Mr. Speaker, Bill C-21 is a reincarnation of Bill C-52. It is important, in terms of the credibility the government has or maybe, more important, does not have with regard to its so-called “getting tough on crime” agenda, to understand the history of this legislation.
On October 21, 2009, as a result of a number of notorious incidents, the Earl Jones one in Montreal being the more current one at the time, Bill C-52 was introduced into this House. There was a very brief debate on it. There were signals from the opposition parties of a willingness to deal with the issue of white collar crime, which is what it was about.
It went to committee quite rapidly and we had hearings on it in November 2009 and into December 2009. We did not complete it. I would estimate that we heard from 10 to 15 witnesses over that period of time, some giving us a great deal of detail, quite frankly, about the frailty of the legislation but information and evidence that was really necessary for us in our consideration.
We, of course, then had the notorious prorogation. We wonder about the level of integrity at the time that decision was made. The government knew the horror stories and the suffering of individuals and groups in the country. It knew about the need to get serious about dealing with white collar crime.
Without knowing what was going on in the Prime Minister's mind at the time, I would have to say that he probably gave absolutely no consideration to this bill or to that suffering when he made the decision to protect his government from the Afghan detainee issue being continuously raised in this House. He put off the House for an extended period of time beyond what was originally scheduled.
As I think most Canadians now know, when prorogation occurs, the parliamentary agenda is wiped clean. Any bill that is outstanding at that time from the government side is regulated to the dustbin and we have to start all over again, which we did when we finally came back in February 2010.
However, we did not see the bill right away. The new bill, Bill C-21, which we are debating this afternoon, was not presented to this House until May 3 for first reading. It was not put on the order paper for debate at second reading until today. So we lost all of that time through the spring and summer.
It is quite possible that the justice committee may have dealt with it fairly quickly, because of the amount of work we had already done, and had it back to the House for third reading, amended, I can assure members. All opposition parties are quite concerned about how weak the bill is. It is almost useless as it is now. However, we have some real hope, because of what we heard from a number of witnesses and some of our ideas, that it could be strengthened to the degree that it would be worthwhile to pass into law. However, we never got the opportunity to do that until today.
I am certainly signalling, on behalf of my party, as the other opposition parties have, that we will support this going to committee so that we can do something serious about this as opposed to what is contained in Bill C-21.
I have another point to make before I go to the actual particulars of the bill. We have heard that a series of amendments to the legislation are necessary if we are to have any meaningful impact on white collar crime. The government has had all that evidence since December 2009 when it decided to prorogue and knew the bill would go down into the dustbin. It had the better part of 10 months to implement those corrections in Bill C-21 but it did not do anything. Bill C-21 is exactly word for word the same as Bill C-52. There are no changes at all.
We had some very good evidence. I mean that in the sense of people who knew what they were talking about, as opposed to the government on this issue, and who came forward with very specific changes that needed to be made. Some of it was just cleaning up wording. In other cases, it was implementing meaningful amendments that would have a meaningful impact on fighting this type of crime. Did we get any of it? Absolutely nothing, not one change. Bill C-21 is word for word of what we already had in Bill C-52, which was showing, because of that evidence, to be so wanting.
It is important for those who have maybe not followed this issue, and I do not think there is a lot of Canadians who have not, to set the scene. I want to credit this information from a forensic accountant by the name of Mr. Al Rosen, who came before us with a brief presentation in writing and then expanded on it before the committee, both in his verbal presentation and in response to a number of questions from the members of Parliament, who sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
He set out by saying that we had to understand where we are at, so he went through a series of the events that we had in the early part of the 20th century. He went back a bit into the latter part of the 19th century, but mostly he dealt with the 20th century. He told us to look at what we had done: Bre-X Minerals, that scandal; Nortel Networks, overstated assets, financial statements, he pointed out, restated four times and then watched the stock price collapse; dozens of business income trusts that in effect were pyramid schemes, Ponzi schemes; and the non-bank asset-backed commercial paper and all of the misrepresentations that went on with that.
At the core, if we look at the financial collapse that has occurred around the globe, that collapse is very much as a result of that asset-backed commercial paper that did not have any assets behind it. I have already made reference to the Ponzi schemes such as the one in Quebec with Earl Jones and the major one in Alberta.
He went on to point out at the same period of time the lack of response, both at the provincial and federal levels, around regulatory changes that would have gone some distance to avoid these losses. He was quite critical of governments in that regard.
He also then went on to point out that there had been Supreme Court of Canada decisions that in effect needed to be corrected. It was the permission that was granted. He made reference in particular to the Hercules management case in 1997. In effect, the court said that it was okay if a person misstated on audited statements, even though they were misleading to the public, would lead shareholders to perhaps buy in when in fact if the real truth were there, they would not have done so. He referenced the weakness in our civil courts when people would go for restitution, the length of time it would take and the long trials when it was large sums of money like this. He also mentioned the lack of prosecution in Canada and pointed out the number that went on in the U.S.
I took that with a bit of a grain of salt when we already had reference to the Madoff situation and any number of other collapses in the United States of major corporations. Although the U.S. has a more rigid and forceful approach to prosecuting, it certainly has not had the effect of deterring major crimes there.
We need to look at that. This is the context that we were dealing with when we first dealt with Bill C-52 and now Bill C-21.
The information in the brief from Mr. Rosen is not secret. It is in the public domain. The Justice Department certainly knows about it. I assume at least some members of the government are aware. One would have, and I certainly know I did, the expectation that Bill C-52 and now Bill C-21 would actually address these problems in a meaningful way. It does not. It is as simple as that.
If I can do a quick summary, this is what it would do. It would introduce a mandatory minimum. The be all end all of all solutions of all crime problems in the world, according to the government, is to slap a mandatory minimum at it, punish somebody. Maybe it would be better if we tried to prevent the crime from happening, in the first place. Anyway it would slap a mandatory minimum of two years for any fraud that is committed over $1 million.
When we heard the evidence, we heard about the huge number of Ponzi schemes, other fraud schemes, some of these schemes being mail solicitation, phone solicitation, email over the Internet type of solicitor, all of it completely fraudulent. However, more than half of those are under $1 million. Therefore, that section would not apply. The panacea for everything else will not be applicable for a large number of the white collar crimes that are committed in Canada on a yearly basis.
The Conservatives also have imposed additional burdens on our courts as to how to deal with this. It was quite interesting to see the brief from the Canadian Bar Association. I am sure the Bar Association would be upset if I used the term viciously, but it was a pretty vicious attack on the bill.
I will use this as one of the two or three examples of where the association attacked the bill. It introduced the concept in the sentencing process that if someone were convicted of a crime under this law, there would be a community impact statement. Anyone who practises law in the criminal courts, the first question that will pop out is, what is a community impact statement? We have never had that in the Criminal Code or any other sentencing provisions under provincial legislation. It is a totally new concept.
Maybe the government is being creative here. Unfortunately, it is just about useless because we have no idea what the community is going to be. It does not define that in any way. It does not put any parameters on it, any limits on it. It is not clear if it talks about it in the singular. Could more than one community impact statement be done? We may have different groups that have been impacted by it. It is extremely poorly drafted with regard to this area and a number of others.
I go back to my opening comments about the length of time. The government has had now 10 months when it could have corrected a number of these points, and this is one of them.
I am intrigued with the concept of the community impact statement. I think it is possible that in fact we may be able to develop one that is useful to victims of these types of crimes so the court has a full picture of the impact, not just on individuals but the kind of impact it may have on a community as a whole.
We have seen this a number of times when we have so-called a financial adviser consultant trustee type of person who will swindle money from a significant proportion of small communities, a community that trusts the person, who almost always is a male. It gives him its money on the basis that he will handle it properly. It then has a major impact on that small town or small village because a great deal of money has been taken out of circulation.
We can see where it would make sense to do that. The bill does not make any sense in that regard because it is probably going to end up being fairly useless.
Unless we define more clearly what community groups would be entitled to bring forth that statement, it has the real potential to clog up our courts by making the sentencing process much longer than it might be otherwise if the bill were drafted properly.
One of the other provisions in here, and again it is typical of the government's overreach when dealing with both making up crimes and dealing with them by way of punishment, is for a prohibition order. I have no argument with that, and I think any lawyer who has practised law in the criminal courts would say that, yes, people who commit these kinds of crimes should be prohibited from being able to do that either indefinitely, depending on the size and nature of it, or at least for specified periods of time once they have served time in jail or other punishment.
However, the government did not stop at that. What did was made it impossible. For instance, if I am Bernie Madoff living in Canada and I have stolen $65 billion, I could be prohibited from ever being a financial consultant adviser again. However, under this bill I would be prohibited, given how broad the prohibition order is, even from being a sales clerk in a grocery store or retail outlet because I would be handling somebody else's money. Even though the extent of the money I would be handling may be $50 for a shirt, under this prohibition order I would not be able to take that job.
This is typical of the overreach. The Bar Association, I think without being it, were very effectively sarcastic about how badly drafted this was and how much of an overreach it was.
Another provision in the bill is with regard to restitution orders. Here is where we get into the courts perhaps getting backlogged by additional responsibilities. The bill mandates that it is an absolute must if the judge does not make a restitution order, to give a written reason for not doing so.
There are times when it is obvious why a restitution order will not be made. I will use the example again of Mr. Madoff and the $65 billion. The guy is completely bankrupt. He is ill, or I understand there is some concern with his health. He is quite elderly and he has no opportunity to ever make restitution.
If one is gong to make a restitution order in our courts, there must be some basis for doing it. A judge cannot just say that Mr. Madoff has stolen $65 billion and he has to pay it back. There has to be a basis upon which to show that the judge has looked at the financial circumstances and the ability to earn income in the future and order an amount in a restitution order.
That takes time. It takes the time of police officers because they have to investigate. It takes the time of the prosecutors because they have to present that case. It takes court time as the judge is considering the evidence being put before him or her when it is obvious that a restitution order is meaningless and should not be wasting court time and the time of those professional people in doing it.
Again, this is very badly drafted legislation. There are other parts of the restitution order provisions that simply do not make sense in terms of any quality of legislation that the House or the government should pass, but they have in fact done that.
It is quite clear, mostly because of the Earl Jones case and the pressure for which I will give credit to my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois, my colleague from Outremont, parliamentarians from that province and from the legislature in Quebec City, that something has to be done. Earl Jones was just the epitome of it and we could not just sit on our hands any more.
Rather than deal with it at that point, what did the government do? We could understand that because it was under political pressure, it could come forward with a lousy bill, which we could clean up at the committee. When it got to the committee and we had the evidence and solutions for a number of the issues, what did the government do? Absolutely nothing. It came back to the House and presented the same bill again.
I want to make one more point around the regulatory functions that need to be cleaned up both at the provincial level and at the federal level. There is a lot of preventative work that could be done in this area if the government got at it.
The other thing is with regards to enforcement of our laws. We need much more effective teams of specialists that can fight white collar crime, identify it and prosecute it effectively. We do not have those teams in place at this point. The government should be moving on that.