Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to rise on Bill C-27, an bill that seeks to protect Canadians from identity crime.
At the outset of my speech, I do want to particularly thank the Minister of Justice, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and the entire department for all their work on this issue. I had an opportunity to work on it with respect to a private member's bill that was unanimously adopted by the House in the last session. I was very pleased that the government did bring forward a much more comprehensive piece of legislation on identity theft in general.
The reality is that technology has made financial transactions virtually instantaneous, but it has also made personal information more vulnerable to misappropriation and misuse. Identity information has in reality become a commodity. It is easily acquired and can be instantaneously transferred from one person to another.
Identity thieves can use stolen personal information to open credit card and bank accounts, redirect mail, rent vehicles, obtain government benefits and even secure employment. When this happens, unsuspecting victims are left with unpaid bills and bad credit. Thousands of Canadians are victims of identity theft every year. Many of them contacted me in the course of preparation and adoption of my private member's bill.
In November 2006 an Ipsos Reid survey indicated that 73% of Canadians are concerned about becoming victims of identity theft and 28% said that they or someone they know has already been a victim of identity theft. In 2006 almost 8,000 victims reported losses of $16 million to PhoneBusters, the Canadian anti-fraud call centre. Many more cases are thought to go unreported. The PhoneBusters numbers likely represent only the tip of the iceberg as they do not include reports made directly to local police agencies, or all the incidents that go unreported for one reason or another, nor do they include identity thefts that have not yet been detected.
The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus has estimated that identity theft may cost Canadian consumers, banks and credit card firms, stores and other businesses more than $2 billion annually.
Credit card losses in Canada were reported by the Canadian Bankers Association to have reached nearly $300 million in 2006. Losses from debit card fraud approached $100 million in 2006 according to the Interac Association.
It is already a crime to fraudulently use another person's identity information and Bill C-27 strengthens the protections against identity fraud. But Bill C-27 also gives the police, prosecutors and courts new tools to catch, prosecute and punish those who commit identity crime by creating new offences that allow the police to intervene at an earlier stage of criminal operations before identity fraud or other crimes that actually cause financial or other harms are attempted or committed. These provisions will help stop criminal activity before Canadians fall victim to identity fraud.
Let me explain how the bill will accomplish its objectives. There are two phases to identity crimes. The first is in preparation where identity thieves gather and exchange personal information about others for later fraudulent use. The second phase is where identity thieves actually use that information to commit identity fraud.
Until now, only the second phase, the actual identity fraud, is a criminal act. Bill C-27 criminalizes the first stage by creating new offences for identity theft. These new offences will let the police intervene at the earliest stages when identity information is collected and transferred for the purpose of committing identity fraud. In this way, criminalizing identity theft will help prevent identity fraud and the victimization that ensues as a result.
Bill C-27 criminalizes identity theft because identity theft enables identity fraud. Before someone can commit identity fraud, he or she must obtain another person's identity information. This information, such as a credit card number or bank account number, is not considered to be property within the meaning of the theft provisions in the Criminal Code currently. For example, an unscrupulous salesperson who surreptitiously retrieves the information from a bank card or credit card during a purchase, a process which is known as skim and clone--something that happened to me--cannot be charged with theft because no physical object was stolen and the card holder has not been deprived of anything other than the ability to control the flow of the information. This is not subject to the current law on theft.
Other common ways of collecting identity information are going through another person's garbage, a practice known as dumpster diving, or catching a glimpse of account numbers or personal identification numbers of the person next to them, a practice known as shoulder surfing.
Another way for identity thieves to gather information is called “phishing”. Identity thieves send unsolicited emails that look like they are from a bank, credit card company or other merchant. The unsuspecting recipient is asked to provide his or her account numbers and passwords. The information is then sent straight back to the identity thief.
It is important to remember that identity information is not always obtained clandestinely. Identity thieves can get a potential victim's name and address from the phone book. They can browse social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook or gather other personal details that have been posted by users.
Social networking sites encourage users to share their birthdates, hobbies, interests, friends and addresses. In the wrong hands this seemingly harmless personal information can be used to perpetuate identity fraud.
Identity theft is a necessary step on the road to identity fraud. That is why Bill C-27 proposes to get tough on those who traffic and possess identify information for the purposes of later committing an offence involving the deceptive use of someone's identity. To this end, it creates three new offences.
First, Bill C-27 would make it an offence to possess or obtain, without lawful excuse, certain government issued identity documents. This new offence targets those who have official government documents with false information or who, without excuse, have the official documents of another person.
Official government documents are particularly useful to identity criminals because they are used to obtain other identification and access to government services. Criminalizing the simple possession of official documents, without lawful excuse, is at the outside of the criminal law power. However, the danger of having these documents fall into the wrong hand warrants these steps to protect them. It will be clear that people who hold these cards on behalf of family members or for legitimate business purposes are not committing an offence. Only where there is no lawful excuse for the possession will an offence be made out.
It is not only government documents, however, that need to be protected. Bill C-27 would create two offences that would target unlawful conduct in relation to identity information, whether or not the information was captured in an official identity card or document.
The first of these offences prohibits the obtaining or possessing of another person's identity information with the intent to perpetuate identity deception. Identity information is defined very broadly and includes anything that can identify an individual.
In addition, it explicitly includes a range of key pieces of information, such as name, date of birth, biometric information, financial account numbers, crucial alphanumeric identifiers issued by a range of authorities. This new offence targets those who have information about others, but who intend to use it to commit an offence that involves fraud, deceit or falsehood.
The second new offence also targets the illegal flow of identity information. This offence, however, goes after those who profit from supplying identity information to others, but do not themselves use it to commit offences. This offence prohibits trafficking in identity information, where the person knows or is reckless as to whether the information would be used to perpetuate an offence.
Each of these three new offences targets a separate aspect of the early stages of identity fraud. They are all dual procedure offences and punishable by up to five years in prison.
One concern in criminalizing the deceptive use of identity is to ensure that we do not inadvertently prohibit the use of undercover identities by police and other agencies. Toward this end, Bill C-27 contains two exemptions for the benefit of law enforcement.
The first exemption allows police officers engaged in undercover work to obtain and use forged documents in the course of their duties. The second permits document issuers, who sometimes are called upon by various government agencies to produce false documents for use in undercover operations, to continue to produce those documents without fear of prosecution for forgery. These two exemptions ensure that the new protections against identity crime will not hinder the legitimate work of law enforcement.
Bill C-27 would make other amendments to existing offences in the Criminal Code. All of these either supplement existing offences or clarify or expand their scope.
Additional Criminal Code amendments will create a new offence of fraudulently redirecting or causing redirection of a person's mail and a new offence of possessing a counterfeit Canada Post mail key. There are already certain Canada Post and mail related offences in the code, but the addition of these two new offences to complement the others are necessary because mail fraud continues to be a technique commonly used by identity thieves to get valuable personal information.
The bill would also create new forgery offences to complement those already in existence. Currently, it is a crime to make a forged document and to use a forged document as if it were in fact genuine. The bill would add to these new offences of trafficking in forged documents or possessing forged documents with the intent to either traffic or use them. These amendments should cover off all possible situations in relation to the handling of forged documents so there should always be a chargeable offence.
The legislation also proposes a few clarifications to the personation offence. We are proposing to rename the personation offence “identity fraud”. Personation is somewhat of an historical term that seems out of place in our modern world. More important, there is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty over what the terms “identity theft”, “identity fraud” and “identity crime” mean from one context to another. By renaming personation as “identity fraud” and by introducing preparatory offence for “identity theft”, we hope that this would at least bring some uniformity to the discussion about these issues in the Canadian criminal law context.
A few other more technical amendments will clarify that the offence of unlawfully possessing or using debit card data includes the PIN, or personal information number, of the bank card and will clarify that it is a crime to possess instruments for copying debit card information, devices known as “skimming” machines.
Bill C-27 gets tough on identity criminals, but we must not forget that thousands of Canadians are victims of identity crime.
Bill C-27 would allow a judge to order that a person convicted of identify offences be required to provide restitution of reasonable costs associated with the rehabilitation of the victim's credit rating and identity. This restitution power would supplement the existing restitution provisions, which allow for an order of restitution in respect of actual financial losses. It would help victims recover the costs associated with restoring their identities, in addition to whatever direct financial losses they suffered as a result of a fraudulent use of their identities.
I am sure all members of the House are concerned about the growing threat of identity crime. I know that I certainly am. That is why I introduced my private member's bill, Bill C-299. I want to thank all members for unanimously supporting that bill to go to the Senate, where it currently is.
I am very pleased that Bill C-27 would create new offences for possession and trafficking in identity information.
Bill C-27 would get tough on those who perpetrate identity crime. The government is responding to the demands of Canadians to do more to combat this problem. However, the identity theft problem will not be solved by government action alone. There are simple precautions that all Canadians can take to minimize the risk of falling victim to identity crime.
Prudent Canadians should take steps to protect their identity information. Experts of all types suggest: shredding all documents with personal information before putting them in the recycling or garbage; not clicking on links in unsolicited email messages; using automatic bill payments or secure online banking sites; only carrying essential identity documents in a purse or wallet; carefully reviewing all bank card and credit card statements and following up promptly on any unusual or unfamiliar charges; and contacting Visa or Mastercard or whatever institution with respect to travelling overseas that might result in payments. All these steps should be taken by Canadians in order to be prudent in the protection of their information.
Finally, some Canadians may want to take advantage of credit monitoring services that watch for signs of identity theft. Early detection of identity theft is crucial for minimizing the repercussions of the crime.
Identity theft and identity fraud are serious crimes. By tightening the identity fraud provisions of the Criminal Code and introducing new identity theft provisions, the bill would provide police, prosecutors and the courts the tools they need to combat identity crime.
Certain elements of the legislation are rather technical and complex. The criminal law has never before criminalized the acquisition of information that is, in many cases, in the public domain and widely and freely shared by millions of Canadians. The criminal law must ensure that this information is not used fraudulently to the detriment of others.
I believe all members are equally concerned about these problems. I also believe all members will be supportive of the approach we have taken. I ask all members of the House, as I did for my private member's bill, to stand in unison, support the bill and ensure that there is greater protection for Canadians with respect to their personal information and take some real action on identity theft.