Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise on this very important issue of identity theft. Bill S-4, which comes to us from the Senate, is certainly a very important starting point. I should begin by saying the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill.
We are obviously very concerned about identity theft. We are worried about it. The Criminal Code needs to be modernized to take this kind of theft into account.
However, identity theft should be fought through the concerted action of various levels of government. This is actually what we have just seen. It has probably not been done yet or not done well enough. It is important, therefore, to take a look at this bill and send it to committee for study of other aspects than changes to the Criminal Code. These changes are important and we agree with them, but that is not enough.
Governments need to look at other measures, such as public education, to reduce the number of victims. Identity theft and identity abuse could, in many cases, be dealt with through a good, Canada-wide education campaign.
Take the case of older people whose identities are often stolen because they are incredibly naïve when people approach them and when they use their own ID. A very good information campaign targeted at these people in particular would certainly result is less theft and reduced court costs. We should not rely solely on the Criminal Code and we should definitely establish a program to inform people about how their identities are stolen and with which means of communication. People’s identities are stolen over the telephone. That too reveals a disarming naivety.
We cannot expect to solve everything just by suppressing theft, and parallel to this legislation, we should also adopt regulations to provide better guidelines for the way companies manage, store and dispose of information. We need regulations outside this bill that would make a major contribution to providing better guidelines. There are also measures to ensure increased security and uniformity of the processes for issuing and verifying people’s identity documents.
Often, in the case of real estate fraud, people do not know how to protect their identity documents. We are not talking about credit cards here. Credit cards are important, but I think we talk about them far too much because some very major identity thefts take place through real estate transactions. People even sell houses that do not belong to them. Some people do that on quite a regular basis. Then it gets extremely complex for the victims to get their identity back. This legislation must address thoroughly the question of identity theft as it relates to real estate, because these transactions cost people huge amounts of money. Often these people have their entire lives ruined. Once they have lost their home, a year or three years later they are living somewhere else, but they have lost part of their life’s dream.
Coordination with governments is important, therefore, but we must also include real estate fraud more specifically. In some real estate frauds, and I have had cases in my riding, the people are no longer entitled to cross the American border because they are considered to be the ones who committed the fraud themselves. It is a temporary situation, because once that is resolved, everything is put back as it was.
This is therefore very serious and it is much more than a temporary pecuniary loss.
The purpose of the bill is to combat identity theft such as the unauthorized collection and use of personal information for criminal purposes. This is important. People do it in order to steal from other people. It is rare for someone to steal an identity simply to identify themself as someone else. In general, the bottom line will be crime.
Names, dates of birth, addresses, credit card numbers, social insurance numbers and any other personal identification number can be used to open a bank account, get a credit card, have mail forwarded, subscribe to a cell phone service, lease a vehicle or equipment, or even sell a house one does not own.
Three new basic offences are created by this bill, and that is very good. They are all subject to a maximum term of five years. That is why we believe these three offences should be considered in committee. They must be properly assessed so we know whether they will properly protect the public.
The three offences are: obtaining and possessing identity information with the intent of using it in a misleading, deceitful or fraudulent manner in the commission of a crime; trafficking in identity information, an offence that targets people who transfer or sell information to a third party, knowing or being reckless as to whether the information might be used for criminal purposes; and possession or illegally trafficking in identity documents issued by the government that contain information about another person.
People become someone else and are responsible.
There are also other amendments to the Criminal Code; the new offences of redirecting or causing to be redirected the mail of another person are created.
That may not seem serious, but people regularly take someone else’s mail, particularly in the suburbs.
The new offence of possession of a counterfeit Canada Post key will also be created.
That will be in the law and it is very important. Canada Post is installing more and more mailboxes with keys throughout rural communities. People are able to get their neighbours’ keys to steal their mail.
Additional forgery offences, such as trafficking in forged documents and possession of forged documents with the intent of using them, will be created.
This is another point addressed by the law that should be thoroughly considered in committee.
There will be the new term for the offence of personation, to be called identity fraud, and the meaning of the expression “personation” is clarified.
Moreover, the addition of a new power would enable the court to order the offender, as part of the penalty, to make restitution to the victim of identity theft or identity fraud for the expenses associated with rehabilitating their identity, including expenses to replace cards and documents and to correct their credit history.
All this does not address thefts in connection with real estate, which cost victims huge sums of money.
This legislation needs to be coordinated with the Civil Code of Quebec so that people can recover their property, whether it is money or something like a boat that was sold by someone it did not belong to. This often happens, because boats are harder to identify than cars. Even a house can be sold fraudulently.
Since this law should have been passed long ago in Canada, it is important to look at what has been done elsewhere, especially in the United States and France. I would like to give an example of what is done in France. Identity theft is not an indictable offence in itself, except in very specific cases, such as using a false identity in an authentic document or an administrative document intended for a public authority. Assuming a false name in order to obtain a police record check is an offence under the French criminal code. These are things we should look at, because the proposed legislation does not cover them.
In France, specific provisions stipulate the following:
A penalty of six months' imprisonment and a fine of € 7,500 [a substantial fine] is incurred by:
1. using a name or part of a name other than that assigned by civil status;
2. changing, altering or modifying a name or part of a name assigned by civil status,
in an authentic or public document or in an administrative document drafted for public authority, other than where regulations in force permit the drafting of such documents under an assumed civil status.
It would be a very good idea to refer to civil status for names, as French law does. Earlier, a member said that in Quebec, there are two ways for a person to be identified: by birth record or by government record. The first has been abandoned, and now only the government's birth records are officially valid. That is why it is a good idea to work with other governments to stay on top of how things are changing in the provinces.
Another important thing in France is this:
Identity theft becomes a criminal offence as soon as one “[assumes] the name of another person in circumstances that led or could have led to the initiation of a criminal prosecution”. In this case, it is punishable by five years' imprisonment and a fine of € 75,000.
That shows just how heavily the law relies on authorities with respect to civil status. It is interesting to see how other countries do things.
I have one last example, also from France. One article reads as follows:
Assuming the name of another person in circumstances that led or could have led to the initiation of a criminal prosecution against such a person is punished by five years' imprisonment and a fine of € 75,000.
[...]sentences imposed for this misdemeanour are cumulated, and may not run concurrently with any imposed for the offence in the context of which the name was usurped.
The penalties set out under the first paragraph apply to a false statement in respect of the civil status of a person which has led or could have led to the initiation of a criminal prosecution against another person.
That is why I think it is so important for the committee to find out how things are done in other countries and to acknowledge that others already have good identity theft legislation.
The Conservative member mentioned earlier that if we are serious about this bill, we should adopt it immediately without sending it to committee. We believe that, on the contrary, even though we support the bill and it is necessary, there is work to be done in committee. We cannot skip this very important step.
I was saying that the Bloc supports this bill. We wish to send it to committee because identity theft is an issue that we have felt strongly about for a long time. It is important that we realize that identity theft, the issue before us, can happen in various ways. For example, someone could take a social insurance card and use it to obtain housing under a name other than their own. They could build an identity with very few documents.