Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join today's second reading debate on Bill S-4, which would amend the Criminal Code to address the serious and ever growing problem of identity theft.
Although introduced in the Senate, the bill's proposed reforms are familiar to hon. members as its predecessor, Bill C-27, which was virtually the same, was introduced in this chamber in the previous Parliament and had received all party support at second reading.
I hope Bill S-4 can similarly receive all party support now and be quickly passed into law. Canadians urgently need the protection it would provide against identity theft, a problem that the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus has estimated cost Canadian consumers, banks, credit card and other businesses more than $2 billion each year and a problem that has enormous personal and psychological impacts on its victims. I should add that oftentimes the victims of identity theft are the most vulnerable Canadians.
Identity crime encompasses the collection, possession, trafficking and use of identity information belonging to another in committing crimes such as personation, fraud or misuse of debit card or credit card data.
For example, it occurs when somebody pretends to be an account holder in a transaction and uses the true account holder's identity to access his or her credit or actual funds. It also occurs when someone acquires and uses the identity of another to carry out otherwise ordinary transactions, such as to rent an apartment or to buy a cellphone, which are then used as part of a broader criminal scheme. In these instances, if the crime is eventually detected, the trail leads back to the identity of the unfortunate innocent person whose identity was stolen. We know that organized crime and terrorism routinely engage in identity crimes to carry out their criminal operations. I doubt that any one of us, within our constituency, cannot name someone who has been the victim of identity theft.
Bill S-4 proposes to create three new offences that will target the preliminary stages of identity crime and will enable police to lay charges, for example, before the crimes of fraud or impersonation are committed.
The first new offence would be called identity theft and would apply to attaining and possessing identity information with the intent to use the information deceptively, dishonestly or fraudulently in the commission of a crime.
The second new offence is trafficking in identity information, an offence that targets those who transfer or sell information to another person with knowledge of or recklessness toward the possible criminal use of the information. This offence targets the middlemen, and that is those who traffic the stolen identity information from one person to another, but who may not otherwise be involved in the fraud or other crimes in which the information is destined to be used. The trafficking of such stolen identity information is often part of organized crime's identity fraud activities.
The third new offence is for unlawfully possessing or trafficking in crucial government-issued identity documents that pertain to other people.
Each of these new offences would carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and would complement existing Criminal Code offences such as fraud, impersonation and forgery that already prohibit the most harmful consequences of identity abuse.
Bill S-4 proposes other new offences that will complement other existing Criminal Code mail and forgery offences. It will create the new offences of fraudulently redirecting or causing redirection of a person's mail, possessing a counterfeit Canada Post mail key and possessing instruments, often referred to as skimming devices, that are used to extract and copy debit and credit card information.
Bill S-4 would also facilitate law enforcement's investigative activities by adding new offences and certain existing offences to the list of offences for which a wiretap order may be obtained.
Importantly the bill would enable sentencing courts to order an offender to pay restitution to a victim of identity theft or fraud where the victim had incurred expenses related to rehabilitating the reputation and credit history.
Bill S-4 also proposes two exemptions to address potential negative impacts on the undercover work of law enforcement. I want to spend a moment on this aspect of the bill, as this issue attracted significant interest in the Senate. It is important that these are clearly understood for what they are and are not.
The exemptions in clauses 7 and 9 have been carefully crafted to permit the police to obtain and use identity documents in a fictitious name to support undercover activities. Concealing the true identities of undercover police officers is a problem akin to a uniformed officer carrying a sidearm. The law exempts police officers from offences that would otherwise by committed by carrying their guns, for example. The proposed exemptions will do the same thing for undercover officers with respect to identity documents.
Some will argue that these exemptions are unnecessary and inappropriate, since it is already a scheme in the Criminal Code that operates as justification for offences committed by the police during a criminal investigation. While it is true that sections 25.1 to 25.4 of the Criminal Code could be used to justify the use of false identity documents by the police, that approach would require each officer to weigh the proportionality of using the documents each and every time he or she relied upon them.
While this is an appropriate test where the police are engaging in conduct that amounts to an offence that has not been specifically authorized by Parliament, it is the government's view that it would be inappropriate to require the police to rely on this scheme for a discreet, pre-defined activity that is clearly in the public interest. It is essential to keep in mind that the proposed exemptions do not give the police the authority to commit identity theft or other fraudulent activities. Any other offences that an officer may be required to commit in the course of a criminal investigation would have to be justified under the scheme contained in the appropriate sections of the Criminal Code.
Lastly, the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee, which undertook a thorough study of the bill, amended it to provide for a five-year parliamentary review. This would provide us with a welcomed opportunity to assess the impact of the reforms in combatting identity theft.
Bill S-4 would provide much needed new tools for Canadian law enforcement and much needed protection for all Canadians against identity theft. I urge all hon. members to consider the most vulnerable in their constituencies when they consider the bill. As we all know, many members of our communities have been the victims of identity theft and the psychological impact of having one's identity stolen or misused can be quite profound.
I urge all hon. members to support the bill and support its swift passage.