Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-59 even if the other parties have had no real interest in seriously debating or discussing it. Today we are here so the Bloc and Conservatives can pay lip service to getting tough on crime.
Bill C-59 is hastily prepared legislation that introduces sweeping changes to the Criminal Code that would alter the parole rules for every non-violent first-time offender, regardless of the severity of the crime. The Bloc struck a backroom deal with the Conservatives, which we know, to fast-track the bill without any serious committee study or consultation with victims. Interestingly enough, the Quebec bar has said that it does not agree with the position that has been taken by the Bloc. In fact, it said:
The Québec Bar would like to state its opposition to Bill C-59 concerning accelerated parole and conditional release, which you introduced in the House of Commons on February 9.
Firstly, the Bar is opposed to the retroactive effect of the proposed legislation. ...we would like to point out that some people chose to plead guilty after considering the advantages of accelerated parole. Changing the sentencing rules after these people have made their decisions and their choices is unfair and opens the door to constitutional challenges.
Secondly, the Québec Bar believes that before this bill is passed, it should go through the same process as all legislation, including a thorough study of the advantages and disadvantages of the current legislation and an impact study of the proposed changes. The findings of these studies should be made public so that there can be informed debate on this issue.
We can all agree that serious cases of white-collar fraud have been terribly damaging to families across Canada and particularly in Quebec. We share the anger and frustration that is felt when serious criminals have their sentences reduced.
Over a year and a half ago, the Liberal Party called for legislation to put an end to parole for white-collar criminals who have only served one-sixth of their sentences. The Liberal Party was the first party to put forward a comprehensive proposal to deal with white-collar crime.
The Conservatives could have supported the proposals made by us concerning parole but they chose to play politics instead and fraudster Vincent Lacroix was given conditional release. Now they are simply trying to do damage control and win some votes in Quebec. They had the chance but they were not concerned with protecting victims at that time.
The Liberal caucus wants to see the current flawed proposal amended so that it better reflects the high standard Liberal position that we had previously put forward that better targets the real problem: the serious white-collar fraudsters who should not be eligible for early parole. The other parties seem intent on making it look as though we are not supportive of ensuring that white-collar fraudsters are not eligible for early parole. Again, this is not the case at all and their position is deceitful.
Two years ago, several of my colleagues participated in a press conference with the victims of Earl Jones' Ponzi scheme. We were calling for increased measures to protect victims of white-collar crimes then. We were asking the government to move quickly on this matter and to introduce legislation that would eliminate one-sixth accelerated parole for white-collar criminals. We were especially concerned with eliminating early parole for fraudsters who have multiple victims and have inflicted serious financial damage to individuals and families.
I am wondering why the Conservatives have taken so long to get down to doing anything about this problem and, when they do it, it is ill thought out and flawed to the core. Instead of trying to rush this legislation through Parliament, we are asking for serious debate and discussion on a very serious matter. Making legislation as a belated knee-jerk reaction to an issue is highly emotional and is no way to conduct the business of Parliament.
What needs to be done is that experts in the judicial field need to be consulted and the committee must carefully consider all the options that are available, as is now being proposed by the Quebec Bar. This is too important a matter not to be looked at thoroughly.
We are all aware of the devastating consequences that white-collar crimes have on the lives of people. We are all becoming more aware of the need to be vigilant in protecting our investments and who we trust with our money.
We are all in agreement that action needs to be taken to ensure white-collar criminals are held accountable for their crimes, which can be just as devastating to the well-being of people as violent crimes. We have been asking the government to take action for some time now. It is only now getting around to it.
The spectre of white-collar crime is increasing. In the past, white-collar crimes tended to be considered victimless crimes. When people thought of white-collar crimes, they typically thought of crimes being committed against large corporations and governments.
However, with the advent of the likes of Bernie Madoff in the United States and Earl Jones in Canada, we have seen the human face of fraud and devastating consequences it has for hundreds, if not thousands, of people. People have reacted with anger and frustration at these crimes and the men who willingly carried them out over the years.
The entire life savings of people have been wiped out and investments completely disappeared, leaving them with nothing and no chance to ever recover.
As we know, under the current system, white-collar offenders can be released after as little as one-sixth of their sentence in prison for their crimes. Bill C-59 could give us all a chance to change this and to support Canadians who have become the victims of crime, if the government would take the time to get this legislation right.
The Liberal Party has always considered helping victims of crimes to be at the core of our justice policies and we have always supported victims to ensure their voices are heard.
The Liberals have repeatedly said, since the revelation of the criminal activities of Earl Jones, that the current government needs to focus its criminal legislation amendments on protecting victims and preventing crimes.
Back in 2009, we suggested that the country needed tougher sentences for white-collar criminals. The laxity of the current legislation has made Canada an attractive place for those who wish to rip off their fellow citizens. As a country, we need to ensure that the consequences of such actions are stringent enough to truly deter this type of criminal activity.
Keeping our laws focused on protecting Canadians means that we need to go further than simply addressing the penalties in place for those who would seek to defraud hard-working Canadians. The government needs to help victims by negotiating international treaties that would allow stolen money being held overseas to be tracked and returned to the rightful owners.
Furthermore, the Conservative government needs to revamp Canada Revenue Agency procedures regarding tax moneys paid by victims on fictitious interest payments. Law-abiding Canadians who have diligently filed their tax returns and paid the calculated income tax based on documents with false amounts, provided to them by people engaged in criminal activity, should be entitled to a refund of any tax moneys paid on non-existent interest payments.
If it wants to understand the Liberal position, I ask the government to read the transcripts of the hearings that the justice committee held on Bill C-21, the white-collar bill. There it will find that the Liberals supported that bill. The government might want to also check the media coverage of a press conference held over two years ago, in which Liberals called on the government then to remove the one-sixth accelerated parole release for white-collar criminals.
In the justice committee this past fall, when the white-collar crime bill was being examined, it was a Liberal member who brought in an amendment that would have eliminated the one-sixth accelerated release or early parole release, as it is commonly called, for white-collar criminals and major fraudsters.
The amendment was subsequently ruled out of order by the Conservative chair. A Liberal MP challenged the chair and the Conservatives and the Bloc formed an alliance and voted to uphold the chair's ruling. They were the ones who voted against eliminating the one-sixth early parole option.
The government may want to check its facts before making such ridiculous claims that the Liberals do not support victims.
We are calling on the government to make the proper amendments to this legislation. As with all other Conservative tough on crime bills, this one would introduce sweeping changes to the Criminal Code that would unfairly target all people who have been guilty of a criminal offence. This is contrary to our justice system, which also aims at rehabilitating and reforming those who have committed offences. Parole does exist for a tried and tested reason and it does offer a second chance to those who have demonstrated their willingness to change to come back into the fold of society as co-operative, productive and contributing members.
The government has made a pact with the separatists to fast-track the bill without any serious committee study. There has been no consultation with victims or legal experts. There has been no discussion of this matter until Friday.
The impact of white-collar crime costs taxpayers and the treasury a lot of money because of the complex investigations that have to be conducted. The fraudsters are committing fraud against those vulnerable people. Fraud is not victimless. Fraud preys on the weak and the vulnerable in society. The Liberals support sending the bill to committee because we believe it is the right thing to do.
The principles behind the stricter sentencing rules are very important. However, we also know that they are not enough to prevent these frauds from happening. Sentencing is important, but prevention is equally important in white-collar crime.
The question is why the government will not use this opportunity to do more and do it properly. The opposition and the public have been calling on the government to end the one-sixth accelerated parole provision for these types of offenders and the government has not acted yet. We hope that by sending it to committee, we can have some thoughtful discussion and develop solid legislation.
Let me be clear. The Liberal Party is more than supportive of eliminating the one-sixth accelerated parole provision. We support this in principle. What we do not support is the railroading of legislation through Parliament based on shady backroom deals made between the government and the Bloc. This is simply unacceptable. This is not the way Parliament should work. It is not what Canadians expect of those who represent them in the House.
The government, with the support of the NDP, has already given white-collar criminals a free pass by voting down a Liberal amendment that would have ensured a two-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for criminals who defrauded the public through things like Ponzi schemes.
I guess it is not enough that the Conservative government so passively watches as seniors living in poverty rise by an alarming 25%. Now, with the help of the NDP, the Conservatives have made sure that those same seniors get no justice when they have been bilked of their life savings by white-collar criminals like Earl Jones.
The Liberal Party tried to get the Conservatives' white-collar crime Bill C-21 amended so it would cover stock manipulation and Ponzi schemes, like the $50 million scheme perpetrated by Earl Jones that ended up wiping out the personal savings of nearly 150 investors.
Victims groups came to Ottawa last year to appear before the parliamentary justice and human rights committee to not only request stiffer sentences for white-collar crime, but also for a longer period before which a while-collar criminal could make an application for parole, up from the one-sixth of sentence that exists today.
If the truth be known, the current government has been soft on white-collar crime in general.
Consistent with his neo-conservative ideology of privatization and deregulation, the Prime Minister wants greater self-regulation of Canada's financial industry. The Conservatives already put forth a plan in the 2007 budget to adopt principles-based regulation of the securities and financial industry. The problem is business principles are, by nature, about making money, not about looking out for the welfare of the public.
Now the government is gung-ho to make sure it looks tough on white-collar criminals. This is typical Conservative too little, too late scheme of preying on the emotions of victims of white-collar crime. If the government had been listening to Canadians all along, and to the Liberal Party, it would have known this was an issue years ago and that it should have been dealt with when the Liberal Party first brought it forward.
The government has never handled white-collar crime effectively. We can think of examples from the corporate world, such as Bre-X Minerals and Nortel. It has taken years for the government to proceed with cases against these corporate offenders. As far as it goes for individual investors, such as the victims of Earl Jones, the system has long been handing out slap on the wrist punishments to those who deliberately steal from others.
The government has only recently taken a serious look at white-collar crime, and that has been at the insistence of the Liberal Party. It has taken the government too long to realize that an aging and vulnerable population has been targeted by sophisticated financial criminals for years.
Denial always comes with compound interest. This means that being too soft for too long on white-collar criminals has a steep price attached. It has undermined confidence in our financial markets, especially in the international community, and it has created a political problem.
The government has failed to protect seniors who have been duped out of their life savings. It is seniors who have been most victimized precisely because they do have savings and they do make investments to help cover the costs of retirement. These costs of retirement are very high. In fact, today, rising costs impact seniors whether it is the cost of home heating, or it is the cost of food and medicines. All these costs have to be considered by seniors in their retirement. The little they have in the way of savings, they try to invest time and time again to ensure that they have some additional money. Look what happens when they are taken for a ride.
We support the government as it now tries to toughen up the laws that deal with white-collar crime. However, there is always the risk that the fundamental flaws in this system will be glossed over because such action is taken hastily and without thought.
Financial crimes are generally very complicated to unwind. That is only one reason why law enforcement agencies, many of which have suffered budget and staff cuts, take so long to assemble the cases against fraudsters. The advent of the Internet and other sophisticated technology has only made it harder to keep up with these criminals, but the government has failed to adequately fund law enforcement agencies that would investigate and bring white-collar criminals to justice.
Different jurisdictions and regulations from province to province also complicate matters, as does the international component of investigations. The fact that there is no single national securities regulator to enforce one set of standardized rules does not help matters either.
These are some of the reasons why we insist the government take the time to get the legislation right once and for all. It needs to work with the legislators in Parliament and recognize how important it is to deal with white-collar crime. It needs to find away to work together and acknowledge the fact that the right thing to do is to send this to committee to see if we can get it right.
We do not need to rush this legislation through Parliament. We need to take our time to consider the legislation and to consult with the experts and victims. The victims are the ones who have been unfairly targeted by white-collar criminals. We need to listen to them. We need to hear what they have to say. We need to learn from their experience. We also need to talk to legal experts. We need to send this to committee so the House can get the legislation right.