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House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was spam.

Topics

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, since being elected to the House some two years ago and a bit, I will take no lessons from the member for Ajax—Pickering when it comes to presenting issues to Parliament that are not based on any factual evidence. I will take no lessons from that member.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I know hon. members will all try to be civil in their questions and responses in the House. I urge that on all hon. members.

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Outremont.

I recognize the hon. member for Outremont, who is presenting a question of privilege.

Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeOral Questions

November 23rd, 2010 / 3:10 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, you are right to point out that in keeping with our customs, I sent a written notice to the Speaker earlier today. I am pleased to be able to present my question of privilege, which is a rarity considering all the experience you have.

I am rising regarding the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Finance.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, the finding of a prima facie case of privilege cannot be made by a committee chairperson or by the committee report itself but only by you.

And so, the best thing to do is read the report, which is quite short. It says:

On Thursday, November 18, 2010, the draft report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in respect of the Committee’s pre-budget consultations for 2010 was distributed by the Clerk of the Committee to all Committee members. The distribution occurred electronically.

I would like to add something here. On the front page of the report, the following statement is made to all of the members:

Please bring a copy of this document to the meeting. This report remains CONFIDENTIAL until it is tabled in the House of Commons. Any disclosure of the contents of a report prior to presentation in the House may be judged a breach of parliamentary privilege.

And the report continues:

On Thursday, November 18, 2010, the Member for Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar was informed that Mr. Russell Ullyatt, parliamentary assistant to the Member, had transmitted the Committee’s confidential draft report to three lobbyists: Mr. Clarke Cross, Senior Consultant, Tactix; Mr. Tim Egan, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Gas Association; and Ms. Lynne Hamilton, Vice President, Public Affairs, GCI Group.

In light of this matter, the Committee has reason to believe that a potential breach of privilege has occurred and, on Monday, November 22, 2010, the Committee unanimously adopted the following motion:

That the Committee report to the House of Commons the potential breach of privilege resulting from the release of the confidential draft report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in respect of its pre-budget consultations for 2010, entitled “Canada's Continuing Economic Recovery: What People, Businesses and Communities Need”, prior to its presentation to the House.

Your Committee feels it is their duty to place these matters before the House at this time since a question of privilege may be involved and to give the House an opportunity to reflect on these matters.

I hasten to say that, to her credit, the member in question apologized yesterday. I want to tell her that while the committee accepts her apology, it is important to understand that this is not an individual issue, but an institutional issue that directly affects our ability to do our work as parliamentarians unimpeded.

I would like to point out that the report in question is the only committee report mentioned specifically in the Standing Orders of the House.

The prebudget report is one of only a few specific committee reports mentioned specially in the Standing Orders, and in fact Standing Order 83.1, which I will read. It is quite brief:

Commencing on the first sitting day in September of each year, the Standing Committee on Finance shall be authorized to consider and make reports upon proposals regarding the budgetary policy of the government. Any report or reports thereon may be made no later than the tenth sitting day before the last normal sitting day in December, as set forth in Standing Order 28(2).

Clearly, this is a report of an institutional nature. We are therefore not bringing this matter before you lightly. We understand the full consequences of what we are talking about today.

The report we were to have considered yesterday—obviously we focused on this instead—includes suggestions by the four political parties and a comprehensive analysis of our country's budgetary and economic situation. We work hard to do justice to the mandate given to us by the House, and I believe that all the members generally carry out that mandate to the best of their ability. But we are faced with a truly unique situation here. We are being told that despite the cover page warning that the report is official and confidential, people can turn around and give it to lobbyists.

A lot of questions still remain. The member explained that she fired the person who worked for her, but that is a little too easy. Who hired that person? What were his instructions? Is this something that happens all the time? Who are these lobbyists? Have they ever contributed to the Conservative Party? Are they well known? Is there a revolving door? This is a fundamental issue that affects our democratic parliamentary institutions.

In our opinion, this requires us to pay particular attention to what we are discussing today, otherwise the public will never know if someone had access to privileged information. For example, if the party in power and the three opposition parties arrive at a unanimous position on an important subject, if someone has several weeks' notice of this position, and if it could be inferred that this would possibly be the government's economic position, those persons, the clients, the lobbyists are being given a distinct advantage. That covers the external aspect.

As for the internal aspect of our work and the impediment this incident could represent to our privilege of working freely as parliamentarians, there is another simpler but equally important consideration. A great deal of barbs are flung about by all—one is called a socialist, another a separatist, and so forth. If the committee, in carrying out its work, were to adopt the position of the Bloc, the NDP, or another party, and if someone were to discover something that they would not have discovered otherwise, they might put a slant on it. This could have the following result: individual reports would be tabled—which has only happened once—rather than a committee report arrived at by parliamentarians working together, as the public wants and as our institutions require.

For all these reasons, we believe that this was a breach of confidentiality involving the office of the member in question. This raises fundamental questions that cannot be dismissed. Making public confidential information about the advice given by members of the House of Commons in one of its committees to the Minister of Finance in view of drafting Canada's budget is very serious.

Consequently, I ask you to rule that this is a prima facie question of privilege and to allow this matter to be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

I want to conclude by asking that you allow us to do our work. You often tell us that you cannot see what happens inside committees. I believe that the committee did everything it could. I know that this type of report is exceedingly uncommon. This is my fourth year in the House and the first time I have seen this. We request that you see fit to allow us to refer this matter.

We therefore move that the matters referred to in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Finance, tabled in this House on November 23, 2010, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am rising on the same point of privilege.

To my hon. colleague from Outremont I would argue very vociferously that there is clearly no prima facie case for privilege in this case.

If I am given the opportunity to review the facts, I would point out that upon learning of the leak of the information of the draft report of the finance committee, the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar took immediate and very proactive action. The employment of the person who made the leak occur was terminated. The member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar then informed the clerk of the finance committee and in fact took what I believe to be unprecedented action by personally contacting every single member of the finance committee, informing them of the leak and offering her apologies at that time.

In recent years, the usual practice of this House has been that when there are leaks of information from either in camera meetings or the situation that we have before us today, when apologies are rendered, they are accepted and the House then moves on. There has been no need for a breach of privilege, no finding of a breach of privilege.

I would point out that all opposition parties, from time to time, have had some of their own members in a situation similar to this. I recall very vividly that the member for Vancouver South, on two occasions, violated confidentiality provisions by talking of in camera discussions from his committee to members of the media. Members of the New Democratic party have also breached confidentiality agreements, and when those unfortunate occurrences have taken place, the members in question who have breached confidentiality matters have risen in this place and delivered what I consider to be very heartfelt apologies. Those apologies, every time, have been accepted. There has been no privilege required, no breach of privilege found in the House, and committees have moved on.

I would suggest that was the appropriate course of action to take in those cases. It is certainly an appropriate course of action to take in this case.

Mr. Speaker, I would also say that despite the arguments by my colleague from Outremont, I would suggest to you and to the members of this place that the member from Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar has acted in an honourable, responsible and respectful manner to this House, and rather than a breach of privilege, she should be applauded for her proactive stance on this matter.

Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Finance and I would like to begin by saying that the chair of the committee, the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc, handled this matter properly yesterday when we discussed this particularly important issue.

The hon. member for Outremont has basically repeated the same discussion we had yesterday. However, with all due respect for the members of this House, I would like to clarify a number of aspects and actions, and remind the House of the facts.

Last Thursday, an employee of the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, in a premeditated act, pushed all the right buttons to post the document in question on the Internet. It is important to note that this was no accident and the information did not slip out in a conversation in an elevator or in the bathroom.

Thus, three well-known lobbyists were given access to the document. They were basically given preferential treatment, since the document in question had not yet even been discussed in committee. In fact, we still have not discussed it, since we thought it would be better to resolve the issue here in the House before discussing it in committee. The document is over 100 pages long and was worked on by public servants and parliamentary officials. In it, the four parties' positions are very clearly stated. So these lobbyists received all of this information before the members of this House did.

Before we had a chance to address this item in committee, roughly 100 hours had passed between Thursday around 5 p.m. and yesterday around 4 p.m. During that time, the document was out in cyberspace. Some 100 hours went by before the chair of the committee could contact the three lobbyists in question to ask them to stop circulating the document, if it was indeed circulating, to destroy the document and to provide supporting evidence that the document had been destroyed. Circulation for 100 hours on the web, on the Internet, is a lot, especially since we have no control over the web. In my opinion, significant harm has been caused to the hon. members of the House since this document was a draft of a report that was to be tabled here.

I will close by citing page 1073 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice:

Committee reports must be presented to the House before they can be released to the public. Even when a report is concurred in at a public meeting, the report itself is considered confidential until it has actually been presented to the House. In addition, any disclosure of the contents of a report prior to presentation, either by members or non-members, may be judged to be a breach of privilege.

It is often much easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission and that is deplorable. Consider how long it took for the hon. member to apologize to the House last evening, and that was the thing to do. We hope nothing like this will happen again in our committee or in the House.

Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeOral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have some submissions. I generally accept the facts that have been presented. However, I would like to state at the outset that this should not be taken personally by any member because this is a matter of importance to all hon. members.

I received a phone call from the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar on Friday at about 4:30 when I was at the airport. I was advised that a copy of the draft report from the finance committee was sent by one of her staffers, Russell Ullyatt, and that it was sent to three lobbyists. This information has been confirmed by others. A Google search and other sources of information would indicate that these three parties to whom the draft report was sent via email all have notable ties to the Conservative Party of Canada.

I asked the member what she had done and, contrary to what the parliamentary secretary to the government house leader just told the House what action she took, she told me that the first thing she did was to go to the chief government whip. The member did not mention that.

The chief government whip is a Privy Councillor. Over and above his responsibilities as a member of Parliament, he also has a responsibility as Privy Councillor to abide by, to protect and to defend the laws of Canada and the rules of Parliament.

It has been confirmed to me by two different parties, and I guess these will have to stand as allegations, that the whip's response to the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar was that the matter should be left with the committee and that she should not to take any further action. This is significant.

The member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar may in fact find herself to be a victim of detrimental reliance. She is a member of a caucus and the whip tends to tell its members what to do. However, the member, also as a member of Parliament, has responsibilities and those responsibilities are laid out in O'Brien-Bosc and in our standing orders.

I want to start by giving a reference out of O'Brien-Bosc, second edition, 2009, from chapter 3 under “Privilege versus Contempt” on page 82. I will not read all of it, but for the information of hon. members because this has come up before and we need to understand, it states:

It is important to distinguish between a “breach of privilege” and “contempt of Parliament”. Any disregard of or attack on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege” and is punishable by the House. There are, however, other affronts against the dignity and authority of Parliament which may not fall within one of the specifically defined privileges. Thus, the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege, tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions; obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of the House in the discharge of their duties; or is an offence against the authority or dignity of the House, such as disobedience of its legitimate commands or libels upon itself, its Members, or its officers. As the authors of Odgers’ Senate Practice (Australia) state: “The rationale of the power to punish contempts, whether contempt of court or contempt of the Houses, is that the courts and the two Houses should be able to protect themselves from acts which directly or indirectly impede them in the performance of their functions”. In that sense, all breaches of privilege are contempts of the House, but not all contempts are necessarily breaches of privilege.

The House of Commons enjoys very wide latitude in maintaining its dignity and authority through the exercise of its contempt power. In other words, the House may consider any misconduct to be contempt and may deal with it accordingly. Instances of contempt in one Parliament may even be punished by another Parliament. This area of parliamentary law is therefore extremely fluid and most valuable for the Commons to be able to meet novel situations.

The rest of the section goes on to list the kinds of things that would constitute contempts or privileges. Coincidentally, the very last item says:

divulging or publishing the content of any report or evidence of a select committee before it has been reported to the House.

That is exactly what we are talking about.

As a further reference, I would refer to a situation that occurred in the House during the tenure of Speaker Parent. There was an incident involving, I believe, officials of either the justice department or of the Journals Branch who assist members of Parliament in the drafting of private member's bills. Inadvertently, cross conversations went on between those officials and the clerks at the table. This came forward as an issue of a breach of privilege because of the confidentiality requirement with regard to draft private members' bills. They cannot be disclosed and, just as our draft report of the finance committee says, they are confidential. It must be respected. It is the right of the member to have that respected.

Mr. Speaker, you may recall what happened there. There was a long debate in the House and at the very end, before the time for government orders had expired, a motion was moved by the Bloc House leader, after consultation with House leaders, that the matter be referred to procedure and House affairs. It required unanimous consent. The motion was posed by Speaker Parent and when the Speaker asked if there was unanimous consent, a member had walked into the chamber and said “no”. The Speaker then said, “There is no consent”, and then said, “It being 5:30...”. I remember very precisely because at that moment I rose in the chamber, as a pretty young member of Parliament, on point of order.

My point of order was that the only member of Parliament who had said no had just walked into the chamber, had not heard the debate, had not participated in any fashion in the debate and was not aware that there was all party consent for that motion. As a consequence, my point of order was that the question be re-put. The Speaker suspended the House, allowed the House leaders to convene again and after they took the member out in the back room and roughed him up a little bit, they came back, moved the point again and the matter was carried and referred to the procedure and House affairs committee.

The importance of this particular example during my tenure is that it was the Speaker who was at risk in terms of the contempt or the breach of privilege because it is the persons who report to the Speaker who had been involved in that breach by that cross communication. We have a parallel here where the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar did not herself disclose this confidential document to any other persons. She has declared that and I trust her. The people who work for her, however, did and they sent it to certain people who have been characterized as being strong supporters of the Conservative Party. Is this a culture in the offices of the Conservative member? Is this what is being told? We do not know and in fact we do not have all of the information.

However, the intentional conveyance of confidential documents affects every member of the committee. It exposes members to pressures and undue influence as they finalize their report and it also prejudices the freedom of all the participants. It means that now that the report is out in the hands of at least three lobby firms and who knows who else, they will now know which party supported or recommended certain aspects of the presentations of the 451 submissions and 155 witnesses who we heard.

Now, because we are at the drafting stage, these members could be prejudiced or pressured into taking another position. It puts us at risk. It interferes with our freedom to make good laws and wise decisions, which is part of our prayer each day.

Just to give an idea, this is just one of the emails that came back. It has to do with Lynne Hamilton, the vice-president of public affairs of GCI Group. The email went from the staff member to Ms. Hamilton. The simple response was “I heart you”. I assume this refers to “I love you”.

That was the reaction. This was important. This was valuable. This was something that we are going to have a good time with.

Interestingly enough, the wording of the transmission of the report to Ms. Hamilton by Mr. Ullyatt, was:

Thought you may want a peak at this in its infancy.

That was the message, which was signed “Russell”.

Those are most of the facts, but there are some points that have not been mentioned. One, as I indicated, is that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons maybe conveniently, I do not know, left out the fact that the first person to find out about this was the Chief Government Whip. I would have expected the Chief Government Whip to know to protect and to defend the rights and privileges of parliamentarians, and he did not. That is an issue to be dealt with.

The member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar had a conversation with the member for Kings—Hants. He has advised me, and I think he may want to rise to confirm, that his sage advice to the member was to contact each of the lobbyists and tell them that this was by mistake, that it is confidential and they should destroy everything, recover whatever copies have gone out and mitigate the damage.

That was not done. As a matter of fact, it was not until yesterday's finance committee meeting, and I hope I am not divulging confidences as that was an in camera meeting, so maybe I should just say that I am aware that the chair of the committee had to call each of those lobbyists last night while the committee was not meeting. We had suspended, and that is what he was doing.

There was no attempt by the Chief Government Whip nor the hon. member to mitigate the potential damage. Not all members were contacted, as well. I had phoned several times but only got voicemail, so I do understand that some members may not have been able to get through.

I think those are the substantive issues. I would certainly support the motion by the sponsor of this question of privilege.

I would like to raise one last point. Should this go to the procedure and House affairs committee, I am sure it will be well taken care of. Even if it is viewed that it should not go to that committee, I believe there is another issue that the House must deal with. We, as a Parliament, have not had an opportunity to discuss possible amendments to the Standing Orders for a variety of reasons, such as prorogation of the first session so that 60 sitting days never occurred, an election, and things like that.

We have a situation where when things happen at committee, we have a delegated authority to do certain things. We cannot sanction people. We cannot deal with it. It has to come to the House. The only way we can do that is to report to the House.

If we have a situation where a member's conduct is way out of line and needs to be dealt with, but the structure has a balance of members in it who have the ability to frustrate the issuance of a report, there will never be a reckoning of a member's conduct or speech or whatever matter may come forward that is disrespectful to the committee, to parliamentarians and to Parliament as a whole.

The second one has to do with leaked reports. We could not do it unless we had a report. In certain circumstances, whether in a majority Parliament and even in minority Parliaments where the opposition parties are co-operating, it can frustrate the reporting of any matter to this House. There is not a mechanism where an important matter that is in the best interests of parliamentarians and of Parliament can get on the table and be dealt with to mitigate the damage.

I understand that the chair of the procedure and House affairs committee is aware that these have been problems in committees in the past, but they have not been discussed in this House. I would like to write a letter to him and suggest that we might do this. This matter may be the watershed point at which we need a protocol, a checklist, or a Standing Order amendment so that when things happen in this place that should not happen, and all hon. members agree, we should have a very swift disposition. We should have this matter go through a protocol which ensures that if someone has given bad information, or information which frustrates the rights and privileges of members, it be dealt with immediately. It is something on which we cannot wait.

I am aware of situations, and one situation would certainly be the Mulroney-Schreiber hearings, where it was months before certain things could be dealt with. We do not have the delegated authority in committee to sanction or to deal with these things. It would only be the House, and in fact the Speaker on the recommendation of the House, or the committee that it is referred to.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, it is a very serious matter. I would sincerely hope that you would look at the details and consider this matter to be meritorious of being referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeOral Questions

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add a couple of points.

I did speak to the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar on Friday. It was said by the deputy House leader earlier that the hon. member has taken every action she could take upon being made aware of this. She did take some action. She fired the individual. She did contact all hon. members of the committee. What she did not do was contact the lobbyists themselves. I believe that having this material out there for over four days before the lobbyists were ultimately contacted and asked not to distribute the information, not to do anything with the information, was a mistake.

I understand that the whip of the Conservative Party was notified at the time of the incident, which was last Thursday, and in fact there was no action taken to contact those lobbyists. I think that is regrettable.

The three lobbyists include Clarke Cross, a senior consultant at TACTIX. His CV indicates that he previously worked as a Conservative staffer to the member for Vegreville—Wainwright and the member for Nanaimo—Alberni. Lynne Hamilton, according to her biography, worked with Conservative governments federally, provincially and municipally. In fact she used to work in the premier's office for Mike Harris. Timothy Egan is the president and CEO of the Canadian Gas Association. According to Elections Canada's website, Timothy M. Egan has donated over $1,500 to the Conservatives since the summer of 2008, including a donation of over $300 to the finance minister's 2008 election campaign.

The government knew of this leak last Thursday and it allowed this report to circulate within Conservative cyberspace for over four days, until yesterday when action was taken. There ought to have been action taken on Thursday immediately to contact these lobbyists and to ask them not to use the information, not to distribute the information.

It is regrettable that that action was not taken. I do think that this issue merits investigation at the procedure and House affairs committee.

Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeOral Questions

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise as vice-chairman of the finance committee. Before ruling, I think you should consider not only parliamentary tradition and some of the jurisprudence that you may refer to, because I think some of the members who are not to repeat what they have said, have spoken about how things have changed. We all use BlackBerrys, emails and other technology. In fact, the member for Hochelaga and the member for Kings—Hants just spoke about the fact that in the technological world we live in, information being out there for 100 hours, or four days, compromises our parliamentary privilege.

I just want to make sure that you consider the fact that this document was out there in cyberspace for four days, for 100 hours, or however one wants to interpret it. It is going to affect my parliamentary privilege in addressing the report. I have had experiences where there were leaks while I chaired this committee. We were in prebudget consultation mode. Reporters were trying to get copies of the reports. It has always been a challenge. We have tried working with hard copies. However, if we are going to allow members of Parliament to continue using technology, you are going to have to consider that in your ruling, and I would like you to strongly consider a proper mechanism that we can work with in the future.

There is one other item I would like to put on the record. I understand the parliamentary secretary stated that the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar contacted all members. However, I am the vice-chairman of the committee and I was not contacted personally on this matter. I only found out about it on Sunday because I was talking with the chairman, who was kind enough to let me know about this.

Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeOral Questions

3:50 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank all my hon. colleagues for their interventions. I want to point out, if I may, again for the record, that I thank all my hon. colleagues who observed the spirit and the recommendations considered in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice manual which states quite clearly that any interventions made on breaches of privilege such as we have before us today should be made briefly and concisely. Everyone in this place, the notable exception being the member for Mississauga South, has observed that. I find it unfortunate, quite frankly, that the member for Mississauga South, who professes to be an authority on procedure and practice, would so blatantly flout the quite clear instructions contained in the manual which we use to conduct ourselves in this place.

Having said that, there are two additional points for your consideration, Mr. Speaker.

First, it has been a practice in previous years, but most recently in previous months, in this place where apologies have been accepted.

One example is when the member for Vancouver South on two occasions breached confidential matters by speaking to members of the media about discussions held in camera in a committee. The member for Vancouver South apologized. The apology was accepted, and the Speaker ruled that no further action should be taken.

Most recently, the member for St. Paul's disclosed the contents of her private member's bill regarding the mandatory long form census before it was introduced in Parliament. Once again, the member apologized and you, Mr. Speaker, determined that no further action was required.

I would submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that we have a similar situation before us today.

Last, Mr. Speaker, I would point out to you that, as you well know, a breach of privilege only occurs when the ability of individual members to do their job has been impugned or impaired. There has been absolutely no evidence, in my submission, that the ability of the members of the Standing Committee on Finance have had their ability to do their job retarded or impaired in any way.

This has been a regrettable incident. It was not the cause of the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar directly. Yes, it was a member of her staff, but she took the appropriate action, action that has been recommended and recognized by members of this House to deal with in an appropriate manner, that being an apology to the members of this place. Those apologies, in recent memory, have always been accepted and the issue has then been closed.

I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, that you follow the precedents that have been set, that you accept the apology, as all members have accepted the apology of the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, and that you rule as quickly as possible that this matter is now closed and there is no breach of privilege.

Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeOral Questions

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member from the Conservative Party just made the point that when people stand up here and apologize the case is closed.

However, when people stand up and apologize and the House says that it does not agree or it wants to have it investigated, that is your responsibility, Mr. Speaker, to send it to committee to have it studied. If no one stands up and everyone is happy with the apology, that is another kettle of fish.

In this case, that is not what is happening. The member is talking about members from the NDP and about something that happened for which the member apologized. I recall, as the whip of the party, that it was so small there was no damage that could be made and we all agreed that an apology would be okay.

However, in this case we are talking about the finance committee where we have to look at what it could cost, with the lobbyists and all of those people who have the document. That is why I think you have to rule, Mr. Speaker, that this is a different case and you have to deal with the case you have in front of you today.

That is why I am putting my two cents in to bring my point to you.

Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeOral Questions

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I want to thank all hon. members who have intervened on this matter.

I appreciate the argument made by the hon. member for Outremont and those made by the other hon. members who intervened on this matter.

I will take the matter under advisement and review the events that have been described, and the arguments put forward and the arguments themselves, and come back to the House with a ruling in due course.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on Bill C-28, formerly Bill C-27. A little bit of history on the bill is important. This is a bill that will limit spam in this country and there are a number of different correspondence issues, not just email. There are several others I will get into later on, but it is important to recognize that this is important for Canada because we are the only one of the G7 countries that does not have a management style anti-spam bill. That is important for us to change.

New Democrats have been pushing for this for years and I want to touch at the beginning of my presentation a little bit on why we feel so strongly about the bill. It was formerly Bill C-27. With prorogation of Parliament that bill was shelved and did not go forward. We played a key role in getting that bill passed with the government. There were attempts to water it down by both the Bloc and Liberal members, but we made sure that the essence of the bill remained when there was lots of lobbying pressure from a number of different business and other organizations that rely upon electronic media. Some of it is done with good intent. Some of it is done with ill intent. But we were able to do that by taking out a provision where the government at one point was allowing a clause in the bill whereby if one had agreed to an electronic advertisement from someone that person could actually use that to go into one's computer and phish through it for further information. We had that clause taken out of the bill and compromised on that so we could move this forward.

Unfortunately, with prorogation, the government lost its opportunity and the bill died despite actually going through the chambers, and that is unfortunate because we did not get to have that legislation come to fruition. The bill reintroduced is taking quite some time in this latest government round. I am rather surprised it was not tabled during one of the first weeks post-election when we came back to the chamber. There certainly was a willingness on our side to get the bill moved forward and there were a few more changes added that were important to clean up the bill, but did not really essentially change anything. Then it moved quickly through committee and to this point in time.

It is a good opportunity for Canadians to revisit some of their rights in particular. I feel this is very much a social issue and a justice issue because when we look at the violations that go through spam it is not just the mere deleting and the pain of doing that, it is also a means of economically undermining people as well by phishing for information and privacy issues. It is important that the bill passes and I am hoping that it does so rather quickly in the other chamber when it goes there because it is critical.

What really defines New Democrats as different from the other parties in this are the rights people should have as users on computer systems and the Internet. This is something that I continually impressed on those who kept on pushing back on the bill. What I am referring to is the reality that when people buy a computer system, they pay the money. Then after that they pay for the use of the system not only through electricity, but also if it is activated on the Internet. They pay for the programs that are installed on computers that they use. They pay for all those elements out there.

At the same time, their rights were being ignored and, in my opinion, trampled on by others dumping all kinds of unwanted and unsolicited information and material, some of it even malicious, that affected computers, and that is wrong. There should be the rights of the users who pay for all of that, not just the initial outlay, but also the continuation of services every month through a provider. That is a key element that is important about this that gets overridden to a certain degree. With the explosion of the computer use and the Internet evolution, there were no rights granted to the user of any significant magnitude. As well, it allowed the introduction of a number of different commercials and even affects the performance of computers and the work people are doing by having malicious spyware and other types of things that end up on computer systems.

This is at the heart of it. Is this bill going to restore some justice to the Internet? Is it going to bring some accountability, bring Canada into this century in terms of its response and put penalties on those who do it?

For those who do not think it is a serious issue, I want to refer to a Cisco study that was done a couple of years ago. It found that there were around 200 billion messages per day and 90% of emails sent worldwide were spam. There were 200 billion messages per day being sent out to all kinds of people from all over the world and Canada, unfortunately, was one of the places that had spammers.

It was not individual people sending out that message. It was also those hijacking computers and creating what are called botnets. That is where people write programs and send out messages that would infect somebody else's computer so that people's computers become like zombies and send out a series of files, information and messages.

That happened to one of my accounts. It was hijacked and messages were sent out under my email address. A lot of people have faced this. That is why a lot of different software packages have been introduced. Because of the aggressive nature of those who are doing this, it has become an industry in itself just to police it. Various types of software are being used, which require constant upgrading to deal with all of the different infections taking place on computers.

What is important to recognize in that respect is that people are affected in a number of ways. Not only are their reputations affected by their names being tagged with material they do not approve of but it also affects the capabilities of their computers and sometimes their privacy.

There are also phishing scams to trick people. How that works is if people agree to something, there are unintended consequences that are not clear because there are no rules about that. Some people were giving out personal information, and there are those who said they knew what they were doing because they said yes.

We heard the argument from some of the people who use advertisements and so forth that once people agree, it is basically carte blanche. That is not fair and the reason is that yes, people made the mistake when they did it, but people are virtually learning on the computer every single day.

I know seniors today who are taking up the computer and its technology that they never had before, and they deserve protection from the government on that. The Internet has become very important, not only for communicating on social matters but also in allowing people to conduct their public and private affairs.

Public affairs means being connected to the world and communities and allows people to understand what is happening out there and to interact in that element, especially those who do not have the capabilities to get out any more, who do not have transportation or whatever the case may be. It is their connection to the community, and that has become clear through sites like Facebook and a whole series of other social media.

People use these avenues now to connect to their own community, not just to look at things or obtain information from across the globe, which they can do as well. It is very much part of people's lives, and those of neighbours, friends, family and so forth.

The second reason people deserve protection from the government and the forces who want fair play on the Internet is because people use it to conduct business, financial transactions such as paying bills, making investments and a whole series of things. Online elements have become critical for the daily administration of businesses and people's pocketbooks. That is key too.

There is the entertainment aspect as well, another critical part. People take part in everything from video games to movies. They can watch television now and a whole series of things. That is why with these elements of phishing, botnets and spam it is important to recognize the seriousness of it. It is not simply about deleting the thing that arrived in one's mailbox that was unwanted. It is about the abuse caused if one has those different elements affecting one's system.

New Democrats believe when a consumer buys equipment, programs and a service provider, the consumer's rights come first. That is an important difference. Technology will change even more. Some of the programs and the writers will become even more vicious. That is why it is important we start with the number one principle.

I will to refer to the international scene so we can get a clear understanding of this issue. Cisco reported that the United States was the single largest source of outgoing spam, accounting for 17.2% of all global spam. Canada was the fourth largest source with 4.7% of global spam. Behind the U.S., Turkey and Russia, Canada has a significant per capita.

The United States was referenced at 17.2% and Canada was at 4.7%. That is because the U.S. brought in what was affectionately known as the can spam bill. I hope Bill C-28 will be more effective than the American legislation, but we will see. It has been done with a bit more diligence.

Members will remember the legislation with respect to the do not call list. The government rushed it through and it failed miserably. It was an abuse on Canadians and an embarrassment to the government. We warned the government that it would not respond to the needs of Canadians.

There is a remedy. I took some criticism for supporting the government in a key vote on that legislation. I agreed to allow the minister to amend the do not call list legislation. I thought it was important for consumers to have that capability so I agreed with the government. Canadians want a do not call list that works. Improvements have been made to it and NDP members are happy with the changes.

I want to touch a bit on the types of information in the bill. I want to ensure people know that it is not just spam email defined under abuse. Instant media messaging, use net and user groups spam, web search engine spam, spam in blogs, wiki spam, online classified ad spam, mobile phone messaging spam, Internet form spam, junk fax transmissions and file sharing network spam are all included.

It is important to note that. Those who abuse these types of communication devices will be subject to a series of penalties and fines. I will get into that a bit later. There will be better enforcement power. There will be a better process to stop those who send messages in those different formats to people who do not want to receive them. It is key that be the case.

The spam that we are focusing on has a number of different cost factors. There is the overhead cost, which is electronic spamming, including bandwidth, developing or acquiring an email, wiki blog spam tool and taking or acquiring the zombie computer.

Materials used on a computer system, whether it be the actual computer itself, the server, the websites, the other tools and applications such as a dot design can get infected. They then have to be administered by new software upgrades, hardware upgrades, a series of different things depending on what the spam has done to the computer.

Say, for example, a web designer has to design another management system related to security provisions to block certain things coming in. A physical cost is going to be involved as well as a programming cost. That is basically lost productivity in the Canadian economy. There is a cost to people doing work because others have abused or caused problems maliciously.

There is also a transaction cost. The incremental cost of contacting each additional recipient when one method of spamming is multiplied by the number of recipients. There is risk of legal or public reaction, including punitive damages.

On the transaction cost, it is not only the cost of responding, but also the public image or whatever it might be. There could be any host of emails coming in that are disingenuous and presents one's company or oneself in an ill way. Often those affected have to physically spend the time to re-contact people.

Also, one's reputation may be at stake. If people have their names tagged to something they do not support, that can be very damaging to them, given some of the content that is on the Internet today. Companies can suffer from this as well. This is another cost.

As well, damage is another cost. Damage can take place in a number of different ways, from people's reputations to a community and other types of areas. For example, Canada is currently known as a spamming country. We know that other countries look at us in an unfavourable way because we have not dealt with spam in a responsible way until now.

Spam is also used in crime, and this is important. In our opinion, it is a violation of not only consumer rights, but it is crime. We have seen viruses, Trojan horses and malicious software, often with the objective of identity theft and fraud.

There are people who lose information. There is sensitive information on computers, for instance, payment of credit card bills, real estate or other types of transactions, and all types of purchases. We see more and more purchases through several different sites taking place now.

When people experience identity fraud, they face a series of things. First, they have to find out when it took place and what has gone out. As well, the damages are part of that. Whether it is credit card theft or the use of their names and IDs to do things on the Internet, that can significantly affect them.

Also, and this is important, some people are not used to using the Internet or are just learning to use it. They become pawns for those who are very clever about using this information, technology and the different types of spam. Basically, there are predators. If people are not skilled or do not know the full effects of what they are doing, it does not make it right that they are taken advantage of. The bill's increased fines and penalties will be a significant deterrent when we look at some elements that need to be changed.

I recognize the work of the 2004 national task force on spam, which went across the country. It got things going and unified Canadians around the rights of the spam bill. It is important that we recognize the task force.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, clause 47 lays out the punishments under summary conviction, which are fines in the range of $10,000 to $25,000. If it is not a first offence, it could be as much as $250,000.

During the debate today one of the issues that came out was the fact that there were no provisions within the bill for criminal sanctions. The question about deterrence for the actions of perpetrating these actions is a significant issue.

From the member's knowledge of the special committee report, were there discussions and suggestions with regard to the deterrence? Clearly prevention of these problems is far superior than to deal with them after we have them.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, the only time the discussions came up was when there was an attempt to water down some of the fines and penalties, which we opposed.

With the new system, it is a $1 million for a person up to $10 million for a company. Then there is a series of fines for businesses as well. They are improvements to what we currently have. The good thing about that is those also can be amended quite readily if we find that this does not work. The minister can do that through an amendment.

I am hopeful this will work. If it does not, I would encourage quicker action, like we have seen on the do not call list, and ensure those penalties are sufficient. It will be interesting to see.

There is also a private right of action that is now granted. Therefore, there are new elements that will hopefully provide a big enough stick.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, one of the issues we wanted to try to resolve today was in the case of the Facebook suit. In that case, the judgment was against the individual. We wanted to think in terms of that in the context of the bill. Had the bill been in force at that time, would the penalties under the act have had any application to that gentleman?

We know, for example, that the authorities will be proceeding by undertaking as much as possible. The CRTC will try to get the perpetrators to stop doing what they are doing. That probably would not have worked with this gentleman.

The second option is to look at fines of $1 million or $10 million in the case of companies. Clearly this gentleman declared bankruptcy and moved on. Therefore, that would not have worked.

The question is whether any sort of a criminal offence would have helped stop this person. Violations under C-28 are not criminal offences.

The debate today has been about whether this bill would have proper application to the Facebook case. Perhaps we will have to revisit the bill in two or three years and take another look at it. If more Facebook-like cases evolve and the bill does not apply, then we will have to haul it back and look at making tougher sanctions available to people who do what the Facebook operator did.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona brings up an excellent case. It is one of the things that we will have to witness. It should be a criminal offence.

I cannot say this enough. We believe people's rights are being invaded since they are paying on a regular basis to have this service. Therefore, there should be a penalty for everyone who is abusing these people. The bankruptcy situation, as noted by the member, is critical to it because it really does not give a measure back to the public for that.

We would be happy to revisit that immediately if we find transgressions like that continuing.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his clarification on that point.

Another concern we had was about the roll out of the legislation. The member knows that after having passed legislation and gone through all the processes of committee and testimony and so on, there would still be thousands of little businesses all over Canada that would not be aware that we passed the legislation. That can be upsetting to some of them as they try to adjust to the new rules.

Some of the new rules under the bill involve how they interact with their customer base. When the do not call list came out, businesses were concerned they would not be able to contact their existing customers to sell them a different type of product or service. It provided a lot of acrimony in some workplaces.

The issue I have is we cannot question government members because there are not any. Therefore, we are not sure what its roll out will be or what form it will take. Is there going to be advertising? Are businesses going to be mailed letters? Is there going to be a CD package sent out to businesses or business organization to consult with small business as to how they are supposed to implement the requirements of the act, as opposed to doing it piecemeal?

I have really no confidence that the government has the ability to roll out anything in any type of efficient manner.

I think we would want to ask these questions now before we start getting calls in our constituency offices from small businesses across the country, wondering what in the world the government has done. The fact is the intention of the bill is excellent. It is something we support. It is something that should have been brought forward long ago

I want to get some clarification from the member about these various points.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona is right again. Maybe they will use their used up Infrastructure Canada signs or something. I do not know. I have not seen what the government is going to do in terms of promoting this.

There will be a lot of small businesses that do not understand the rules. The rules get a little complicated. I did not have the time to go into it during the speech, but there are a number of ways that they can still reach out to customers for a certain period of time, 18 months. There is going to be a process for people who want to get that communication.

It is interesting, because it was a big challenge to get the provision maintained. If people want to opt out from an ad or actual spam or information coming in, whatever it might be, the businesses have to do that within 10 days. The banks complained about how onerous that was. Meanwhile, my bank was regularly sending me emails, every single day, but it did not have the time to take me off the list. The bank wanted to have 30 days to be able to take people off the list, which is ridiculous. It is actually going to be 10 days, which is reasonable.

That will be important, because there are different connections out there. There will still be family members, business contacts, a whole series of people who will continue to have those relations, and then the process has to be started of opting in and out of ads.

There is going to be confusion out there. I think it is actually going to take a couple of years, to be quite honest, for this to be fully understood by the public. I am hoping the government is going to do some promotion on this, because the sooner we can get to this and work on it, the sooner we can improve productivity in Canada.

It is always the workers who are blamed for lower productivity, but here is a case where bad laws and the lack of laws are actually pulling this country down and under.

In looking at the small businesses, there will be an opportunity for those that want to send out legitimate ads. They will have to learn new ways to do that. Also, employees and the businesses' own computer systems will no longer be dealing with the massive amount of junk that comes in that they do not need.

There is going to be a transition period. There is going to be a grace period as this takes place. The dates, times and all those things need to be clearly articulated. I think the government is going to put up some resources to do that. It will make money on those resources because productivity in this country will improve.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, we are debating BillC-28, which I must admit is a very important bill. A number of members have had an opportunity to speak on it, but I would like to read into the record the summary of the bill. The summary of a bill is usually a fairly good synopsis of what the bill would do.

The summary of Bill C-28 states:

This enactment establishes a regulatory framework to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain activities that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities.

It enacts An Act to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain activities that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities, and to amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Telecommunications Act, which prohibits the sending of commercial electronic messages without the prior consent of the recipient and provides rules governing the sending of those types of messages, including a mechanism for the withdrawal of consent. It also prohibits other practices that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities, such as those relating to the alteration of data transmissions and the unauthorized installation of computer programs. In addition, that Act provides for the imposition of administrative monetary penalties by the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission, after taking into account specified factors. It also provides for a private right of action that enables a person affected by an act or omission that constitutes a contravention under that Act to obtain an amount equal to the actual amount of the loss or damage suffered, or expenses incurred, and statutory damages for the contravention.

This enactment amends the Competition Act to prohibit false or misleading commercial representations made electronically.

It also amends the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act to prohibit the collection of personal information by means of unauthorized access to computer systems, and the unauthorized compiling of lists of electronic addresses.

Finally, it makes related amendments to the Competition Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission Act and the Telecommunications Act.

Most people would recognize this as the bill to deal with spam, but actually it is much more than that. So I took the opportunity to go back and look at the representations made to the House by the minister himself when the bill first came forward. I would like to quote a brief section of his speech in which he says:

Threats to the online economy include more than just spam. They include spyware, malware, computer viruses, phishing, viral attachments, false or misleading emails, the use of fraudulent websites, and the harvesting of electronic addresses.

Here is an interesting point. He says:

These threats are not just nuisances. Some are fraudulent, some invade privacy, and some are used to infect and gain control over computers. It is estimated that spam costs the worldwide economy $130 billion a year.

He goes on to say:

The bill before us contains important provisions that will protect Canadian businesses and consumers from the most harmful and misleading forms of online threats. It improves the privacy and economic security of Canadians in the electronic environment. It offers a host of clear rules that all Canadians will benefit from. It will promote confidence in online communication and electronic commerce.

The bill before us stakes out new ground in Canada.

Here is an interesting point:

Currently we are the only G8 country and one of only four OECD countries without legislation dealing with spam. This bill will rectify that situation.

In developing the bill, we have been able to incorporate the best practices of other countries that have launched similar efforts.

That is not exactly what the members said today in debate. It is kind of interesting. In fact, some members said that we have not even put forward legislation that takes into account all of the best practices of the G8 countries that have legislation in place. We have come up short on that. As a matter of fact, it was described that we are going to be playing catch-up. That point was made several times today during debate.

It is concerning because this is a very serious problem. We are ranked fifth in the world in terms of spam. I believe nine billion spam messages are received each and every day in Canada.

There is a cost associated with it. The worldwide cost is some $130 billion. Canada is fifth and we have about 10% of that. So we are talking about a lot of money, and based on the debate in the House, which has been substantively just opposition members, not enough rigour has been put in this bill to make sure that it is effective, the wish of the minister that this is going to be a good thing. We have missed the boat a bit.

One reason is that most of these problem areas come from international origins and they are beyond the reach of the laws of Canada. So all of a sudden we have to take out all these mass emailings sent out by persons who are not resident in Canada and are outside the reach of our laws. I will speak a bit more about that later.

The other part that was discussed very substantively during the day had to do with penalties. The infractions are under clauses 43 and 44, but with regard to the penalties, it says in subclause 47(1):

Every person who commits an offence under section 43 or 44 is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable

(a) to a fine of not more than $10,000 for a first offence or $25,000 for a subsequent offence, in the case of an individual; or

(b) to a fine of not more than $100,000 for a first offence or $250,000 for a subsequent offence, in the case of any other person.

It seems to stop there, ostensibly, in terms of the fines.

The point made in debate was that these are just fines. The growth of spam in Canada continues and we are playing catch-up. Despite the fact that this is proposing some fines, the argument has been that it does not seem to represent a sufficient deterrent to the perpetrators of, in many cases, the frauds.

Since the year 2000, online sales for Canadian companies have increased nearly tenfold. Ten years ago, online sales in our country were less than $7.2 billion. In 2007, the sales reached $63 billion. When we consider the magnitude of the economic activity going on in these unsolicited emails, we have to wonder whether, if someone gets caught, a fine of $10,000 or even $250,000 is going to be a significant deterrent from continuing the practices of spamming and the other forms of offences.

The point has been made a number of times that we missed the boat in terms of the penalties for offences. We have not taken into account that although the CRTC and the Competition Bureau will have the tools to impose fines, we do not have criminal sanctions here. There are going to cases, undoubtedly, where we are talking about billions of dollars that have been made by companies, without the fear of any criminal prosecution, just a fine. That, I believe, is a big flaw in this bill.

Regarding the admission that it did not go as far as other G8 countries and that we are playing catch-up, this bill has been around for five years. Previously it was Bill C-27. It is now Bill C-28 under a new Parliament, after prorogation and/or an election, but we are still playing around ostensibly with the same act.

If we look at the briefing notes, it is substantially still the same act. I really have to question whether there is a strategy to deal with the whole problem. The deterrents and penalties are certainly one aspect of it.

Recently, we have been dealing with some other pieces of legislation that I had an opportunity to deal with. One I think was just yesterday, a bill on tax treaties with Greece, Turkey and Colombia. It included the fact that we would be entering into information-sharing agreements with these countries.

It turns out that Canada has tax treaties with more than 90 countries around the world. We have relationships with virtually with every major economy around the world, and we do it because we want to eliminate double taxation, we want to deal with tax avoidance issues and we want to promote trade, et cetera. It is a good thing.

Why is it that we did not discuss information-sharing agreements on Internet abuses at the G8 and G20 summits? We paid $1 billion for one of those meetings. Surely we could have talked about some substantive matters, such as a problem that is costing the world $130 billion a year. It is not insignificant. That is 130 G8 meetings. That concerns me.

In the Income Tax Act there is a general anti-avoidance provision. Because there is a concern about being behind in our ability to keep up with the changes in technology and not even up to speed with what other G8 countries have been doing, we have the situation that, given how long it takes to bring forward new legislation and make the necessary changes, the time lag is so great that it is a tremendously expensive proposition when we know that it is going to grow.

I am wondering why the government did not pursue information-sharing agreements and things like the spirit of a general anti-avoidance provision, something that would say that notwithstanding what the act says, if the government believes people have done something that gets around the rules and in fact perpetrates fraud, the process of fraud or other offences under the act, it will be able to prosecute them as well, even though it may not be specifically in the act or have been contemplated.

That is why we have regulations to legislation. Rather than putting all the items in the legislation, we put them in regulations, which we can amend by orders in council fairly quickly. We do not need new legislation.

I am not sure at this point whether there was an opportunity missed. It would have been helpful to have built in some sort of a mechanism whereby the legislation, particularly in this case, was adaptable or was able to address emerging technologies and some of the issues that are coming out.

The other bill we dealt with recently that spurred some interest with me was the requirement for Internet service providers to report websites, et cetera, that had information or depictions of the sexual exploitation of children. The whole purpose of the bill was to require Internet service providers to report those things. It is an important element in the overall attempt to deal with the sexual exploitation of children.

Could this bill not have had a requirement or obligation for people who are involved or who become knowledgeable about the people behind some of these fraudulent activities to report? Intuitively people would say, “I respect the law, but I am not sure whether I am obligated to report if I become aware”. Maybe we should understand what the consequences are if we allow it to carry on, and perhaps there should have been some initiative that would have spurred people to report when it comes to their knowledge.

One of the experiences I have recently had, which most members have had, is that we received an unsolicited email apparently from a bank, which has the actual logo of TD bank or Scotiabank, for example. It purports to be our friend and tells us our account has been suspended and we have to get in touch with the bank, blah, blah. I printed that email before I deleted it and took it to the bank, which told me those things originate offshore and there is nothing banks can do about it, and that was about it. The banks ought to play a greater role in this. This is a big part of it. This is where there are people who prey particularly on seniors, the ones who are most vulnerable. When they are sent an email that says the bank has a problem and they have to get in touch, once they press the button and respond, they are in the system. Now they are targets. Now they are at risk.

We did not deal with that. We should have dealt with that. I do not know how. I am not saying I have the answers, but we should talk about it. Are other jurisdictions doing it? If these come from offshore, it is a case where we should have entered into information-sharing agreements and worked collaboratively with countries around the world? We certainly could have agreements with the 90 countries with whom we have tax treaties on matters that are harming all of us, when someone is in one jurisdiction and doing harm in another. We have seen that with regard to Switzerland and Liechtenstein with regard to tax havens, money-laundering and all kinds of things. When are we going to start entering into serious negotiations with our partners in trade and any other country that wishes to, for mutual benefit, to deal with these things? Where is the strategy? That is what is missing.

As I indicated, the penalty regime is not quite right. The issue with regard to dealing with the international situation seems to be ignored. We do not know what the dimensions are there.

The fact that it has taken five years already to get to this point does not send a warm fuzzy signal that we are really serious about this. Why does it take so long? When we bring bills in, why do we not start them with the minister or whoever is going to present the bill to the House and deal with it right through so that there is a continuity of the debate and a consensus that starts to develop? Second reading should be an opportunity for members to alert committee members to the kinds of concerns they have. This is where some of the fodder comes from in the legislative process. We cannot make any particular motions at second reading to change things, but we certainly can make recommendations to the committee and then make sure that committee is ready to deal with it. There is no point in putting forward a bill when there are 10 other bills waiting in a hopper to get into a committee, because it will not get dealt with for months.

In scheduling the House business, a particularly important legislation such as this seems to have been an orphan. I wish it had been dealt with quickly and, when it went through committee and came back here, we did not have debate last May and some more debate in September and now again in November. The continuity of the bill has been appalling. The issues have been on the table and this is something that has the support of all hon. members, all the parties. So why does the government drag this out in terms of how it schedules the bills for debate in the House? If it really cared about it, this would have been bang, bang, bang. The House leaders should have talked to each other. In the U.K. they have discussions to decide how many speakers there are going to be, they have the speeches and they deal with it.

I would suggest it is an important bill. I support the bill. The House will support the bill. We should get on with it, but the minister should know we are very concerned that we did not go far enough and that the bill may be a false start on the resolution of a very important problem.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I did appreciate the member's comments. I think he added a little more clarity to the issue than he did previously. I am reasonably happy with his explanation of how things would work.

The reality, though, is that the question was how this bill would have dealt with the issue of the Facebook case. The basis for adjudication under this bill is going to follow the route of the CRTC, going to the parties that are causing trouble and trying to deal with them and get an undertaking from them to cease and desist from what they are doing.

I agree that is the way we should proceed. As much as possible, we should get voluntary compliance before we go any further.

The second option is looking at the fines. The fines are $1 million for individuals and $10 million for organizations. There are a number of different options they could use to decide how much to fine them. If there a situation like Frank magazine, which used to incorporate each issue and say up front that it was going to publish whatever defamatory remark about people it wanted, then people could sue it, but each issue was incorporated. That is tantamount to this guy declaring bankruptcy. So that clearly did not work.

This bill does not offer any criminal options. There are no criminal offences under this bill. My suggestion is that, potentially, there may be instances, hopefully very few of them, where we may have to look at that option. That is why I asked why we were not hearing many government speakers on this whole issue, as to what happened in the other G7 countries that have had this legislation much longer.

Surely the government could have learned from the experience of the other countries. It could have tailored the legislation to take into account any deficiencies that these other countries found.

I also liked the member's idea about sharing information. This particular bill does allow for that, but he is talking about treaties, I believe, that would be signed individually, similar to the 90 double-taxation agreements we have with countries around the world.

By the way, the members should know that in the case of Panama, with which we are working on a free trade deal, Canada does not have a double-taxation agreement with Panama and yet France does. In six months, from February until now, France managed to get an agreement just by putting on pressure. However, that is a different issue and a different bill.

I would like to ask the member if he would give his comments about how he feels the government rollout of this bill should proceed, because I do see a potential for confusion with small business.

Could the member comment on this?

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to address the Facebook issue.

I think the member answered his own question. We are in a dynamic situation, obviously, in a number of areas, and we have to be able to respond. That means we have to be one step ahead. We have to anticipate, as much as we can, but then we have to build the flexibility into our legislation to be able to respond to new technologies and new strategies.

Just on taxation, some of these tax experts are wizards and they can find weasel holes to get through almost anything. We have the experience, but we do not seem to take advantage of it.

I want to emphasize one other point, and that is that we seem to spend a lot of money punishing people, putting them in jail and dealing with problems after we have the problem. I remember that when I first started as a member of Parliament, I was on the health committee. The health people came in and said that 75% of what we spend on health care is to fix problems and only 25% is on prevention, and it is unsustainable. That is proving to be true.

I do not see prevention here. I do not see public education. As a matter of fact, the Privacy Commissioner who is responsible for PIPEDA, who is going to have a role in here, does not even have public education in her mandate, even though the committee I chaired asked for it. The Minister of Justice, responsible for the bill, said that he was perfectly happy with the act and that we do not need it.

We need to be smarter. We need to work smart not hard. Smart legislators will say we need public education to get people to be part of the solution, because if they are not they are going to be part of the problem.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to delve into the do not call list issue with the member.

The member will recall that when the government introduced the do not call list legislation, it was very popular with the public initially. The public phoned in by the thousands to get on the do not call list. We found out later on that the people who phoned in to get on the do not call list were actually getting more calls after they were put on the list. That did not work out very well.

What we have with this legislation is that the do not call list legislation will eventually be eliminated and will be covered, I assume, by this legislation over time.

Once again, it takes us back to how the government rolled out the do not call list legislation in the first place. The fact is that small businesses across the country were very confused. There was debate within all these little offices about who one could contact and who one could not. Previously, real estate agents were able to contact people with whom they had been doing business with previously and then the rules were changing on them. There was a lot of confusion under the do not call list legislation and I think there will be now on this legislation. I would like to ask the member to comment on that.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the member's point is well taken. It is the roll out. It is one thing to have a piece of legislation. The other is to have a piece of legislation that is operable and efficient.

I can give one example. At the finance committee today we had the finance minister and his officials before us on the budget implementation act, the second bill. I asked them about the tax free savings accounts because in that bill there needs to be amendments dealing with deliberate overcontributions and prohibited investments. There were about five different amendments dealing with tax free savings accounts. If people put up to $5,000 a year in this account, the income they earn on it is not taxable. Real complex.

However, there are more amendments happening in Bill C-47 on tax free savings accounts than the legislation segment creating it.

I basically told the officials that they had not done their job. Where was the due diligence? Where was the consultation? Where was the anticipated question? Where was the roll out plan and how were we going to be sure that this thing worked, when we had anticipated all of the things that people would do, particularly some of these shrewd tax planners.

We do not seem to work smart. We work hard. We have jillions of people. I was told we had sign-offs at every level but not one of them contemplated what to do if there was an overcontribution. It is obscene.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, a recent study from California demonstrated how spammers profit from their activities by shifting the cost traditionally borne by marketers to the recipients of spam, namely Internet users, and, although many people immediately delete spam messages, the study found that spammers remain profitable even with very low response rates.

Given the fact that I have a vast riding with a few communities are seeing more and more seniors, Elliot Lake in particular, and spam is very problematic. We have seniors who are accessing the Internet for their daily necessities because they cannot go out. We have some of the most vulnerable people, people with intellectual disabilities, people with physical disabilities, relying on the Internet.

I think it is finally time that we do have spam legislation in place. I wonder whether the member believes that the bill would actually assist in preventing some of these people from being taken through fraud. They often think they are getting a good deal but the next thing they know they are not. They are being taken advantage of.