Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this bill today, Bill C-21. I should have thought more clearly this morning when I got up. It seems that every speaker who has risen on this topic is wearing a white collar. I wish I had the good sense of the member for Yukon, who is sporting a lovely burgundy shirt.
I speak as a lawyer, as a member of Parliament, as a Canadian citizen, as a person who has known victims, organizations, and individuals who have been robbed by white collar criminals. White collar crime costs the Canadian economy dearly, and it costs the good, hard-working citizens who fall prey to fraudsters much more than members may know. They are common, everyday occurrences.
Bill C-21 sends the right message. There is no debate here in the House about this : to crack down on white collar crime is the right thing to do, and it sends the right message. This House and we parliamentarians within it are serious about keeping Canadians safe from fraud. That is perhaps where the non-partisan enjoyment and harmony ends. For fraud is not harmless. Nor is it victimless. It disproportionately preys upon the weak in our society and Canadians will not stand for it.
Bill C-21 recognizes the harm that fraud causes to innocent victims. This bill adds aggravating factors to the list of the judge's considerations during sentencing. In addition to the provisions regarding planning crimes and destroying documents, the provisions in this bill allow a judge to consider the personal circumstances of the victims, namely their age, health and financial situation. The bill includes a measure enabling communities to provide victim impact statements that can then be taken into consideration by judges. It is important to leave this to the consideration and discretion of the judges. Impact statements can include a description of how the fraud has devastated the entire community. For example, a church that has had its savings stolen or an after-school program that was defrauded can make its situation known to parishioners or students in the community. These are some of the good things in this bill.
The bill makes mandatory the consideration of an order for restitution, a chance for victims of fraud to recover some of their lost savings, a chance for reparations to be made. It permits a judge to prohibit offenders from taking any employment or volunteering services in any way that provides them access to, or authority over, the property, money, or financial security of others. In that world, there is no re-victimization by the same perpetrator. These are all good measures.
It is why the bill will go to committee for study. We hope that the committee will improve the bill, for these are good measures that will strengthen the Criminal Code and provide some comfort for the cheated and maligned. But, like many bills in the House, we would not want to leave the Canadian public, or those who have been victimized before by fraudsters, with the impressio that the bill will cure all the evils of the past, the present, and the future. It is woefully inadequate in that regard, and it raises some hopes that may not come to fruition.
I have a couple of categories that came up during some of the question and answer sessions. One of these has to do with restitution. It seems like a good step to provide for restitution. There are provisions in the Criminal Code that allow for victim impact statements. There are provisions in various parts of the country being enmeshed in the Criminal Code that give the authority to take over the assets of someone who has performed an economic crime. These things happen. But the provisions in this act do not, as the member for Scarborough—Rouge River mentioned, make it clear whose role it is, who will be driving the prosecution, and whether the prosecution's goal will be getting the wrongdoer to repay the money. It is unclear. We will hear testimony on this; perhaps it is something that can be worked on.
As has also been brought up, there is the continuing and lurking question of tax havens. We live in an Internet age, a digital age, an age where we cannot find addresses. We used to know what an address was. If they did not have an emergency response number on their box, at least we knew it was farmer Joe, next to farmer Bill, next to the fish market, in our case in eastern Canada. But addresses now may be static Internet addresses. They may be people in ether, people who do not really have a place where we can go and knock on their virtual or other door and get the money they have taken from other people. So tax havens follow that digital reality where fraudsters can hide money away, hard-earned money from Canadian citizens that now rests in foreign jurisdictions.
The bill is a step forward. But there is a question that is very much out there: in almost five years, what has the government done, what has this country done, about tax havens, about people who defraud other Canadians of money, packing it away in other jurisdictions from which it cannot be accessed and returned to its rightful owners?
What the bill lacks is a mechanism for prevention. As a country, as a Parliament, as a government, we are all in the same boat with respect to aims. How common is it that we all have the same aim? We want to prevent white-collar crime, prevent fraud perpetrated on the weakest in our society. The churches, the after-school kindergartens, the minor hockey associations, the women's institute groups, the Catholic Women's League, seniors, handicapped people: these groups are defrauded of millions of dollars every year. How can we as a Parliament strike together to prevent this?
There is the penalty phase. But let us be clear: the bill is mostly about the penalty phase. I don't want to strain the analogy, but if we want to stop violence in hockey we might start with the young, the minor groups. We might talk about how it is not the right thing to do. Things are not always effected in the penalty phase. In the criminal justice world, it is the same.
This bill speaks only about the penalty phase of fraud being perpetrated. Are we going to prevent fraud from happening by a shell game of penalties for people who have already socked the money away? In other words, we are going to penalize people from whom we are not likely to get the money.
In this society of ours, we have a hierarchy of offences. It is recognized in the Criminal Code, which sets out crimes against the person, crimes against property, and even crimes against the state. We consider, and rightly so, that crimes against a person are of a higher magnitude than crimes against property. Crimes against property came from the old west days, when stealing a horse meant stealing someone's livelihood, and if they were stealing someone's livelihood, they were hurting a family. Horse thievery was a very important offence. It is right there in the modern Criminal Code. It came down to us from 1892. It is a very high-ranking offence.
However, people do not go around stealing horses as much anymore. Instead, they go around stealing nest eggs, people's lifelong hard-earned savings, through fraudulent means. How are we to give this offence more importance?
We should look at the whole Criminal Code and consider prevention, as we would with any other crime. How do we stop violent crime? We look at early childhood intervention, the social causes of crime, and the socio-economic milieu in which recidivism is rampant.
How do we get at the prevention of economic crimes? It seems to me that people who commit sophisticated economic crimes through fraud are people who are using electronic and social media as well as means of communication controlled by the Government of Canada through agencies.
Why does the government not come forward with modern methods to prevent the use of regulated tools of fraud? This would go a long way towards stopping fraud from happening in the first place.
The fourth general point in my remarks has to do with something I heard a lot about from this side of the House and in the communities across this country. At one time, I was a mayor, and I know what it is like to have a police force doing important work in a community. Police forces across this country are asking for more resources.
What has the government actually done to help the police? I don't mean on paper, in a speech, or on the five o'clock news. What are the police chiefs saying? What is the Canadian Police Association saying about actual boots on the street? They are saying they do not have enough resources. If we prioritize, however, they will take crimes against the person more seriously than economic crimes against the household income.
With more resources, the police who serve our communities will do more than they can now. The blame for failing to confront the growing elements of fraud lies with the government. After five years of talking about making Canada safe, they have done very little about it. Ask any policeperson who has not been bullied into saying nothing by the threat of withdrawing funds from the local force, city, community, region, or MP.
We are here as opposition members to stand up for good, hard-working policemen across this country who tell us they need more resources to combat fraud. That is what we would like to see.
As to Bill C-21, it has been said many times in this House, and by many members of every party, that there is no greater fraud than a promise not kept. This may sound like just another pithy phrase, but it rings true in the hearts of Canadians, and it has been said many times outside this House.
This bill is an example of a promise not kept. The promise was not kept because it had a different number, and we were prorogued and sent home. We could not do our work. The bill that was just the same as this one did not see the light of day, because the Conservatives prorogued Parliament and sent us home.
That is a fraud because it is a promise not kept. The Conservatives said that they would do something about fraud and white collar crime and then they pulled the plug on the bathtub of Parliament and we went home. This bill is not law because the House was prorogued and it died on the order paper. That was last year. We are talking about the bill as if it is something new.
Canadians who have fallen victim to fraud since prorogation should look across the way and ask this question. If the bill was not contentious and if the guys on the other side were going to let it go through, why did the government prorogue? Then maybe their aunt or daughter's hockey team would not have been defrauded of all that money because the bill would have been perfected, approved in committee and passed. It would be law now. That is the biggest fraud so far in the speech today. The Conservatives did not keep their promise. They did not do anything about white collar crime.
There are other aspects of the bill that hopefully will be tightened up in committee. However, there is an overriding element to the bill that surely we have debated this long enough and the government must see that it must question the insertion of mandatory minimums in the bill as well. The bill provides nothing for the prevention of crime, as I said, only punishments after the fact.
No jail sentence or restitution can make up for the sense of betrayal and hurt that follows a fraud perpetrated. No jail sentence or restitution can restore the confidence or livelihood of a Canadian cleaned out by someone the victim has grown to trust, a new parent without a nest egg, a dying grandparent without a bequest. Prevention keeps Canadians safe. Nothing is more important to the livelihoods of Canadians and nothing in the bill even gives a hint about it.
On the question of mandatory minimums, it is an experiment that has failed in the United States and will not have an effect on white collar crime in our country. The bill provides for a mandatory minimum sentence for a commission of a fraud over $1 million.
One of the early criticisms of Bill C-52, the predecessor, and this bill was that it did not hit the financial institutions hard enough. It seemed to be cherry picking over the smaller crimes that were committed on a smaller basis. We all know in our country already, dare I mention Earl Jones in the province of Quebec, that there are large-scale crimes occurring that take people for more than $1 million either individually or cumulatively. It is not clear to us on this side, and we will see in committee, whether this is cumulative, large enough or why the Department of Justice came up with this amount, but we shall see. We do not want to exclude the larger frauds from a bill that is purported to stop white collar crime.
We will do our best on this side to ensure the bill is wider in scope, more effective and pushes the government to key in on aspects of prevention and tax havens. We on this side, by doing so responsibly, will keep a promise that the people on the other side, known now as the government, failed to keep, which has been the biggest fraud committed in the area of white collar crime in the last five years.