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House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was auto.

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to pursue the issue of lawful excuse. When I first looked at this provision, it caused me a good deal of concern as to why we would be doing this for this specific crime. There is the general section in section 25 of the code. Why would we not have amended section 25, if that was necessary, as opposed to creating a new section in this part of the code under identity theft?

If we are doing it with regard to identity theft, in how many more sections of the code are we going to use this specific type of lawful excuse, as opposed to using the more general one with the protections it has against potential abuse? That caused us a great deal of concern when we first passed section 25 with regard to lawful excuse, and it continues to be of great concern to the justice committee.

I am wondering whether we are now going to see a series of amendments to the code in other criminal offences and why would we do that as opposed to simply amending, if necessary--and I have some doubts about whether it is necessary--section 25.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his work on the justice committee.

Part and parcel of an undercover police officer's role and his or her ability to infiltrate an organization is the use of a false identity. A police officer can obviously not use his or her own identity. This bill recognizes that specifically.

The code does provide for lawful excuse for police officers to be able to conduct undercover activities and to do things that would otherwise be unlawful, for example, in order to infiltrate criminal biker gangs, organized crime. The Criminal Code needs to provide for that because our police need the protection of the law as they conduct their activities.

In the case of identity theft, we feel it is more appropriate to have a specific exemption in place so the police will not have to avail themselves of section 25 every time undercover activities are conducted. That is why that very narrow exemption is in place.

What makes the bill even more workable is that it attempts to target those who prey on the most vulnerable, those who, unbeknownst to a Canadian, would steal his or her identity and rack up charges in that individual's name or use it to conduct organized crime offences.

Canadians want to be protected from identity theft, and this bill would help to do that. It would help to get at the middleman who is in possession of identity theft material. When it comes to identity theft, it would expressly allow the police to do their good undercover work. I think Canadians understand that. It is the right approach and a comprehensive approach to this issue.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for commending the Senate justice committee, both this time and two weeks ago, for the great work it is doing.

Is there a role for Internet providers in working with the police to help solve identity theft crimes?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, the problem of identity theft has become more complicated as technology increases.

We, on this side of the House, look for comprehensive approaches to tackling crime. We have been steadfast in our work on the criminal justice file. We have to be able to work with Internet service providers, the police, provincial attorneys general and other investigative bodies to tackle this serious problem.

The member raised the Internet in his question, which has been used to exponentially increase the instances of identity theft. In the past, a driver's licence or other important personal information would have been physically stolen, but that information can now be stolen via the Internet, so we need co-operation from all quarters.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill S-4 today.

I have been here for three and a half years or so, and it seems that we deal with issues that are important to Canadians sporadically and cyclically. This is not the first time I have risen to speak on identity theft legislation. It is not the first time we, as a Chamber, have considered it. It just seems to be a shame that after three and a half years Parliament has not tackled identity theft. Prorogation is one thing that comes to mind.

We have to come together, as parliamentarians, to pass legislation that works in making Canada a better place. We do not need lawyers or members of Parliament or professors to tell us that Canadians at the Tim Hortons on St. George Boulevard in Moncton or Quispamsis are concerned about identity fraud, identity theft.

They may not use those terms, but they know what it is if they are offered a free cruise by some company in the United States if they only put $200 on their credit card and then they have their Visa racked up to its limit. They know what that is. That is good old-fashioned hucksterism, old-fashioned theft, which one only admires. They want us to respond in a modern way to a modern problem which, at its roots, is a very old way of just tricking people. This bill is one that we are pleased to recommend.

Again, all too often we do not recognize the good work of the Senate. On the Senate justice committee, we have les éminences grises, many people who have years of constitutional legal experience. Clearly they have brought to bear amendments or changes to this bill that were needed from the previous bill, which was introduced into Parliament in the last session before the pin was pulled. Some of those examples are modernizing our definition of what constitutes an identification card.

The last clause of the bill says that there shall be a five year review of this legislation. Now many of us, and I know the member for Windsor—Tecumseh would agree, think that the Criminal Code in general should go through a comprehensive review. We seem to be adding layer after layer to the code without any real and thoughtful revision or compilation of its true essence.

In this act, and it seems to be a trend in a number of acts, there is the suggestion that every five years there would be a full review of how we are doing with respect to identity theft or identity fraud. As members know, we did a similar thing with respect to anti-terrorism legislation. We think there should be such a mechanism for the designation of organized crime as well.

In its first proposed subsection, this bill has a hybrid offence, which means summary conviction or indictable. There are some offences that will be below a mandatory limit. If we only went with indictable or serious offences, we might lose a lot of the minor offences that happen every day with respect to identity fraud.

This is not a case where we are just going after the big pilfering of accounts. This bill is designed to catch, as I mentioned, the rack up of $200 on somebody's Visa bill. That would be a summary conviction offence. That part is good.

Discretion is a word we use on this side quite a bit. Discretion should be inherent with judges and prosecutors so they can mold the law to the factual situations they see in our communities every day. Hooray that the Conservative government allows discretion in this bill for prosecutors to proceed by way of summary or indictable offence.

The offence itself states that anyone “who, without lawful excuse, procures to be made, possesses, transfers, sells or offers for sale an identity document that relates” to another person is liable for the crime to a term of up to five years in jail.

The identity document is something else that the Senate added to the debate by further specifying what it should be.

Clearly, these are documents that we know of every day. We see them used every day and there is reticence in the minds and hearts of people as to whether they should be handing over their social insurance number, driver's licence or health insurance card. There is a timidity about giving information that identifies a person, particularly to businesses, but also to government. This includes birth certificates. Death certificates were added. One might ask how it could be identity theft if a death certificate is taken because the person does not exist any more. Clearly, it is an issue of identity fraud, where somebody plays on the personage of an estate or of a dead person.

Also included are passports, citizenship documents and employee identity cards. An expansion allowed by the Senate takes into account that employee identity cards sometimes have so much information behind them, either encoded on them but more likely behind them in terms of the application, that they are almost more valuable than a social insurance card or a driver's licence. It is a very modern suggestion to add it to the list.

Before getting into the guts of the bill, I want to talk about the difference between identity fraud and identity theft. The last bill in the Commons took the approach that we should be more concerned with identity fraud rather than just identity theft. To the average person and to the judge interpreting our laws, identity theft might just say that one is stealing somebody's person, who they are legally, for a bad purpose.

Identity fraud dips in and out of the idea of the entire theft of the identity. It suggests a broader definition, which would encompass all of the stages involved in the crime, such as acquiring, collecting and transferring personal information as well as the actual use of the information. It is much like car theft, a bill that we dealt with earlier today. There are typically many players in the stages of identity theft. It is not a situation where someone leaves a Visa card behind at a store and then someone else tries to use that Visa card at another store. That is clearly a case of identity fraud and identity theft for the purpose of the next purchase.

We are talking about wholesalers of information who gather up student ID cards. We have some students as pages. Mr. Speaker, you probably do not recall as well as the pages do about being a young person at Queen's or U of T and nonchalantly giving all of one's information to the registrar. What if that is privatized? What if it is a private group of companies that amass that information, take those partial identities and sell them to Maclean's to sell magazines?

What if that information is intercepted along the way and used for an improper purpose? It would be very difficult to find out how that happened. The young student might say that he or she has only ever given all of that information to Queen's University, so he or she will blame the university, but that may not be the case at all. The person along the way might be an errant secretary, data information analyst or whomever. Anyone involved in the acquiring, collecting or transferring of the information is hooked by this legislation.

Calls for the amendment to the code in this regard have been going on for some time. Papers have been written for some time on the issues of identity theft and identity fraud. One of the best papers talked about the most fraudulent uses of personal information by identity thieves. Initially, until we took it to this level, this law did not deal with the collection, possession and trafficking of the information. We feel that with the additional offences added by this bill, this is now addressed and adequately covered. We are here in 2009 talking about it.

Identity theft is a serious criminal activity. We have reviewed the bill. Between the speech of the parliamentary secretary and my opening comments about the basis of the bill and the documents that are included in the definition, we know that we have a strong bill. People in the community might ask why it is so urgent. Identity theft and identity fraud are a serious and lucrative industry. How do we as lawmakers have any evidence of that?

The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus has estimated that identity theft costs Canadian consumers, banks and credit card companies, stores and businesses more than $2 billion annually. Two billion dollars used to be a very meaningful number until deficits were running into the area of $50 billion. Two billion dollars use to be the annual cost of a major national program. As I say, $50 billion has probably diluted the meaning of $2 billion, but we know that this is a very serious set of criminal activities. As I mentioned, it is the unauthorized use, collection or trafficking of information. This is the pitfall.

Mr. Speaker, you are an established person, well known in Canada, and you may think this would never happen to you. The worst thing you could do to prevent that from happening to you is to pretend that it cannot happen to you. It is never too late to learn how to safeguard yourself from this type of fraud.

There may be many people in the Canadian public who may think they are protected, because they use a chartered bank, they have known their bankers forever, they have only had one credit card in their lives, they pay their phone bills at city hall, they do everything they can to keep their transactions as discreet, one to one, even personal. According to Louis Robertson, head of the RCMP's Criminal Intelligence Analytical Unit at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre, identity theft is now probably the most important problem for Canadian consumers.

In 2006 there were 212,000 Canadians who were victimized by identity theft, and their losses, in the use of identity as well as credit card manipulations, ran over $15 billion. Somewhere, depending on whether one subscribes to what PhoneBusters did on a call-in basis of $2 billion, or the RCMP with the $15 billion figure, is the reality about the figures three years ago.

As far as Canadians feeling that they are gripped by identity theft, there was a survey conducted by the McMaster eBusiness Research Centre, MeRC, on behalf of the Ontario Research Network for Electronic Commerce, ORNEC, which was designed to determine the nature and extent of identity theft and fraud so that lawmakers would know that they had the evidence to bring in a bill like this one.

The survey itself, with over 3,000 valid responses, suggests that 6.5% of Canadian adults, or almost 1.7 million people, were the victims of some kind of identity fraud in the last year. Over 20 million hours and more than $150 million was spent to resolve the problems associated with these frauds.

The issue is that this is costing the economy of Canada more than just the money that is pilfered and taken away from Canadian consumers and taxpayers. The survey also counts the millions of hours spent trying to recover the data that was lost and create new data. Anyone who has ever lost his or her wallet knows that it is a nightmare to replace all of the things in it.

More than half of the frauds that have occurred to the Canadian public involve nothing more than unauthorized purchases made with credit cards. That is certainly something we hear about quite often.

If we eliminate credit card fraud as the most popular or well-known instance of fraud with respect to identity, with the incidence rate and costs quoted above, the number of victims is reduced to 700,000, but they still spent 12 million hours, not the 20 million hours, but 12 million hours and more than $110 million of their own money to resolve the problems.

Most victims, 57%, did not know how their personal information was accessed, but when they did know, the identity fraud was most often associated with a business transaction conducted either in person in 25% of the cases, or online in 15% of the cases. This is exactly consistent with what I said earlier. People who are careful about their identity issues try to keep their business transactions discreet and personal, but it is actually more often the case in personal business conducted, that is 25%, than it is for online purchases. That is an important thing for Canadians to be aware of.

This bill captures anyone along the chain involved in taking personal identification information.

Debit card skimming made up 13% of the fraud incidents. Twenty-five per cent of all cases of identity fraud were committed by someone known to the victim. This survey found that to be the case. They were not known by the victim in 7% of the cases.

Very few of the cases of identity fraud were reported to the police, only 13%, or to credit reporting agencies, 6%, or to PhoneBusters, .5%. This indicates that perhaps there is an embarrassment factor. People also might realize, as many people do, that there are inadequate legal provisions to cover the instance, which is the reason we are enacting this law.

If one were to go to police authorities before this law came into effect, the police authorities might well say that this is a civil matter. How often do Canadian citizens hear from police authorities that the fight over the loss of money between the card holder or bank customer and the bank or credit card company is a civil matter and it will not be investigated? That is why there is such low reporting. We hope with this law that there will be more reporting because, frankly, the police will have a better tool to work toward the elimination or the curbing of identity theft and identity fraud.

In closing, the Canadian consumer can protect his or her personal information from physical theft in a number of ways. The government has been adept in some quarters in publicizing a message, at least outside this House, so I would call on the government to take up this campaign of advising and educating members of the public on how to protect themselves from identity fraud and identity theft. It would be disingenuous to suggest that this law is going to eradicate all identity theft and identity fraud.

This is what Canadian consumers can do. I think that the government should lift provisions from this speech for a public education campaign that could be a companion to this bill. These suggestions are from the survey of 3,000 people, of what are the most effective means of protecting one's identity and what have proven to be effective.

Seventy-nine per cent shred financial documents or important documents all or most of the time. Many use a locked mailbox all of the time, or most of the time. Many keep sensitive information in a secure location, such as a locked box or a drawer, all of the time or most of the time.

Many have eliminated or reduced the number of identity documents that they carry with them. How many people do we know who, because of loyalty programs, credit cards, identity documents needed for almost any club, association, building or job, have two wallets or in some cases a wallet so big that it is the size of a desk? One idea is to get rid of unnecessary identity documents.

Many have stopped receiving mailed account statements or have reduced the number of mailed statements that they receive.

Canadian consumers take the following measures to keep their personal information from prying eyes or unauthorized access. One has to do with securing one's information, and one of them has to do with security at the workplace or at a social event where information may be spied upon.

Never or rarely give information over the phone to people claiming to do surveys or offer promotional goods and services, unless one is a Liberal and is asked by a reputable polling agency what one's view on the next election might be. I highly recommend not doing that.

Make sure no one is watching when using an ATM or debit card machine. The public would be wise not to give credit cards to waiters or gas station attendants in the absence of the card holder himself or herself.

Those are just some of the things that consumers can do.

In summary, this is a good bill. It is a shame we did not get at it earlier. It should give law enforcement officials the tools to fight identity fraud. We should be thinking in terms of identity fraud, not just identity theft. We should put out a public education campaign to make sure people do not do things that put them in jeopardy. We should give the Senate a pat on the back for making this bill better.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member made an excellent presentation.

I would like to ask him a question, but I am not sure that he has the answer. The question has to do with lawyers who are increasingly having problems with clients who present a false identity to get mortgage loans. I would like to know whether or not the mortgage loans aspect is part of the scope of this bill. Does he know the answer?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, this is when I should say I am a lawyer. I am not a real estate lawyer and never was. However, I know the mortgage corporations and land title companies are very vigilant with respect to identity issues. I do know as well that law societies across the country are very vigilant about issues regarding identity.

I have not experienced this, but I have read about it. When it comes to land titles systems, most jurisdictions require that each document of identification for an individual be on the registry, which is a bit anomalous and bit hard to explain. I understand that some people, particularly in provinces like Quebec, have a religious birth certificate and a civil identification document, which may be very different in name. In most land titles systems both documents must be registered to ensure there is no confusion, there be absolute certainty who an individual is and there not be fraud.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as an experienced member of the justice committee, I would like to ask the member to comment on this.

The parliamentary secretary gave a good outline of the bill and we are all in favour of this. We want to get it through as quickly as possible. However, he made a frightening comment at the end, that there was more of the same coming from the government.

As the House knows, the government had a number of failed justice bills. It had a number that had to be amended because of such a poor agenda. It has made Canada more dangerous in some way by insisting on mandatory minimums in areas where it has shown that it is not successful. It has taken away judicial discretion where that could have led to less recidivism and better treatment.

The government seems to lack the enthusiasm for the things that would make Canada safer, such as improved resources for treatment in the jails, moneys to deal with the root causes of crime that would help offenders not reoffend. Over 50% of crimes are for addiction or to pay for addictions. There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for items that would actually reduce crime.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would have to agree with the member for Yukon. As much as we might be in favour of the bill, let us analyze it. There are good parts of the bill. It defines what the offence is so the police can go after the wrongdoers. It would give police and officials wider powers with respect to surveillance interception. That is something attorneys general across the country have been asking for in general. There is also a review of how the legislation is working. It is not necessarily a large jail sentence that makes legislation effective and society safer.

The member for Yukon was a very diligent member of the justice committee, fighting for the rights of aboriginals and the rights of northern Canadians. He knows that 90% of the bills sent forward from the government, after a five o'clock press conference, were about tougher sentences.

We are sitting here three and a half years later and we are just getting to the auto theft bill, which would give police the proper tools to combat that. We really have not done as much as we should with respect to impaired driving, or at least we got to it very late. We are here today, three and a half years later, dealing with commercial fraud, identity theft, identity fraud, which affect people from St. John's to Vancouver Island, to way up north, of all ages and all walks of life. It is something that should have been done earlier.

My advice to the government, through the member's comment, is to get off the five o'clock newscasts and get into the House and even into the Senate, which it often slams, and get some of this legislation done, which affects every day Canadians in a meaningful way.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, in my colleague's previous capacity as a lawyer, he managed to delve into the lives of individuals, both victims and those who were convicted. I want to ask his opinion on two enormous issues that have not been dealt with in the House but should be.

First is the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. It is estimated that 50% of individuals who are in federal institutions have FAS or FAE. It is leading cause of preventable brain damage by birth in children.

Second, if one wanted to do one thing that could reduce youth crime, for example by 60%, and have the most profound impact on keeping our country more secure, it is an early learning head start program for children. It is worked in places like Ypsilanti, Michigan, which has a 35 year retrospective experience with this program.

In his previous capacity as a lawyer, does my colleague not think we should work with the provinces to develop an initiative to reduce FAS and FAE? Also does he not think the federal government has a role to work with provinces to implement a national early learning head start program?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, you may wonder what this has to do with identity theft. The overall crime fighting agenda of the government is certainly in issue. I want to pay homage both to my friend from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca and my predecessor, Claudette Bradshaw, who, in founding Headstart in greater Moncton, was very aware of the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome.

The justice committee heard from police forces across the country and during its visits to western police authorities. They said that the prevention of crime was a huge issue. To find the people who are afflicted with this, treat them, intervene and integrate them into society as early as possible is clearly the best way to get away from crimes such as identity theft, car theft and all the other things we have talked about happening at a later stage.

Clearly the member is on the right track. A responsible and passionate government would be proactively thinking about early intervention, child care and early childhood development. So far I have heard very little from the Conservative government in this respect. It thinks that every middle-class parent who chooses to keep his or her child at home is a good thing. I was one of those children growing up. It is not a bad thing but it is not the whole picture.

A whole segment of society has been left out, which, in some cases, gets involved with crime. It would be so much better for the government, the ministers in the front row, to be aware of how to combat crime. The answer is getting to it early.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I noticed one very important point that I thought should be brought to our attention. The RCMP normally takes the view that this is a civil matter. I have lots of examples of credit card theft. The person goes to the RCMP, is told to take a number, that 20 people have been in before the individual and it will get around to it when it gets around to it because it is a civil matter.

To the extent that this bill would give the RCMP more powers to get involved in this kind of activity is a very good thing and we should proceed with it as quickly as possible. When people who do this kind of stuff realize there are really no consequences, they will repeat what worked for them the first time.

Could the member further his comments on that?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I agree that moving this from the realm of a civil dispute to an activity covered by the Criminal Code puts the onus on the police to investigate it and prefer charges.

It delves into another issue that is prevalent, though. The government has promised more resources and officers. Its answer seems to be that it gave the money to the provinces and it is their problem if policemen are not on the streets. However, there is an underlying issue with respect to police forces across the country, which is recruitment and retention.

We are not the government on this side yet and we have to tell the government there is a problem. The Minister of Justice had better start talking to the Minister of Public Safety to ensure all the laws are promulgated and can be adequately serviced by police forces across the country. I hear that they are not adequately resourced and there are issues with respect to recruitment and retention, which the government is not addressing, and that is a shame.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the office of my party’s whip for allowing me to spend the next 20 minutes speaking to an exciting bill about identity theft.

This bill is a singular phenomenon in our legislative process. It came from the Senate first. I do not understand why the government did not lay it before this House and the dynamic Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. True, we do have a number of bills to analyze, but it seems to me that it would have been a sign of great deference if we, in our capacity as agents, as representatives and spokespeople for the public, could have had this bill laid before us first.

Identity theft is on the rise in Canada as it is in other countries. This phenomenon can produce some extremely awkward situations for our fellow citizens. Only this morning, I met someone whose credit card had been cloned. Someone had thus had $5,000 stolen from their credit card. It is easy to imagine not only how insecure this can make a person feel, but also what problems they may have in resolving the situation with the financial institutions. Even though most of them agree to reimburse a person who has been the victim of what is, to say the least, a distressing act, it is still an extremely difficult thing to experience and resolve.

The purpose of Bill S-4, which went first to the Senate before being introduced in the House, is to combat identity theft. When we talk about identity theft, we are talking about the unauthorized collecting and use of personal information, ordinarily for criminal purposes. This is nominative information, such as name, date of birth, address, credit card number, social insurance number, or any other personal identification number that can be used to open a bank account, obtain a credit card, have mail forwarded, subscribe to a cell phone service, lease a vehicle or equipment or an office, and even get a job.

With its usual wisdom and judgment, the Bloc Québécois will support this bill, which seems to it to be reasonable and to properly represent Quebec’s interests. We are opposed to bills that do not reflect the values and aspirations of Quebec. We fiercely oppose any bill that attempts to intrude into areas under provincial jurisdiction.

Bill S-4 will mainly create three new offences. First, obtaining and possessing another person’s identity information with the intent of using it in a misleading, deceitful or fraudulent manner in the commission of a crime is an offence liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years. Trafficking in identity information is the second offence. Here we are talking about an offence that targets people who sell information to a third party, knowing or being reckless as to whether it might be used for criminal purposes. The third offence, in addition to obtaining and possessing identity information or trafficking in identity information, relates to possession or illegally trafficking in identity documents issued by the government or that contain information about another person.

Those are the three main offences created by Bill S-4. I would note again that identity theft and the use of personal information for purposes other than those consented to by the person for whom it is intended are on the rise in Canada.

This certainly has to do with the development of our means of communication and new technologies.

Other changes have been made to the bill. If I had my druthers, I would be talking about the conflict in the Middle East, but I am afraid it would not be relevant to what we are debating here and so I will not.

The Criminal Code provides for other offences under Bill S-4. A new offence of redirecting mail or causing it to be redirected is created.

There is also the new offence of the possession of a Canada Post mail key. Such a key would obviously be counterfeit.

Additional forgery offences are proposed, such as trafficking in forged documents and the possession of forged documents with intent to use them.

Another new offence is the re-naming of personation, which is called identity fraud.

The final offence that is added is a further refinement of the meaning of fraudulently personating another person.

I think it is probably my responsibility to mention that the bill provides for two exceptions which shield people from forgery charges if they produce counterfeit documents for secret government operations. This protects public servants who shadow people, engage in electronic eavesdropping or infiltrate groups. These public servants would be protected under this bill when they are tasked by responsible law enforcement agencies with creating and using secret identities in connection with their jobs. If they are hauled before the courts for unauthorized duplication, counterfeiting, forgery, or the appropriation someone’s personality, they have a defence that will make them immune.

The Bloc Québécois does not doubt that this bill is necessary. There is even a burning need for it. We all know people among our friends or in our families who have experienced unauthorized use of their credit card or debit card or some other people who have had their identity appropriated for nefarious ends.

Identity theft is becoming very widespread. The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimated that consumers, banks, credit card companies, stores and other businesses lost $2.5 billion as a result of identity theft or the cloning of credit cards or other cash substitutes of this kind.

In 2006, Phone Busters received some 7,800 calls from victims of identity theft reporting total losses of over $16 million for themselves or for businesses. The scope of the problem is apparent.

According to a survey Ipsos-Reid did in 2006, one Canadian in four—so about 25% of the population or 5.7 million Canadians—said they had been a victim of identity theft.

We might wonder why we need the Criminal Code to fight identity theft effectively.

When it is a matter of organized crime, importing and exporting stolen vehicles, drugs, when lengthy investigations are necessary, when we want to address the smuggling of certain products, then we can understand that criminal law is probably the best route under the circumstances. But when it comes to identity theft, credit card cloning and phenomena that often have to do with ownership or the real ownership of identity papers, might civil law not be the better route?

The former Privacy Commissioner told a House of Commons committee that the real solution to identity theft would require civil sanctions. She said:

Civil sanctions... are very easy to prove and easy for citizens [to understand].

She was of course referring to civil law as opposed to criminal law. As we know, criminal law is far more complex because, for each offence, there must be proof that the individual not only intended to plan or to take a criminally reprehensible action, which is termed mens rea, but also actually performed that act, which is termed actus reus. In civil law, the proof is far easier to establish, because it is not proof beyond all reasonable doubt, but proof by balance of probability.

The Privacy Commissioner said:

Civil sanctions... are very easy to prove and easy for citizens [to understand]. Small claims courts [there is one in Quebec and I imagine also in English Canada]...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.

This poses a problem, because on matters of civil law, the federal government needs to work closely with the provinces, especially Quebec. Quebec is not only the main place where French is spoken in Canada, but also the only province with a civil law system.

That means that the government will have to be flexible, courteous, kind, open and skilful. I must say that these are not qualities the government has been known for in intergovernmental relations.

We need only consider the cavalier way in which the federal government treated Quebec's demand for financial compensation in connection with the harmonization of the sales tax and the GST. The National Assembly of Quebec had even passed a unanimous motion. We need only look at how the government has handled cultural issues and the reconveyance of land adjacent to the National Assembly of Quebec and on the Plains of Abraham.

This is a government that has chosen the federalism of confrontation. It has chosen to be completely insensitive to complaints and, in some cases, even demands that were unanimously supported by the National Assembly of Quebec.

We could go on and on about the Conservative government's insensitivity to the provinces' complaints. If my colleague, the likeable and charming member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, were here, he would certainly give the example of the Kyoto protocol, which has to do with greenhouse gases, and the battle that Quebec and the National Assembly of Quebec waged together. We repeatedly called on the government to honour the promise made by former Prime Minister Chrétien and the treaty he had signed, so as to respect the efforts of a number of industries that had fought very effectively against greenhouse gases.

But the government did not want to respect the strategy of the Government of Quebec.

We need only think of Senate reform. We know that Quebec's National Assembly is worried about Senate reform. We can certainly have different complaints about this institution given that it is not a democratic chamber. We might also say that the Senate is an outdated institution that is ill-suited to a modern parliamentary system. However, we cannot act unilaterally.

The former intergovernmental affairs minister in the Quebec National Assembly, Benoît Pelletier, was my professor of constitutional law. I remember his lectures with a great deal of nostalgia. He was a very good professor and I was a very good student. I remember that the course was on Mondays at 8:30 a.m., too early in some respects. Professor Pelletier would arrive and was able to present his material in a very interesting and lively way. I owe my considerable knowledge of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to him.

Naturally we had differences of opinion and I exercised my prerogative as a student to express mine in the middle of a class on the unilateral repatriation of the 1982 Constitution which, as you know, was opposed by the Quebec National Assembly. Even the former leader of the Liberal party, Claude Ryan, who could hardly be suspected of sympathizing with the sovereignists, had joined with the Quebec National Assembly to denounce the extremely cavalier way in which the matter had been handled.

All that to say that the Senate and the Quebec National Assembly do not want us to review the selection process for judges unless the provinces can formally participate. We know that the role of the Senate, the upper chamber, is to provide the necessary regional balance within the federation.

A little while ago, I was giving a tour of the House to some visitors from Australia, and I believe I explained to them why the House of Commons has a green carpet and the Senate has a red one. First of all, the Senate is the chamber of the monarchy. The Queen never sets foot in the House of Commons. She instead goes to the Senate, as does her representative, the Governor General, who goes to the Senate to ratify legislation.

This is done in the Senate, and not in the House of Commons. The House of Commons is the house of the people, and traditionally, the green symbolizes the meadows, which is where the people first gathered to oppose the monarchy they felt was too authoritarian and self-congratulatory.

These are examples of how the government did not listen to what we would have liked it to hear from Quebec regarding Senate reforms, the GST or cultural issues. I do not want to skip too quickly over the issue of culture.

The current government chose to recognize Quebec as a nation. We know that Quebec is a nation: we have our own history; we have our own vernacular, the French language; we have a different legal system; we have common aspirations; and we have control over institutions and territory. Those are the main characteristics of a nation. The government recognized Quebec as a nation, but in the absence of concrete action to back this up, we have trouble seeing how we can take it seriously.

I remind the House that the member for Joliette, the Bloc Québécois House leader, is an extremely eloquent man, who shows restraint at all times and is not known for excess. Except, perhaps, when it comes to food. But in general, he is an exceptionally controlled man. Now, when the member for Joliette introduced a bill calling for federally regulated companies to comply with Bill 101, we would have liked to have the support of the government and the official opposition. That would have been a very nice recognition of the fact that Quebec is a nation.

Since my time has expired, I will be pleased to respond to any questions my colleagues might have.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's speech was good as usual, although this time I have some differences to take up with him on some of his points.

When people are victims of identity theft or credit card abuses, they are already under a lot of stress when they find out about this issue. Then when they go to the police, they are told that it is a civil matter, that they need to take a number and they will be dealt with at some point.

When the member suggests perhaps there is some body of evidence out there that perhaps civil courts could handle issues like this, in real terms people will not be encouraged or happy to be told that. They will have to take someone to small claims court, but if it is an identity theft situation, they may not even know the person who stole the identity in the first place.

Another issue is the credit card companies do not want to tell people what happened with their cases. They put the cone of silence around the situation and do not report back to them, so they may never know who used their cards. We should require credit card companies to report back to people and let them know who did what and give a resolution of the case.

It is very important we have this federal legislation so the police forces cannot step aside—

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4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Hochelaga.

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4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are two parts to the question raised by my colleague. There is of course the evidence I quoted, given by the former Privacy Commissioner, who found that it would no doubt be more effective to resort to civil law in matters of personal information and transactions, and that this is closer to a civil reality than a commercial reality. In that regard, I agree with the former Privacy Commissioner's testimony.

It is also true that identity theft could lead to criminal prosecution. That is why this bill has been introduced by the Department of Justice. When such offences occur, the crown attorney must lay charges and sentences are handed down, the maximum of which is 10 years. Obviously, we agree that the Criminal Code has a role to play in a number of circumstances.

As for the notion of financial institutions disclosing the identity of the guilty parties, that cannot be resolved through the Criminal Code, but rather through internal regulations and practices established by the financial institutions.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for a wide-ranging discussion. I agree that the option to proceed civilly would be good. There should be criminal charges of course, but to proceed civilly would also give the defendant the chance to recoup some of his or her money if he or she did not get it civilly.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce suggested that another offence be added to the bill, and that was impersonating another person with the intent to solely obtain information pertaining to that person. Does the member agree with that suggestion?

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4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, when we talk about the crime of personation as identity theft, part of this bill could definitely satisfy the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. It was my understanding that this amendment was proposed by the Senate. We can examine this in committee to see just how far the scope of this offence extends, but I think it is pretty close to what the hon. member for Yukon has suggested.

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4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Hochelaga, who gave us an eloquent exposé on the bill and on the current relations between the Quebec government and federal government.

I have three short questions I would like to put to him. First, does he think that we should follow the example of the United States, where, currently, the rate of fraud through identity theft is the highest?

Second, could legislation of this type apply to the identity theft people face with health insurance cards, in Quebec in particular? This type of fraud is widespread and costs the government dearly. Could the government make use of this legislation to eliminate this scourge?

My last question to him concerns civil law compared with criminal law. I have the impression that, in civil law, the sentences are always less harsh and the punishment less severe and that civil law would not discourage people from committing identity theft to the same extent as criminal law.

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4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, as regards the last part of the question, it is true that in civil law there is greater likelihood of a fine being imposed than imprisonment and that punishment is generally less severe when the trial takes place before the Quebec court, for example, or in a civil proceeding rather than a criminal one.

I am less familiar with the American example. There was a small explanatory note on the American model, but because I do not have in-depth knowledge of it I am going to reserve judgment, with my colleague's permission, to avoid stepping off the path of prudence I usually follow when I do not know something.

As to health insurance, in my opinion, it would be covered by this sort of bill since it concerns nominative information. The provisions of the bill could be used to instigate proceedings.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons people commit identity theft is to get resources for illicit purposes. One of the underlying reasons is the individual may have a substance abuse problem. Studies show that an addict steals about $250,000 in various ways, including identity theft, then turns around and sells that information for about $50,000.

The North American opiate medication initiative is a very exciting project that has been going on in Vancouver. Recently there has been an extension to that called SALOME, which is a long-term narcotics substitution program. This program is taking place in Montreal.

Does my colleague think that communities across Canada that would like to have narcotic substitution programs should be able to have them and by so doing the ties between an addict and crime, particularly theft, would be severed?

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June 16th, 2009 / 4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. In a few years, when I am no longer in this House and I think of my years as a parliamentarian. I will always recall his originality in suggesting links that do not immediately spring to mind. Let us put it that way.

Quite honestly, I never thought that identity theft and the search for identity information could be driven by substance abuse problems. I do not have a lot of information on the program to which he referred and do not know if it exists in Montreal.

However, the member's question reassures me that I understand what he is, and that is a humanitarian who wants to make sure legislation is never excessive and who can always be counted on to defend the most disadvantaged. It is most certainly all to his credit.

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, CBC; the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Don Valley West, Sri Lanka.

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4:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill S-4, a substantial irritation in my emotional level. I say that because the bill and this problem has been around the House for way too long a period of time. It has been delayed repeatedly by the government in spite of the reality of the problem for the whole of the country. Large numbers of people are suffering very negative consequences from identity theft criminal acts.

I want to go through it because it bothers me that the government pretends to be strong on crime and says that it will fight it in every way, but the bill is a classic example of how it is attempting to mislead the public in that regard.

The bill was introduced in the last Parliament to address the issue. It has had some amendments since then. It was knocked off its normal rotation because of prorogation by the government in September 2007. It was reintroduced when Parliament reopened. It went through the process of first and second reading. It was sent to the justice committee by March 2008, at which point, we were confronted with a justice committee that no longer functioned because the Conservative chair refused to call meetings or when he called meetings, he would abruptly get up and leave the chair and nobody would replace him. That went on until the summer of 2008 and early fall, when again the government stopped Parliament by calling an election against long-term promise by the Prime Minister not to do that.

We came back after the election and we were into a whole battle over conduct of the government in terms of not seriously addressing the fiscal crisis that both this country and countries internationally were confronting. Then we had another prorogation in December 2008.

We came back after the prorogation and what did we see? We saw this bill, not coming to the House, not to the elected chamber in our Parliament, but going to the unelected chamber down the hall, where it sat. Finally it was sent over here earlier this week.

The bill should have been law by the end of 2007, at least the initial issues that we were addressing, even without the amendments. At the rate we are going, it is not going to be law until sometime near the end of 2009. All of that delay is because of the government.

It is quite clear that the Conservatives cannot claim they did not know how serious the problem of identity theft was in the country. The member from Alberta on the government side introduced a private member's on this issue in a very concrete and extensive way. Unfortunately, it was not the appropriate mechanism to deal with a problem of this size. However, that bill is almost three years old. Therefore, in a very clear and irrefutable way the House has known about this problem for at least three years. It knew what we needed to do about it, as well, in terms of a legislative response.

The Criminal Code, as it is right now, is inadequate to deal with the identity theft problem. We have provisions in the code around forgery, impersonation, creating false documents, but they are a reflection of a technology and a societal norm that is 40 or 50 years out of date for the current situation we have. The ability, for instance, to manufacture large numbers of credit cards is a technology that has only existed for about 10 years. The ability to get personal identification numbers, or PINs, credit card numbers and other identification numbers electronically and in large volume has only been possible as the Internet developed, realistically the last five years.

We knew for at least three years, though I would say any of us working in this area at all knew for much longer than that. The government certainly knew, the Department of Justice knew, and our police forces knew. In spite of all that knowledge, here we are today in the House debating this bill at second reading once again.

The bill itself in fact addresses a number of the issues. When the bill was in Parliament last time, my party was prepared to support it, as far as it went. Its inadequacies are some of the areas it does not touch on.

We heard the question earlier from the member for Yukon about whether it adequately addresses the issue, in the 21st century, of mechanisms one can use to steal an identity from someone and impersonate that person. We will know better once we hear from some more of the experts, but the answer to that question is that it probably does not. I am not sure this bill goes far enough to address that issue. It does in part, and I will credit the government for that, but I am not sure it does fully.

There are some good provisions in the bill. We heard questions today around the difficulty of dealing with identity theft in our civil courts, which has been a real problem in terms of their ability to deal with it, but mostly on the part of the individual who has been wronged to be able to identify the person who stole the identity and profited from it to the victim's disadvantage.

Again being critical of the government, there are not adequate police resources deployed in this area. It is interesting that the approach of the government has always been to concentrate on what it calls serious crime, but it is usually stereotypical of criminals who are drug addicts or other addicts, or have serious mental health problems, who commit violent acts.

If we look at the bills that we have gone through, almost innumerable since the Conservative government has been in power, I do not think we could point to more than one bill that addresses white-collar crime. That is mostly what we are talking about. This has a major impact on many lives, but as I said earlier, we are four or five years behind where we should be down that road.

I say that not only because of the inadequacies, and at times, incompetencies of the government, but we also have to look at it in comparison to what other jurisdictions have done. Western Europe has developed technological levels the same as ours. The United States, Australia and New Zealand are way ahead of us in dealing with the issue of identity theft, ahead by at least half a decade, in some cases as much as a decade. We are playing catch-up to a very strong degree, and we are not doing it well because of the manoeuvring of the government.

With regard to the ability of our police officers to deal with investigations in this area, it is extremely limited. A number of them do not have sufficient training, but overall, there simply are not enough police officers in this country to deal with this problem. They need additional training. They do not get it when they go through their basic training to become police officers, whether that be the RCMP, or provincial or municipal police officers. They need quite extensive additional education in order to be able to combat this crime at the police level.

I know from talking to prosecutors that they feel that they need additional resources to prosecute adequately. Some of those resources are in the form of changes to the Criminal Code and they are, again to the credit of the government, reflected in some of the amendments that we would be passing if Bill S-4 eventually goes through. In terms of the financial resources, they are clearly not there in sufficient numbers.

When this bill went through the Senate, I believe it received either five or seven amendments. A couple of them seemed to be, on the surface, just very technical amendments. One was changing the singular to the plural, but I think there was something more there. So that will be one of the issues we will have to address at committee.

In the provisions, the government empowered our criminal courts to make restitution orders not only for the costs of the proceedings but also the direct losses suffered by a victim of identity crimes, including compensation for replacing all the documentation they have to replace.

In some cases, it can be very significant compensation. For instance, if someone is in the process of trying to obtain a mortgage, their identity is stolen and their name shows up on a debtors list through some of the credit-granting agencies, they may lose their mortgage, and by the time they get it straightened out, they may have lost the real estate transaction and thereby suffer quite severely. It could be thousands, and in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars in damages by the time they straighten it all out and purchase a new building, which by then would be valued higher. They would have taken a real financial hit.

The section that would be amended with regard to restitution would allow an individual to show that evidence to a criminal court and have them order the perpetrator of the crime to compensate the person.

I am sure as people are listening they are thinking that in most cases they would not expect to be able to collect that money back, but the reality with a great deal of identity theft is that, in fact, it is perpetrated by organized crime. So if the individual can be identified, and more importantly, the gang, the organized crime unit, there may be a reasonable opportunity for getting those damages back. The proposed restitution amendment is very appropriate and could turn out to be quite a valuable tool.

With regard to the other sections, the principle sections, creating the offence of identity theft is absolutely crucial. Again, our Criminal Code is so far out of date with regard to the type of criminal activity that is going on here that it is just impossible to use for identity theft as it is being performed now. That is very important, and we are quite supportive of that.

Creating greater penalties and clearer offences for creating identity documents, whether those be ones issued by the government or some other level of government or documents of a commercial nature that would identify a person, in all cases I think these amendments catch that type of activity and clearly make it a crime with appropriate penalties attached.

One of the amendments that came from the Senate was a five-year review that was not in the bill that the government had originally presented. I think that is probably an appropriate amendment, one that we can support. Unfortunately, as so often happens with those reviews, they get done much later than when they are scheduled, in part because the justice committee is so busy. However, we would support that.

I want to address a few comments to the inadequacies of the bill, in particular in the real estate area. I have had some contact with individuals who work in that area. We have had a number of quite notorious cases in Ontario.

In fact, there was a court judgment that I think the average citizen was shocked by, where a couple had bought a condo in the Toronto area and were in residence for I think it was 17 years, but someone else, a criminal, forged documents, created a false identity, went into a lawyer's office and signed documents that put a very large mortgage on that condo, I think it was $200,000, impersonating the real owners. Ultimately this was discovered. The bank took action against the owner. It came out clearly that it was a situation where they had not participated at all in the fraud, but a court in Ontario ruled that in fact the mortgage could be enforced against them.

This ultimately required, I believe, an amendment to the legislation in Ontario retroactively to prevent the consequences of that decision. However, that type of ruling could in fact happen in other provinces, as I understand the situation today.

Bill S-4 does not address that issue at all, as I see it. Again, that is why it is crucial for this to go to committee. Unless I hear opposite from legal experts there, I think this is an area where we need to buttress the bill and put additional provisions in to make it very clear what the penalties will be if that kind of fraud is perpetrated, but also to protect valid legal homeowners and business interests as well.

I have heard from title insurance people in Ontario that there is a current section in the Criminal Code that addresses this in part, but it is way out of date. They are looking for amendments in that regard. It is one of the ones that I think we would have to try to convince the government to support and bring those people in to indicate what the situation is.

I can say that this issue has occupied a significant amount of time of the law societies across all provinces and territories. They have spent, I would say, the better part of the last 10 years trying to get some reasonable controls in place so that type of abuse does not occur.

Lawyers in Ontario, as recently as this past year, have had imposed upon them much greater responsibility to ensure that the person who is sitting at their desk signing legal documents is in fact that person and not pretending to be someone else.

That has taken a great deal of effort by all the law societies. We do not know yet whether it is going to be successful in terms of preventing these types of frauds, but that is what the provinces have done.

Correspondingly, we need to do more at the federal level in the Criminal Code. I think the section of the code that deals with this area and is not addressed at all in the bill, from what I can see, needs to be strengthened quite significantly.

Once we hear more evidence on this, and I am not sure what happened at the Senate as to whether it addressed this problem, I think we are going to find that the whole issue of impersonation appears not to be dealt with strongly enough. We will probably have to look for some amendments to strengthen the bill there.

I will make one final point. We have heard from the banking system and credit card granting companies that they are very interested in coming forward. I am left with the impression that they think there is additional work that needs to be done on Bill S-4 to strengthen it, to try to prevent these types of crimes from happening. Again, it is very important for this to go to the committee for that purpose.

We will be supporting the bill in principle going to the committee, hopefully to strengthen it there and bring it back for third reading and passage and finally get this into place, in spite of all the delays we have had from the government.