Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my colleagues and the staff here on the Hill a happy new year. After all, one can do so until the end of January. I hope that 2008 will be a productive year for all parliamentarians. Who knows what the future holds?
Bill C-27 is very important because it deals with a new kind of crime. Everyone was familiar with old-fashioned crime—theft of goods. Everyone knew about organized crime rings and gangs. You all know how hard Parliament had to work in the early 1990s to develop new legislation and move away from conspiracy provisions to make gangsterism a new offence. Everyone here is familiar with traditional crimes concerning offences against the person.
However, a new kind of crime—identity theft—is surfacing, and it is very worrisome. Identity theft is an economic crime. One in four Canadians has been a victim of identity theft or knows someone who has been a victim of an offence related to identity theft. The most common of these crimes is the fraudulent use of a personal identification number.
When people withdraw money from a bank, there are more and more organized crime rings that can access their PINs and, unfortunately, empty, steal from or appropriate their bank accounts. We know that this can cause major headaches for victims, not to mention damage their credit rating.
I would like to share some relatively recent numbers that illustrate just how big this problem has become. For example, in 2004, an estimated $50 billion was involved in identity theft in the United States. In Canada, this phenomenon is just as worrisome. If my information is correct, we are talking about approximately $50 million. Identity theft is therefore a very serious phenomenon. We need to define new offences to deal with it, and that is the purpose of the bill before us.
What are the most serious forms of identity theft? Here are some examples: theft of credit cards or debit cards, whether they are used in bank machines or credit unions; redirecting mail, that is, taking someone's mail and sending it somewhere else; pretexting, that is, pretending to be someone who is authorized to obtain the information. This can include telemarketing. We learned from recent news reports about people who claimed to be representatives from the Red Cross, soliciting by telephone, pretending to sell first aid kits. Such offences are becoming more and more common: pretexting in the context of telephone solicitation by marketing networks.
In addition to credit card theft, redirecting mail and pretexting, there is also hacking into computer databases. In fact, there are specialized networks capable of searching software programs and networks to steal data.
We know, for example, that even within public services such as the Régie de l'assurance maladie, the Régie des rentes du Québec and others, there are fraud artists who are able to extract information and use it for completely illegitimate purposes.
Another offence is the use of skimming devices to capture credit and debit card information, and stealing someone's PIN, something that we would never have imagined a few years ago. When we went to our credit union or bank to pay our bills, withdraw money or make deposits, we naturally thought we were in a secure environment. However, people routinely spy on seniors, in particular, and try to steal their PINs.
In a program I was watching on an English language channel, I even saw people in shopping malls and other public places stealing purses, like the one the hon. member for Québec left here. If I were not such an honest person, I could take the hon. member's credit card and PIN, and try to reproduce them for illegitimate purposes.
There are also networks in shopping centres. Someone will distract a person in a public place by engaging that person in conversation while two, three or four other people steal the person's wallet. One member of the network will claim to have witnessed the crime and will talk to the person, who is clearly shaken and emotional. The witness will give the person a telephone number, supposedly for a centre where you can report theft. This centre is bogus. A tape recorder has been used to record a voice as if the centre were real. The person who calls has to give his or her PIN, social insurance number, address and personal information, which completes the theft that is in progress. This happens in public places such as grocery stores, arenas or busy places where an organized group of three, four or five people can carry out such an operation.
So there is identity card theft, redirection of mail, false pretence, hacking into data banks, using sorting devices to gather information, stealing PINs by spying on people in financial institutions and, obviously, computer theft. These are examples of modern ways individuals and networks can use to access personal information. This is why we have to be increasingly vigilant about sharing information about ourselves. We have to be increasingly vigilant and shed the reflex to give out such information.
The government has introduced a bill that creates three new offences. Bill C-27 mentions obtaining and possessing identity information. That is the first new offence. Section 347 of the Criminal Code already prohibits the use of false pretence or forgery for unauthorized purposes. These offences have been on the books for a very long time. But the government is proposing three other offences, including obtaining and possessing identity information with the intent to use the information deceptively, dishonestly or fraudulently in the commission of a crime. This is a new offence that will be added to the Criminal Code, and we support this.
The second offence is certainly the most interesting with respect to what is currently happening. It concerns trafficking in identity information. This is an offence that targets those who transmit or sell information to a third party knowing that or being reckless as to whether the information will be used for criminal purposes.
The third offence is the unlawful possession or trafficking of certain government-issued identity documents that contain information about other persons.
These are three new offences introduced by C-27 and we will certainly support this bill. We support it because the issue of identity theft is of great concern. In committee, we will hear and obtain the opinions of our fellow citizens. We believe that we must do more. We are urging the government to consider the possibility of strengthening this bill.
We must recognize that the fight against identity theft is not just a matter for criminal law. The former Information Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, appeared before the committee dealing with information issues. This is the same committee that deals with ethics, which has been in the spotlight of late owing to the Schreiber-Mulroney affair. I do not wish to dwell on this matter but I must at least comment on these events.
Last night, I read the report by the former rector of McGill University who outlined for the government and the Prime Minister a certain number of scenarios, including first listening to the testimony of parliamentarians who will continue their work. The Bloc Québécois has the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. I believe that my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin also sat on this committee.
There is, of course, cause for concern when a former prime minister, someone who held the highest ministerial and public office in this country, accepted money for making representations while he was still a member of Parliament and under circumstances that remain unclear.
While provisions concerning lobbying were added to Bill C-2, the fact remains that we have had a code of ethics since 1985 at least and that, in light of various ethical concerns, such action might appear suspicious. The presumption of innocence applies to everyone of course. The former prime minister has the right—it is his prerogative—to clear these things up; still, one can wonder, if only because this former prime minister did not report until 1999 income received in 1993. All this is fueling a climate of suspicion which, unless the record can be set straight, might tarnish the office of prime minister.
I will be following, with my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois, the proceedings of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. We can count on the dynamic member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert to put the most pertinent questions. We will recall that the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert was voted parliamentarian of the year on the Club des ex show broadcast on RDI between Christmas and New Year's. I think that it is very wise to recognize the energy and professionalism of the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.
I will close by saying that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the person responsible for access to information, was clear that the issue of identity theft, which is a growing phenomenon in Canada, cannot be fully and satisfactorily resolved through criminal law alone. She invited us to adopt civil sanctions as well. I will read what she said in committee on May 8, 2007:
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.
We know that in criminal law the standard is not balance of probabilities but proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a higher standard.
The Commissioner added:
And so very often you have to have a fairly clear-cut case to use the Criminal Code.
There needs to be a causal link between an offence, harm and the consequences. The Commissioner added:
[They] are very easy to prove and easy for citizens to understand.
She was talking about civil sanctions and gave the example of small claims court. Such courts exist in Quebec. I do not know whether they exist in other provinces. They are courts where one can submit a claim before a judge without the need to be represented by a lawyer. Matters that are important to a person are considered more quickly than in superior courts, where they may not be considered as important.
The Commissioner went on to say:
Small claims courts 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.
I get worried when cooperation between the federal government and the provinces comes up. The federal government has sometimes flexed its authority and completely ignored the will of the provinces.
For example, take the recent statement by Quebec's finance minister, Ms. Jérôme-Forget, who is also president of the treasury board and an MNA in west Montreal. Like previous finance ministers and all the premiers in the National Assembly, including Bernard Landry, she is opposed to creating a national securities commission. We know that this is an area the provinces can regulate. We therefore do not see the need for a national commission.
The same thing is true of the Kyoto protocol and the manufacturing and forestry crisis. It is quite something to hear all the premiers join together in condemning the federal government's insensitivity in offering $1 billion in assistance. This is very little, considering what is needed.
Of course, what is most upsetting about the federal government's strategy is that it does not take into account where the job losses have occurred. In a case like this, you cannot simply distribute money on a per capita basis.
The Prime Minister says that each province will be guaranteed $10 million, and each territory, $3 million. Yet central Canada—Ontario and Quebec—accounts for nearly 60% of all the manufacturing job losses—57%, in fact, if memory serves.
Quebec, which has invested billions of dollars to help its industry, will therefore get $276 million. Yet the federal government will have an estimated $24 billion surplus for the next two years. Consequently, $1 billion is simply not a serious offer when the Canadian economy is in crisis and central Canada—Quebec and Ontario—is being hardest hit.
The information commissioner invited the federal government to exercise its prerogative by using point 27 in section 91 of the Constitution, which enables the government to legislate on criminal matters. However, she said that Canada cannot combat identity theft without using civil law measures. This is the responsibility of the provincial governments, especially the National Assembly, because Quebec is the main jurisdiction where civil law is in force.
My time is up. I do not believe anyone has a question, but I will be happy to answer questions if there are any.