Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-21. Following on the remarkable comments of my friend and colleague from the justice committee and the Bloc member's comments, it is a good theme to continue.
Much of the Conservatives' anti-crime agenda purports to help victims. It purports to take victims' rights over those of offenders, over those of politicians, over those of many other groups in the community. However, much of what they actually do in terms of the legislation has little positive impact on the victims at all.
I think in the area of white collar crime more than anything where what was taken away, in terms of assets or wealth, is sought to be restored, this is the most apt example of how not seizing on the goal of anti-white collar crime, which is the restoration, restitution, recovery of wealth lost, the government is doing a disservice.
In other forms of crimes, I suppose one could argue very cogently that that which was taken away, whether it was life, liberty, or sense of security, cannot be easily returned. They are not things that are in the marketplace. It is very difficult in the case of a violent crime to return the victim's sense of security. It is not a market commodity.
In this case, however, we are talking about the victims of white collar crime whose wealth, nest eggs and futures have been stolen through deceitful and fraudulent means by someone else. It would seem to me that in addition to increasing penalties, which is really all this bill would do, the government, which has now been in power for five years, even administratively without having to come to this place, which it really does not like to do very often anyway as its record on prorogation shows, might have administratively notched up its game on the recovery of assets.
Instead, as I will show in my speech, it has been left to the devices of the provinces with respect to their powers under property and civil rights.
I want to apologize in advance if my speech seems a little familiar, but there is a recurring theme on these bills in justice. I sit on the committee; I have for five years. All the time we see bills, and this case is no different, that seem to the other side to be strong electorally and politically, but not so strong on policy.
We have seen bills on auto theft, on the reporting of child Internet pornography, and now this one on white collar crime, all of which have pithy and exciting titles which, on a quick reading of the short title, would lead people to believe that the problem is solved, that we have a cure and there will be no more white collar crime, no more child pornography, no more auto theft.
That is not at all the case. The government's steps are baby steps toward those evils in our community and, as with all Conservative government agendas, the sound bite of the short title is more important than the pith and substance of the legislative tool.
The government's publicity machine will go to work and tell everyone that Bill C-21 emphasizes standing up for the victims of white collar crime and that Canadians will feel a lot safer about their nest eggs.
Electorally it is a gamble. There is the saying that one can fool all of the people some of the time, or one can fool some of the people all the time, but the message to the government today on these legislative bills toward crime with their very sexy short titles is that the government cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
It has been five years. We have to start thinking in the Parliament of Canada that the Conservatives have driven the government's legislative agenda for five years. I would love to see a survey as to whether people feel safer in all areas, but let us concentrate on white collar crime. I would love to know whether people feel they are less likely to be made the victims of losing their nest eggs and fortunes than five years ago when many of the tools that the Conservatives possess as government could have been used.
Let us take a quick look at the history. It has been a very prolific period these last five years for embezzlers and fraudsters. Today, Madoff and Earl Jones are household names, but they were not 5 or 10 years ago. There has been a real run on fraud, Ponzi schemes, investment schemes, direct mailing and direct investment schemes. These have taken a lot of wealth out of communities in Canada, largely from people who have saved all their lives for retirement, which in some cases now they cannot afford.
If we look at the title of this bill, it is obvious the bill falls short of the expectations. It does not make Canadians safer. The Earl Joneses and Vincent Lacroixs of this world are still around. Last month, in fact, Carole Morinville was arrested in Montreal in another Ponzi scheme investigation. These investigations are not carried out solely by the Conservative Party or the government; they are all conducted by police forces.
What do we hear from police forces? They are under-resourced. What do we hear from the government? The government says that it has added 1,000 more RCMP members. It has not. It is a shell game. The government does not deliver on what it promises with respect to manning police forces across the country. Ask any police force that question.
Ask the people of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe whether they are happy that the government has not moved on giving the 10% subsidy it gives to every other RCMP force in Canada, except the one in Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. That is the same as saying that one out of ten crimes will not be investigated or prosecuted. That may be okay for the nine cases where the criminals are prosecuted, but what about that other case? There will never be the chance to have an investigation and prosecution in that other case because the government will not stand up for its principles with respect to prosecuting criminals.
The government has been in power for five years and gives lip service with short titles and publicity bills. It is not enough. Over five years, as I have mentioned, serious things have happened. White collar crime is far more serious than it was when I was first elected.
White collar crimes and tax fraud are very serious problems. These crimes wreak havoc on the lives of victims. People can lose an entire lifetime's worth of savings overnight. When people lose their entire life savings, they lose faith in the idea that if they are doing their part, if they work, they will get their fair share.
This nation-wide loss of faith is dangerous because it can be passed on from one person to the next. The government is thus called upon to take action to protect the victims of these financial crimes and to protect people's faith in the integrity of the financial system. We all saw the damage that a pyramid scheme or Ponzi scheme can cause to the victims and to a country's reputation when Bernard Madoff was caught in the United States. We cannot allow such a thing to happen again.
We cannot stand by idly. The bill simply does not follow up on its promise to protect victims of white collar crime entirely. What does a mandatory minimum sentence of two years do for the victims of Earl Jones when he is already in jail under sentence for 11 years?
The lessons of the Madoff affair in the United States tell us that the damage to the victims would have been far less if the financial authorities had been better empowered by regulation and better equipped in resources and staff to apprehend and stop the carnage.
Why is the government peddling its minimum sentences into this area? Is this comforting to the victims of Earl Jones? He is in jail for 11 years. There may be a requirement to reconsider a restitution order, but the money is usually gone. The money is gone and the person is usually locked away for more time than the mandatory minimum set out in the bill.
I really think the government should take the next step outside of an amendment to the Criminal Code and review the financial regulatory system and the funding of our financial regulation enforcement, because it is what Canadians need to protect their investments.
The response from the finance minister might be that the Conservatives have a financial regulation overhaul, review and reform under way, that they are proposing a single regulatory agency, which will be voluntary, and will be located in Toronto. I assume that is the plan; it is where the finance minister is from. I have not heard a lot of people against that in the government, but if it was suggested it be moved to Moncton, they might have a different song to sing. I have nothing against Toronto. There is no question that the TSX is the largest index in the country.
It is an issue of provincial regulation. We have seen the government step into areas of provincial domain on many occasions before. Occasionally it takes a first ministers conference on these issues to decide what are the real ills in society with respect to white collar crime and what are the tools best suited to combat them.
People whose life savings have been taken away by a scheme will not be comforted by a Criminal Code amendment. They might be comforted by a federal-provincial announcement that a joint task force, which applies throughout the country, will concentrate on cracking down on Ponzi schemes and fraud in the general sense. They might, at that press conference, say that they are quite comfortable with the Criminal Code and with what has existed before.
If the justice minister had a TV show, it might be called “PJ”, pure justice. The Conservatives march in here before the evening news with a bill to protect Canadians from white collar crime, and the government indicates that is the cure. What Canadians will not know, and maybe it is our job to let them know, is that part X of the Criminal Code between sections 380 and 432, and on pages 280 to 304 of the short version of the code, those 25 pages in the compact pocket Criminal Code cover fraud.
So on the idea that someone looking at a newscast would think the government is enacting new legislation, legislation that did not exist before, that is just misleading.
We ought to say, yes, there are some amendments here that we can certainly stand behind, no question. But our response is three-fold.
First, these are minor amendments to the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code already has provisions in place to combat fraud.
Secondly, there is so much more that the government could have done in five years in office, working with the provinces to surgically crack down on the sources of fraud through the regulatory reforms that might be proposed.
Finally, if the government really cared about moving legislation along, especially legislation such as this that is not going to be opposed, why did it prorogue? Why did the government limit debate? Why did it shut down Parliament if it really wanted bills passed?
It is a good question, but we have never heard a real good answer. We did hear the word “recalibration”. Tell that to the victims of white collar crime. We could tell them that we are waiting to crack down on white collar crime, so could they recalibrate their losses? That one would not really fly.
There were fake fears about the governance of the country. People who have lost their savings want a government that will respond.
They might be shocked to know that, five years after the government took power, there was a bill that moved the yardsticks a little bit, a bill that no one would really object to, that could have been passed a long time ago, but the Prime Minister and his gang decided to pull the plug on Parliament, so it could not be passed. People should know that every time the plug is pulled on Parliament by prorogation, bills that are on the order paper, bills such as this, are killed. Prorogation stops everything.
This bill had a previous incarnation, called Bill C-52. It never became law because it was stopped in its tracks, and here we are, debating Bill C-21.
Ironically, sometimes the new incarnation is better. Because they have let it go so long, there are changes in the communities and in law enforcement techniques that have been incorporated into the new bills. So the argument that it is exactly the same bill and we are just bringing it back in every case does not fly. We want to hear the evidence to date about what is going on, in order to get the best bill on the books to combat white collar crime.
What was the reason for prorogation? Did the government think opposition parties were for white collar crime? Has anyone ever seen in a pamphlet, on the news, on the airwaves, in the blogisphere, in Twitter, Facebook or otherwise, that any Liberal, NDP or Bloc member is for white collar crime? Has anybody ever stood up and said that? I do not think so. It is preposterous. So why did the government not come forward earlier with this legislation?
The chairman of the justice committee asks, why do we not fast-track the 80 bills, or whatever number there are now? Why can we not get the job done? Why do we not stand up for Canada? It is a tired speech. The Conservatives are the ones who pulled the plug on their own bills, cutting off their nose to spite their face, and when they do come forward with legislation, it only effects change in the most minor of ways.
Carole Morinville is the case that I mentioned a minute ago. She was an unlicensed security adviser who was arrested for what financial authorities believed to be another Ponzi scheme. That case might have been better dealt with by a task force, by people knowledgeable in the financial regulation industry. It might have been something that the government would oversee and help with, rather than saying that opposition parties are against bills with Criminal Code amendments that really do not affect what is going on out there.
I have gone on at some length about the government attitude of not really helping victims. The provinces have really leap-frogged the federal government. We have seen it with respect to auto theft and many other areas, such as white collar crime.
Since the government came to office, a number of provinces have ratcheted up the provisions they have under the property and civil rights sections of the Constitution to enhance their powers of seizure and forfeiture for crimes committed, and not just in the white collar crime area. The provinces did that pretty much on their own, because they were not getting a lot of legislative resources through funding of policing or joint task force help from the federal government.
Then the other end of it is, what could the government have done with respect to the proceeds of white collar crime? It does not all just disappear into ether; it does not just disappear into thin air.
There is no way Bernie Madoff could have spent all the money he took, nor Earl Jones, so it went somewhere. The usual suspects are the international banking community. What has the government done with respect to international banking reform?
When we bring up the government and the international stage, we could be here for days talking about how it has embarrassed Canada, whether it is a seat on the United Nations, whether it is Copenhagen, whether it is the environment, and so on. But what has it done with respect to reforming the international banking system? What pronouncement has come forward from the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and others with respect to saying, “We want to crack down on white collar crime because we know where some of this money may be going; we have looked into it; we are doing our job; we are getting the job done”? They are not getting the job done. We have heard of no serious reforms in this regard.
What Canada needs, much as every other country, is an overarching national scheme of financial regulation with international components. We cannot wait for these crimes to happen and then say that we will be tough on crime with mandatory minimums. This approach is proven not to work. It will not keep Ponzi schemes from happening and it will not bring the money back to our church programs, our school programs, the family nest eggs and investment funds and community funds in general that have disappeared. We need to stop these funds from being defrauded in the first place, before it is too late.
The case I come back to in conclusion is that of Carole Morinville, who was not even an accredited investor. She should never have got her hands on the honest citizens' investments. At the very least there should have been officials with some authority tracking her activity to stop her before it was too late.
What it comes down to is resources and support beyond tinkering with the Criminal Code. The government has not shown its trust in police officials by funding them adequately. It has not shown its co-operation with provincial and territorial partners by having adequate and frequent meetings on this topic. It has not stuck its head out of the foxhole of its own parochialism on the international stage to be even a follower, let alone a leader, on reforming the international banking system to find the money that has left so many Canadians destitute and without hope.
As parliamentarians, we must restore hope in the system. I hope the government will get to work on these needed reforms.