poll in 2006 according to which one-quarter of Canadians or about 5.7 million people said that they had been victimized by identity theft or knew someone who had been. These figures are very telling and clearly demonstrate the need to update the Criminal Code.

However, we are faced with a fundamental problem: Criminal Code offences were defined at the time with the traditional notion of property. The big problem with identity theft is that personal information is not considered property. To apply the provisions of the Criminal Code, there needs to be a direct causal link with an economic loss or serious harm.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to prove that a crime has been committed in the case of identity theft. Although some 40 provisions of the Criminal Code can apply to identity theft, the fact remains that the simple possession and collection of personal information does not constitute a crime. In this case, the Criminal Code becomes a cumbersome tool for fighting identity theft. Its evidence rules are quite strict as well.

On May 8, 2007, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, summed up the legal problem with identity theft quite well at the Standing Committee on Access to Information. She said:

I don't think it's just an issue of the Criminal Code. As you know, our law administrators hesitate to use the Criminal Code: the standards of proof are higher, and the charter may apply, and so very often you have to have a fairly clear-cut case to use the Criminal Code.

Bill C-27 is obviously a step in the right direction to updating the Criminal Code, but I want to reiterate that part of solution would definitely come from concerted action involving the different levels of government, private organizations and the public. Other measures will have to be implemented to effectively fight identity theft, since this is a broad issue that goes beyond the government's capabilities.

For example, the Privacy Commissioner suggested using civil sanctions instead of the Criminal Code for two main reasons: proof is easier to establish, and the procedures are easier for the public to understand.

Appropriately, the commissioner gave the example of small claims court, which could offer easily accessible ways to discourage the growing industry of identity theft.

However, the idea presupposes that the federal government will work closely with the provinces, because much of what is happening in the area of identity theft comes under provincial jurisdiction. I would remind this House that a number of solutions to the problem of identity theft are in the provinces' hands, because they have constitutional authority over property and civil rights, specifically under section 92, subsection 13, on property.

However, this minority government still has a long way to go in this area. True to form, this government, which should be working with the provinces to combat identity theft, preferred to make a few changes to the Criminal Code that do little to address the problem. Before giving the provinces new responsibilities for enforcing the Criminal Code, did the government make sure they had the resources to enforce the new provisions on identity theft?

The government should try leading by example when it comes to protecting and managing personal information. The federal government is proposing to penalize people who make fraudulent use of identity documents such as social insurance cards. Yet in June 2006, we learned that the Auditor General estimated there were 2.9 million more social insurance numbers in circulation than the estimated number of Canadians aged 30 and over. It makes you wonder.

What is more, in September 2003, six computers were stolen from the Laval offices of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, including a laptop containing personal information on 120,000 taxpayers and 600 federal taxation employees. I am dismayed by the government's behaviour, which tells me that a number of practices need to be reviewed.

Several federal departments and agencies are interested in identity theft, but these efforts do not seem to have produced a concerted strategy for dealing with this enormous problem. Nonetheless, identity theft is an issue that the federal government cannot tackle on its own, but this should not stop the federal government from developing a more focused strategy for channeling its efforts.

It would also be worth having better definitions of the concepts that identity theft involves. Although the subject has received a great deal of attention from the media, academics, enforcement agencies and government, there is still debate over the definition of identity theft. The term is used to include everything from simple cases of fraud when someone forges a cheque or uses a stolen credit card to purchase goods to very sophisticated cases of “synthetic identity theft” where the impostor creates a new identity using a combination of actual information and fabricated personal information.

Similarly, we do not have a clear idea of the sources of the personal information being used. Some studies have suggested that much of the information comes from within organizations; other studies claim that identity theft is usually perpetrated by people who are known to the victims. Media stories about large scale data breaches in which laptops have been lost or hackers have been able to gain access to credit card information have become commonplace, but we do not have a clear picture of how often these data breaches result in identity theft.

I would nonetheless point out that Canada has privacy legislation that places limits on the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by the private sector. It requires organizations to protect the information they collect. There are several provisions in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) which, if the organizations covered by the Act respect those provisions, can significantly reduce the risk of identity theft.

That Act also imposes limits on how long organizations engaged in commercial activities should retain personal information. By getting rid of information they no longer need, organizations reduce the risk of identity theft. But the destruction process must involve more than throwing paper records or hard drives into the nearest dumpster, as we have seen happen.

I would conclude by saying that the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-27 on second reading so that it can be sent to committee. Nonetheless, I, like my colleagues, strongly believe that merely amending the Criminal Code will not be sufficient to solve the identity theft problem.

Other measures will have to be developed by the various governments to combat this problem. One that we are proposing is that the public be educated in order to reduce victimization. Educating people about how to protect themselves against identity thieves is another key element to fighting this kind of fraud. As well, strengthening the regulations to provide more stringent oversight of how personal information is managed by businesses can only be a good thing.

As a final point, measures to promote greater uniformity and security in the process of issuing and verifying identification documents seem to be essential.

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12:45 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her support of the bill. I am delighted she agrees with the Liberals that more needs to be done.

Could she elaborate a bit on what more can be done by the government to support individuals who may encounter theft, or more support or regulations that can be established related to businesses and governments, as the member said, where there have been problems related to information leaking out?

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12:50 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. As I said in my speech, the identity theft problem is huge and international. Incidentally, the steps that the minister announced today are a step in the right direction.

As well-intentioned as these measures might be, they are of only limited effectiveness. If we really want to get at the problem of identity theft, we will also have to work with all the representatives of organizations and provinces since many matters fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Moreover, there are different kinds of identity theft, such as petty theft and theft by organized crime, as the minister said. When tackling organized syndicates on the Internet, it will be necessary to have international regulations and a concerted international effort.

We will need a concerted effort because the identity theft problem is only going to increase. The rise of the Internet and new technologies means that the problem cannot be solved simply by adding sections to the Canadian Criminal Code. The problem is much bigger than that.

First there is the concerted effort needed on the federal level. Then there are a lot of regulations, although they are not necessarily protected or used enough.

We must first use and protect the data we have. In my speech I pointed out deficiencies within the federal government and the data losses we have seen. Concrete action is needed, specifically better management.

In addition, a concerted effort is needed from the federal and provincial governments and the governments of other countries in order to get a better handle on the problem of identity theft, which is often related to international organized crime.

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12:50 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, when the bill is studied by the committee or the House in some other way, does the member believe we should look more closely at the distinction between the need to protect personal information, and there is a whole body of legislation that does this, and what we do now, which is the criminalization of the taking or theft of personal information, personal identity or documents that contain personal information or personal identity?

I notice the debate sometimes slides around between criminalization issues involving the trafficking or theft of personal information and the concept of simply protecting through other laws, and not criminal laws, the containment and conveyance of personal information in records. Has she noted that as an issue and does she think that should be an appropriate focus for the committee in the event the House accepts the bill and forwards it on to committee for review?

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12:50 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. He raised two interesting points.

There is a lot of talk these days about the criminalization of identity theft. My colleague emphasized this by asking whether there is already legislation to protect personal information. In my view, we should look instead at protecting databanks.

We should definitely crack down on the crimes that are committed, but most of all we need mechanisms to protect the data of agencies and businesses. There should be stricter protection of personal information in order to reduce the crime related to it.

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12:55 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, in many respects Bill C-27 is classic in the sense that it is a reflection of the difficulty in modern times, and even to a somewhat lesser degree historically, of our legal system, in particular our criminal justice system, keeping up with advances in technology and in society of a scientific nature. We have seen what has become known as the crime of identity theft proliferate significantly over the last 10 to 15 years.

We heard today some figures from the Minister of Justice on not only what that costs the financial sector in particular, but also individuals. We are now into the billions of dollars. It is a situation in our society where we have to take it into our hands to try to exert a much greater control over this issue.

There are various ways of doing that, and Bill C-27 addresses a partial strategy and no more than a partial strategy.

My party has always looked at anti-social, criminal behaviour as an issue to be addressed by way of prevention to the maximum. Then, if we cannot prevent the anti-social or criminal behaviour, we move into the criminal justice arena and provide legislation that creates crimes and punishment that flow from the breach of the legislation. That is the approach we take whenever we address an issue like this.

There is no question that the provisions of Bill C-27 are all necessary. The NDP very much intends to support the bill. When it gets to committee, we will be looking at ways to see if there is any manner of strengthening it.

We have heard from police forces, including the RCMP and local police forces, of the need for these provisions, which are all amendments to the Criminal Code.

To be very clear and not in any way mislead the Canadian public, these provisions are all reactive. They are to be used when the crime has already been committed, whether it is creating some new offences around identity theft or renaming the personation section to identity theft and identity fraud, or attacking, and this is very important, the production of data and making that a crime. All those are important sections to deal with that conduct, but again I emphasize it is after the fact. It is after a crime has been committed and individuals in our society and institutions have suffered negative consequences.

We have heard the horror stories in that respect of the way it grossly disrupts the lives of people when their identities are used fraudulently in a criminal fashion. It causes them great financial losses in a lot of cases. It also puts them through the emotional turmoil while they rebuild their identification. Dealing with the debt that has been accumulated in their name can cause great havoc to the individual.

On the institutional side, it is humongous, and the minister has mentioned financial losses. It is very disruptive. The bill is important from that perspective.

When I questioned the minister earlier today, I raised the fact that the government had not brought forward any proposals and certainly no legislation to prevent access to databases to regulate the security around those databases, whether it was by way of policy within the federal government, or by way of legislation, or regulatory functions under other legislation, under our consumer legislation, our privacy laws and our access to information laws. There are a number of other laws where we could implement a regulatory framework that would prevent easy access to our databases.

Imagine people of a criminal bent wanting to steal the identities of people. They can do that by following people around, or collecting their mail, or watching them at debit machines, or going to their place of work, or stealing their cheque book. There are a number of ways to do this but they are only getting one person's identity. It is an endeavour that has to take place and we know it happens. There is an alternative to that. What happens more and more and why we see this huge increase in identity theft is that organized crime targets databases to get the personal identifications of thousands of individuals in one fell swoop.

Recently I talked to some of our local police in the Windsor area about this. What happens is that data is sold on the Internet, kind of an eBay purchase, to other individuals who will then use that personal identification to take money out of bank accounts, use credit cards, the whole gamut of criminality that goes on. Those trades happen on a regular basis. Getting access to a large database is important for that network of trading to function.

I heard my colleague from the Bloc mention the need for international cooperation. A good deal of this is happening in countries, for example, in central and eastern Europe that have recently broken away from the Soviet empire where there are not strong enforcement mechanisms. I am told a good deal of that trading goes on in those countries.

There is a whole series of other work that needs to be done. In the overall volume of crimes around identity theft, I would argue they are more significant. If we can shut down that trading network, if we can shut down access to large databases, if we can get international cooperation to do that in other countries, we will be much more effective in shutting down large numbers of these crimes as opposed to going after the individual who steals another individual's identity.

Again, I am not downplaying the importance of the bill. It is necessary, but the government needs to step up to the plate and get serious about dealing with those other areas.

Other committees have looked at this issue. The industry committee has looked at it. The committee responsible for the privacy legislation has also looked at it. Recommendations have come to those committees of how to deal with some of these problems, where we focus almost exclusively under those legislations and amendments to legislation and the regulatory functions under those legislations to prevent access to these databases.

This would go a great distance, but the government seems to be much more concerned about this bill exclusively. I suggest it is a mistake to limit its focus just on criminalizing this behaviour. I am not downplaying the importance of it, but it is nowhere near enough. In fact, it is the smaller part of the problem.

The solution to this problem lies much more in creating security around our databases and international cooperation to enforce policies along that line, rather than this more simple and limited approach to the bill.

As I have indicated, the NDP will support the bill at second reading. When it gets to committee, we will look at ways to see if it can be strengthened.

In that regard, I have heard some concerns from members of the Bar about the wording in some of the sections. The bill would make it a crime to be found in possession of a substantial body of personal identification coupled with a reasonable inference of intent to commit a crime. “Reasonable inference” is used elsewhere in the code, but in a somewhat different context. There is some worry about whether that wording will provide, because of its vagueness, enough of a defence for that section to be used to acquire convictions.

We will need to look at this type of wording at the committee to see if there is any way we can strengthen it. We hope to hear from both our prosecutors and our police forces to see if there are any additional suggestions they have to perhaps augment the bill and strengthen it some more. Unless we see ways of strengthening it, I am quite convinced the justice committee will approve the bill, hopefully with some minor tinkering, and send it back for third reading and final approval in the House.

I hope also that in the course of the hearings before the justice committee more information will come out about the need for other endeavours that will be more productive and prevent more of these crimes. If so, we also may be able to recommend to the full House additional work that needs to be done.

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1:05 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy hearing the member's very thoughtful perspectives on the various crime bills in the justice committee.

I have four questions, but I will ask them one at a time in case other people have questions.

Some of our recent bills have created harsher sentences when the crime was related to organized crime or terrorism. Does the member think there is any merit in considering that at committee, for instance if an identity is stolen to use in the commission of a terrorist offence?

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1:05 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are potentially two answers to that.

I quite frankly believe we should have and should in the future include that kind of criminal conduct of a terrorist nature under the organized crime section and go after that kind of criminal activity using this section. We need to expand the definition somewhat.

However, if it is traditional organized crime activity, I am not sure we need to do anything further. If we find identity theft is promulgated by the activity of an organized crime syndicate or gang, we should lay charges that these individuals are part of organized crime. That then opens up this whole section of the code to be used against them, including the reverse onus to seize their assets. Therefore, I do not think we really need to do anything further with regard to that.

The same would not be true if it were an organized effort of a gang around terrorist activity, so we may very well look at it. I prefer initially that the definition of organized crime should include this group, and then we would use it in the same fashion.

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1:10 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I think the Bloc and the NDP both agree with the Liberals that more needs to be done. I wonder if the member could elaborate on what could be done to support individuals who have been victimized, to support businesses in improving their systems, or with regulations to improve systems to prevent the theft, as he pointed out at the beginning.

Could he also elaborate on my concern about a government member's suggestion that there could not be many amendments? The member has already suggested a potentially important amendment.

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1:10 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

In reverse order, Mr. Speaker, on the idea of amendments I do not see this bill, that is, the Criminal Code as a whole, being able to deal with some of the other policy and legislative changes that are needed in other legislation, in consumer legislation and corporate commercial legislation, or in policy within government. Those issues that we have raised around this in regard to regulating and trying to provide greater security to our databases would have to be dealt with outside the Criminal Code, which is just not the mechanism for dealing with it.

In terms of other and more straightforward amendments, I have never let the attempt of intimidation by the government to say we are going to have a confidence motion over bills prevent me from bringing forth amendments. I think that is just silly on the part of the government.

As we saw even in Bill C-2, the omnibus bill around dangerous offenders, there were actually a couple of minor amendments that went through because it was obvious even to the government at that point that they were needed.

However, I think the point I was making about looking at trying to strengthen the wording around reasonable inference is one that is going to have to be closely looked at. If we can come up with better wording, I am expecting that the minister in his wisdom will ignore the PMO and allow us to have the amendments.

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1:10 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned during my speech, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has a bill to increase the ability of the police to use modern electronic methods, which they do not have access to now, to help deal with this type of crime. I am hoping the member would be able to seriously consider that type of improvement as well.

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1:10 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize to the member for Yukon. I did not respond to that. It is a very good point.

This is interesting. There are technologies out there that screen out the hackers. We know we can build greater firewalls in regard to allowing people access. A number of the smaller financial institutions in particular have some difficulty in being able to afford that or in fact in even knowing what they need to do. There is work that the federal government could be doing to provide standards and perhaps technology.

In that respect, I want to just mention what happened around child pornography. Paul Gillespie, who was in Toronto at the time trying to deal with it, got so frustrated that he wrote Bill Gates a letter saying they could develop technology that could track backwards the child porn they were finding on their PCs in Toronto but it was going to cost money. He asked if Bill Gates could help.

He got an instantaneous response from Gates. They built the software package. It is one that is now being used across the globe, at least in all the developed countries. Gates put in $6 million or $8 million using his staff and his resources. This type of assistance that is now available to our police forces, which is not expensive because it just means getting the software, has been very useful in the fight against child pornography.

The same thing could be done in this area. We may need to develop more technology both to protect the databases and to trace back the hackers who break in and get the information.

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1:15 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this piece of legislation today, as apparently a lot of members are. It looks like in its current state this has support from around the House. If it stays that way, it looks like the bill will be going to committee. Hopefully the committee will have an opportunity to deal with it expeditiously, to get it back to the House and finally to get it passed.

This is one of these areas in criminal legislation, and I suppose in all legislation, where the legislation comes into being after the criminal mind has already found a way to criminalize, to steal and to commit fraud. This particular area of information, personal identity, gives us a new type of crime in the sense that in the expanding universe of information and the increasingly complex universe of financial transactions there is a bigger playing field for the criminal mind.

This is just such a case. The legislation that now is being proposed attempts to cover off for society by criminalizing, prohibiting and proscribing certain types of conduct that we regard as anti-social and harmful. Most people would ask why we could not have passed this law 10 or 20 years ago. The reason probably is that we in the House do not all have criminal minds that would lead us to get our heads out in front of this, nor do all the great employees of the Department of Justice have that penchant for thinking like criminals. Usually we are in this position where we legislate after the initial harm, after the crimes of opportunity have been done by the criminals.

In this particular field of personal information, theft of personal identity and the use of that type of information for fraud and other crimes, I again want to point out for the record, and I made some comments on this a few minutes ago, that it is important to distinguish between recognizing and defining the whole field of personal information and taking steps to protect it in data banks, personal records and government records, and another area, which is the application of the Criminal Code to criminalize certain things that happen in relation to personal information.

There was a private member's bill in the last session, and I think even also in the last Parliament, with attempts by members to create legislation that would protect personal information, but inevitably the clash between protecting the information and criminalizing certain types of conduct produced a kind of incompatibility. I recall one bill that would have criminalized the act by a university student of trying to get a phone number and an address of some other student just for the purpose of having a date on Saturday night. That particular type of legislation did not distinguish between the two. It went too far.

As we legislate here now, I think this bill has it just about right. We have identified the actual criminal intentions that we want to proscribe. We have not touched what would be an ordinary layman's use of personal information or attempts to get personal information, although the bill comes close to it and we have to keep our eye on that line.

This particular area is sometimes complex because it is a new and developing area. It is a bit of a moving target. In the world of the Internet and the globalization of information, the target of what is personal information, what is financial information and what are other types of information is always changing, and the focal point changes right around the world.

Data banks are not necessarily in one location. They are in different countries. The data is transferred through land lines, satellites and service providers, land-based and otherwise. It is an exceedingly complex area. I hope Canadians will feel that our House of Commons and our Department of Justice are keeping up with this.

The personal information that we try to protect is out there in so many places. A couple of years ago, I noted how much junk data is on a website called Wikipedia. That particular website purports to be an information site, but apparently anybody can load up information of any sort. The information is not screened. It can be false or inaccurate information.

That particular website is simply not what it appears to be. It contains false and misleading information filled with innuendo. At least if it were a tabloid, it could be sued, and it would take responsibility for what it published in terms of libel laws, but boy, on the Internet that is tough. I just mention Wikipedia. It seems to be a group of rogue dot-commers trafficking in junk information, which sometimes includes personal information.

This legislation of course does not attempt to deal with the dodos in that type of junk information, but it does try to protect the personal identities of Canadians.

About two weeks ago, a staffer at my Scarborough office in Scarborough--Rouge River was a little nervous. She came into my office saying that we had an email addressed to me personally and it looked kind of strange. She gave it to me gently and I looked at it. The email was asking me to confirm that I had made a particular purchase on my credit card. I do not know what the purchase was, but it was for a couple of hundred dollars. It so happens that I do not have the particular credit card that was named in the email.

Since this was the first time such an incident had happened, my staffer attached significance to the receipt of that email, thinking it was real, accurate, bona fide and important and there was some kind of problem with my financial transactions. Since I did not have the type of credit card referred to in the email, I knew immediately that it was part of a scam. I guess the company was inviting me to get back to it, say it was not my purchase because it was not my credit card, and then the company would ask me what credit card I did have. I would say that I had another one and the company would ask to verify that.

This happened to me two weeks in my constituency office, which the taxpayers pay for, and it was the first time this type of thing happened to me. This type of potential scam, this fishing expedition, is all over the place. I am sure that anything we can do here to try to protect innocent Canadians from this type of scamming would be appreciated. I would appreciate it. So would my staff and my constituents.

I have mentioned the clash between the protection of personal information and the criminalization of the use of it. In relation to that, I noted other bills that tried to criminalize the use or passing on of personal information without the consent of the person. There were some areas that I thought we should make sure to protect, but as it turns out we do not have to do very much because this bill has been re-targeted at particular criminal acts.

Those previous bills contained the concept of a person seeking personal information. I mentioned the university student looking for a name and a phone number for a date. There are also people promoting a charity who are looking for a name, phone number or address. They are looking to solicit a charitable donation. Someone might be doing it to promote a religion, a religious faith, or, and listen up colleagues, somebody might be doing it for political purposes. These are all normal pursuits that we generally accept. We accept that people promoting their interests, their groups, their societies or their community associations will seek out names and addresses of people they would like to approach.

We have to make sure that we do not impose a chill on our communications and social intercourse in our communities in an overreaction to the potential criminality that is out there. This bill does not come very close to that, but it is an area that I will be looking at as we scrutinize this at committee.

The Department of Justice has used the bill to fine tune some existing legislation. The bill proposes arguably three new types of offences, but in fine tuning the existing legislation we actually create and broaden some existing offences. It has been done in a good way. I think it all fits fairly well. Some existing legislation has been altered to make prosecution, conviction and investigation a little easier and a little clearer so that we do not have to rely on the conspiracy laws in the Criminal Code.

An example is the offence of theft from the mail. The proposed legislation expands the class of mail that is protected from theft. Most people think that if someone steals something from the mail, it is an offence, and it always has been. One of the areas that was never clear was after the mailman had delivered the mail to a house or business. It could be put in a mail slot and the mail would drop onto the floor. The mailman could put the mail in a mailbox on the front of the house or business, or it could be left inside the door. Nowadays Canada Post has neighbourhood mailboxes not connected to a residence. People have to walk across the street or a couple of hundred yards to pick up their mail. After the mailman delivers the mail to that box, is the mail still protected? Is that theft from the mail?

After the mailman puts it through the door slot, is that mail still in the course of mail? In previous interpretations, it was not. Once the mailman delivered the mail into the box or through the slot, the mail had been delivered and apparently the mail was not protected by the mail theft statute. It was still protected by the theft statute, but not mail theft. After that letter is in the house and is put on the kitchen table in so many homes, if taken, would that still be theft from the mail?

The solution is a rather good one. It does not clarify everything but the amendment is that everyone commits an offence who steals “any thing sent by post, after it is deposited at a post office and before it is delivered, or after it is delivered but before it is in the possession of the addressee or of a person who may reasonably be considered to be authorized by the addressee to receive mail”.

If one is really well off and has a butler, and the mailman delivers the mail to the butler at the front door, that is delivery. If it is just put in the mailbox, from the point of view of the post office, that is a completed delivery, but our Criminal Code is going to continue to still protect that letter until it is in the possession of the addressee or the addressee's representative. That is a good change. That does not have anything to do with the Internet. That just is a good common sense change to protect our mail the way most Canadians would want it protected.

The bill has a number of other technical changes referring to pieces of equipment, government identity cards, government documents and even identity documentation issued by the provinces. I am sure it is constitutional. Documents produced by a province or the federal government that are stolen, used, or just simple theft of them is an offence.

Now the use of them in fraud, impersonation and pretending to be somebody the person is not for the purpose of stealing, fraud, theft and deceit is better and more clearly criminalized. This will allow better investigation, better prosecution, more appropriate convictions, better sentencing and hopefully a bit better order in an area that has needed some legislative amendment and updating.

Having said all of that, I am certain we will be back in this House five or six years from now to update this type of legislation again, because as I said, the target is always moving. As the technical and information universe expands, we may well see other areas that need amendment and improvement.

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1:30 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting to listen to my colleague who has a lot of experience in these areas in following the justice bills and so on.

Given the increasing concern that many of us have with identity theft and the fact that we are hearing of people's mortgages changing hands by people getting copies of pertinent information, what else needs to be done in this piece of legislation to make it closer to being bullet proof and to make it tougher and tighter?

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1:30 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. I do not think we will be issuing a written guarantee with the bill that it will cover absolutely everything. As we deal with this bill, I am sure there is a criminal mind out there trying to figure out a way to slide something through the existing net of legislation so that he or she will not get caught and charged.

The member has raised a very good reference point. This bill will do a whole lot to better protect the class of Canadian that she has described, but it does not address the financial implications directly. If a fraud is committed, the money is lost or the money is diverted.

The hon. member mentioned mortgage fraud. I know that criminals have found a way to do mortgage fraud. This usually involves a fairly large amount of money. It is not a $100 item. A mortgage is usually for $50,000, $100,000, $200,000, $300,000 and even more. They have found a way to manipulate the provincial land registration system in a way that allows a mortgage lender to be defrauded using a personal identity. I have a case in my constituency office involving just that. A lady is working her way back after two court cases. She has done a great job. She had to hire a lawyer once.

It is just awful that Canadians are put in this position. The Canadian victim will bear the burden of making the information correct and there will be allegations that the Canadian has borrowed the money under the mortgage. In the end it is usually provable that the individual did not, that it was a scam and it is the financial institution that would normally bear that liability.

There were occasions in the province of Ontario where the first response of the government of Ontario was that it would not change its law. A buyer for value in due course, which is a legal principle, of a piece of real estate, without notice of a fraud, is able to buy the land and does not have to bear the responsibility. People have had their registered property sold out from under them by a scam and they were not aware of it. This is usually a case where the owner of the real estate does not live on the real estate. It is tentative in some way.

Eventually, I am informed, the government of Ontario decided to change its law, change its policy, and the innocent victims of these scams are now apparently to be believed and they can get their land back, or they do not lose it.

The law two or three years ago was such that individual Canadians who were scammed had to bear the brunt of it. Now as I understand it, it would be the financial institution which has been defrauded that would bear the brunt of it and not the individual Canadian whose identity was used to perpetrate the fraud.

These things are still working their way through the courts and there are many different scenarios. The short answer to my friend's question is that the bill goes a long way to regularize and patch up the law, but there are still some open areas involving not criminal law, but civil law and the law governing financial transactions and mortgages that still may need some repair.

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1:35 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have three questions, so I will be rising twice more if no one else has questions, provided there is time.

My first question is on the same topic of mortgages. A person can get a mortgage from the bank for, as the member said, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and walk away, but that person was not the real owner of the house and the person who owns the house would then have a huge debt.

A constituent suggested that an easy way to solve this problem is to make it mandatory that a photo be taken of everyone who gets a mortgage. I wonder what the member thinks of that solution from one of my constituents.

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1:35 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a great suggestion. The laws governing obtaining a mortgage and a loan are provincial in this country. The federal government has a couple of laws that affect that area but in general the law of mortgages and hypothèques in Quebec are governed by the laws of the province.

The provinces are very unlikely to pass a law that says if there is a financial transaction there has to be a photo. As I understand it their laws are heavily weighted and biased in imposing the burdens on the financial institutions to know their clients and with whom they are dealing.

I know that financial institutions, because of these recent incidents, are taking steps to make sure that they visually know the borrower, visually check the land, visually check the tenant, and have people do this to ensure that they know exactly what is going on and that it is not a scam.

Whether or not a photo should be a part of the file, I do not know. What if it is a corporate borrower? How are they going to take a picture of a corporation? However, the member has the right idea. I think the financial institutions are taking appropriate steps.

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1:35 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I quoted recently a member from the government side, the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, in a newspaper article who suggested the government would accept very few amendments to the bill. Since that was a gratuitous and unnecessary comment, I would not normally bring it up if this was the only incident.

However, the member is a very effective, knowledgeable and wise member of the justice committee. I am sure he would have viewed times when this sort of lack of democratic input has prohibited the justice committee from doing its work.

Why would we hear witnesses and try to improve bills and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of parliamentary time if we could not make amendments? I wonder if the member, with his decades of experience in the House of Commons, has any comments as to whether this is correct or an unusual situation.

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1:40 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, committees of course, as the member well knows, are creatures of the House. They take their orders from the House and not from any particular member.

On the issue of amending bills, there were two or three instances in this Parliament in the previous session when in the justice committee there were material amendments made by the committee to the bill. Some of the government members found that difficult.

I think in speaking about amending bills the member is probably thinking about material changes to a bill. This could happen again at the committee with other bills, but I think with this bill there seems to be around the circle support for the bill. The only types of amendments that I would envision at this time are really just technical common sense amendments that would be consensual with all the parties. I do not anticipate that kind of a problem with this bill.

In some other criminal legislation areas, we never know. The committee will do what it feels it must.

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1:40 p.m.


Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-27, dealing with identity theft.

In May 2007, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics undertook a study on identity theft. At the time, we began to hear witnesses and look at this issue, because it is a serious problem. This issue directly affects individuals, but it also has an impact on our cities, our nation, our country, and even at the international level.

In fact, Canada is the only G-8 member that has not yet legislated against spams, which are often used for identity theft purposes. Some countries point to Canada as a haven for spammers. So, it was time to take action in this area.

It goes without saying that the Bloc supports the principle of the bill. As I just mentioned, identity theft is a very serious issue. We have to modernize the Criminal Code to reflect the reality of identity theft.

When she appeared before our committee, on May 8, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said that, in her opinion, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which was implemented six years ago “is not a tool that, alone, enables us to combat this phenomenon, even if this legislation imposes restrictions on the collection of data. The safeguard principle permits the secure and confidential holding of personal information. It also makes it possible to limit the time during which information may be kept, as well as the number of persons who have access to it.”

However, as Ms. Stoddart pointed out, this is not enough, and this is why an act on identity theft is a welcome initiative.

According to Ms. Stoddart, concerted action by the different levels of government is required. The Bloc Québécois is not alone to say so. Let me quote her again. She suggested that “the federal government has to work closely with the provinces, because a lot of what happens in terms of ID theft falls within provincial jurisdiction”.

Provincial jurisdiction does not mean only certain fields of responsibility. We are really talking about the jurisdiction of the provinces or that of the Quebec nation, because Quebeckers have jurisdiction over the management of their fields of responsibility. Ms. Stoddart gives the example of those people who have had their houses sold out from underneath them. That is something that falls entirely within the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.

Generally speaking, this Conservative government appears to be incapable of working in cooperation with Quebec and the provinces. Examples of this would be the aid package for the manufacturing and forestry sectors and the implementation of the Kyoto protocol.

The Bloc Québécois recognizes that amending the Criminal Code will not be enough to eliminate identity theft. More measures will have to be put in place by governments, including: public information to reduce victimization; regulations to provide a better framework for the management, storage and disposal of information by companies; and measures to ensure greater standardization and security in the process for issuing and verifying identity documents. The federal government has a crummy track record in terms of the management of personal information. It will have to set an example, but I will come back to that later.

The purpose of this bill is to curb identity theft, that is the unauthorized use of personal information generally obtained for criminal purposes. Information such as someone's name, date of birth, address, credit card number, social insurance number or any other personal identification number can be used to open a bank account, apply for a credit card, get mail redirected, sign up for cellular phone services, rent a vehicle, equipment or premises, or even get a job.

Bill C-27 creates three new basic offences, and all of them carry a maximum penalty of five years.

The first one involves obtaining and possessing identity information with the intent to use it in a misleading, dishonest or fraudulent fashion to commit a crime.

The second offence, which involves trafficking in identity information, targets those who give or sell information to a third party, while being well aware that this information could be used for criminal purposes, or while not caring about it.

Finally, the third offence involves the unlawful possession or trafficking in government-issued identity documents that have the information pertaining to another person.

Some witnesses confirmed to the committee that, under the Criminal Code, a person who copies—in a convenience store, a grocery store or some other business—a credit card or an automated teller card, does not commit an offence. Right now, it is very difficult to charge such a person for using personal information.

Bill C-27 will correct this situation. From now on, individuals in a business who copy a credit card or an automated teller card when someone gives it to them for a few moments will be liable to prosecution under the provisions of Bill C-27.

Bill C-27 also includes other changes to the Criminal Code. It creates a new offence for directly or indirectly redirecting someone's mail, for possessing a copy of a Canada Post key, and also additional forgery related offences, such as the trafficking in and possession of forged documents with the intent of using them. The bill also redefines the offence of personation with the notion of “identity fraud”; by specifying the meaning of the expression “fraudulently personates any person”; by adding the offence of possessing instruments for copying credit card data, in addition to the existing offence of possessing instruments for forging credit cards.

As I was saying earlier in reference to those individuals working in businesses who might copy a credit card or an automated teller card, this will now be an offence.

In addition, the bill introduces a new power that would enable the tribunal to order the offender, as part of the sentence, to make restitution to a victim of identity theft or identity fraud for the expenses associated with rehabilitating their identity, such as the cost of replacement documents and cards and costs related to correcting their credit history. This is extremely important because many people come to our constituency offices and complain that they have been victims of identity theft and are having a hard time recovering their identity. Sometimes they complain that it costs them a lot of money to recover their identity.

Obviously, because the exception proves the rule, there are exceptions. The bill before us provides for two exemptions that would protect people who create false documents for secret government operations, as well as public servants—law enforcement officers—who create and use secret identities in carrying out their duties, from court action for identity fraud.

Identity theft is a very worrisome problem. According to Public Safety Canada, identity theft is now one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada and the United States. In 2004, identity theft cost over $50 billion U.S. Identity theft costs consumers, banks and retailers a lot of money. In 2002, the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimated that consumers, banks, credit card companies, stores and other businesses lost $2.5 billion to identity theft.

In 2006, the Ontario Provincial Police's PhoneBusters program—an anti-fraud call centre created in January 1993 by the OPP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Competition Bureau—received 7,800 calls from victims of identity theft who declared personal and business losses amounting to over $16 million. However, PhoneBusters recognizes that these statistics do not provide a complete picture of the situation. The organization believes that the number of calls received represents but a small fraction—perhaps 5%—of the actual total. According to PhoneBusters, payment card fraud, which is a major element of identity theft, accounted for 42% of identity theft incidents reported in 2003. According to the RCMP, total losses due to credit card fraud amounted to $200 million in 2003.

In addition to these financial losses, victims of identity theft suffer damaged credit ratings and compromised personal and financial records.

In a 2003 study, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reported that victims of identity theft spent an average of $500 million U.S. to recover their identity and restore their credit rating.

According to a 2006 Ipsos Reid poll, one Canadian adult in four—24%, in fact, or about 5.7 million Canadians—said he or she had been a victim of identity theft—4%—or knew someone who had been a victim—20%.

This Civil Code must be dusted off. The offences currently in the Criminal Code were defined for the most part at a time when the traditional concept of “property” applied. The problem with identity theft is that personal information is not considered property. In applying the provisions of the Criminal Code, if it is impossible to establish a direct causal link with an economic loss or another serious injury, it becomes very difficult to prove that someone committed a crime such as identity theft.

Roughly 40 provisions of the current Criminal Code could apply to identity theft. For example, subsection 342(3) of the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence to possess and traffic in credit or debit cards and related data for the purpose of using them or obtaining services provided by the card issuer.

The provisions on forgery apply to people who knowingly make false documents in order to use them or pass them off as genuine documents.

A person who uses a false document, knowing that it is forged, in order to defraud another person, can be charged with fraud and uttering forged documents.

Offenders who assume a false identity for economic or other gain—for example, to avoid being linked to criminal offences—can be charged with identity theft.

Simple possession and collection of personal information are not crimes under the Criminal Code.

In a letter dated November 21, 2007 to the member for Hochelaga, the Minister of Justice stated that he intended to introduce a bill to amend the Criminal Code in order to solve the problem of identity theft. I stress the word “solve”.

The minister is a bit too enthusiastic. The bill is a step in the right direction. However, the Criminal Code is an unwieldy instrument for fighting identity theft: the rules of evidence are strict. Other measures will have to be put in place to effectively fight identity theft.

The Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, has on several occasions called for amendments to the Criminal Code in order to more effectively fight identity theft, and she also recognizes that this tool is not very effective. She stated,

I don't think it's just an issue of the Criminal Code. As you know, our law administrators hesitate to use the Criminal Code: the standards of proof are higher, and the charter may apply, and so very often you have to have a fairly clear-cut case to use the Criminal Code.

There is one requirement for Bill C-27: the federal government must work closely with Quebec and the provinces. Once again, the Privacy Commissioner maintains that the real solution to the problem of identity theft lies in civil procedures:

Civil sanctions that are very easy to prove and easy for citizens, for example, to take to small claims courts, which may provide a more easily accessible deterrent to the growing industry of ID theft. This means, of course, that I think the federal government has to work closely with the provinces, because a lot of what happens in terms of ID theft falls within provincial jurisdiction.

The Bloc Québécois recognizes that amending the Criminal Code will not be enough to solve the problem of identity theft. Other measures will have to be put in place by governments: education campaigns—I spoke of these earlier—to reduce victimization in particular; regulations to provide more stringent oversight of how businesses manage, store and dispose of information; and measures to promote greater uniformity and security in the process of issuing and verifying identification documents.

But this government is incapable of collaborating with the provinces. Some of the solutions for combating identity theft rest with the provinces under the constitutional powers in relation to property and civil rights.

This government seems to be extremely reluctant to collaborate. Examples of this abound. The present Conservative government refused to collaborate with Quebec and the provinces on bringing forward a real plan to assist the forestry and manufacturing industries. The Conservative government rejected a series of unanimous requests by the National Assembly out of hand, requests that included honouring the Kyoto protocol, abandoning its plan for a single securities commission, a plan rejected by all of the provinces except Ontario, abandoning its reform of Parliament and reversing its decision to scrap the court challenges program.

The Conservative government succeeded in upsetting all the provinces with its reform of how the seats in the House of Commons are allocated. Senate reform has upset a majority of provinces. Equalization payment reform has been a bitter pill for Quebec and Ontario and the provinces with offshore oil resources.

So the Conservative government, which should be working with the provinces to combat identity theft, has instead retreated to its corner and made a few changes that are necessary but that have a limited effect on the problem in question.

The government seems to be in more of a hurry to give the impression that it is doing something than in developing a coherent strategy for effectively combating this plague.

And then, before handing the provinces new responsibilities for enforcing the Criminal Code, did it so much as make sure that they had the resources to enforce the new identity theft provisions?

This is the federal government, which is supposed to set an example. Even though it has a sorry record when it comes to managing personal information, it will have to set an example. The federal government is proposing to penalize people who use identification documents such as social insurance cards fraudulently. This is the same government that is not doing enough to protect and strengthen the integrity of social insurance numbers. In June 2006, the Auditor General estimated that there were 2.9 million more social insurance numbers in circulation than the estimated number of Canadians aged 30 and over.

Bill C-27 makes it an offence to falsely represent one’s self to be a peace officer or public officer. In December 2004, the media revealed that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority had lost control of its uniforms. From January to September 2004, CATSA issued about 75,000 uniform items to its 4,000 or so screeners. Of those items, a total of 1,127 were reported lost or stolen.

Examples of mismanagement of personal information by the federal government abound. The federal government wants the public to believe that it is taking the question of identity theft seriously, but in its own actions it ignores the problem.

The Bloc Québécois supports the amendments to the Criminal Code, but also calls on the federal government to adopt exemplary practices in this area.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

2 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

There will be a 10-minute period for questions and comments for the hon. member when the House resumes debate on Bill C-27.

We will now move on to statements by members. The hon. member for Perth—Wellington.

St. Marys Minor Hockey AssociationStatements by Members

2 p.m.


Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate the St. Marys Minor Hockey Association on its 50th anniversary. Recently, the community got together to celebrate this very important milestone.

St. Marys minor hockey has always had strong support from the community, the municipality, the sponsors, and the town employees who maintain the facilities.

Minor hockey in St. Marys is so important to the parents, coaches and, especially, the kids. The players come away with the lessons of hard work and sportsmanship, as well as memories and friendships that last a lifetime.

There is something about an early morning at the rink watching kids play hockey that is uniquely Canadian, no matter where we are in Canada.

Finally, I would like to recognize all those volunteers in St. Marys and across my riding of Perth—Wellington for their tireless efforts in support of all minor sports. They make me proud.

Great LakesStatements by Members

January 29th, 2008 / 2 p.m.


Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Great Lakes provide residents and industry with a source of fresh water. They support a massive commercial fishery, a tourist trade and industry of nearly every form.

Despite their importance, we have neglected the Great Lakes and treated them as a dumping ground, and as a result the health of the lakes is in serious question.

Water levels are down and bacteria levels are up. Beaches are closed during the summer and invasive species are ravaging the ecosystem.

Science tells us that the Great Lakes are facing challenges that, if ignored, will catastrophically impact upon those living in the region.

I am calling upon the government to take action, real action, to halt and reverse this environmental legacy. We need a national policy which seeks to engage governments, cottagers, farmers, businesses and private citizens. We must work to ferret out real solutions to the real problems facing the lakes and the surrounding basin.

Groups like the Point Clark Beach Association and the federations of agriculture each stand ready to assist. They and many others are waiting for this government to act.

Joé JuneauStatements by Members

2 p.m.


Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, Joé Juneau, a former Montreal Canadiens player who has always led by example, took an active role in helping to create a program to motivate Inuit youth academically by introducing them to hockey in a sport study program.

Building on his popularity, his position as a role model for these young people, and their love of hockey, he quickly turned this program into a success and a source of motivation for the students, whose academic efforts determine whether or not they will be allowed on the ice.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I would like to congratulate Joé Juneau on receiving the well-deserved title of personality of the year from La Presse and Radio-Canada.