Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the office of my party’s whip for allowing me to spend the next 20 minutes speaking to an exciting bill about identity theft.
This bill is a singular phenomenon in our legislative process. It came from the Senate first. I do not understand why the government did not lay it before this House and the dynamic Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. True, we do have a number of bills to analyze, but it seems to me that it would have been a sign of great deference if we, in our capacity as agents, as representatives and spokespeople for the public, could have had this bill laid before us first.
Identity theft is on the rise in Canada as it is in other countries. This phenomenon can produce some extremely awkward situations for our fellow citizens. Only this morning, I met someone whose credit card had been cloned. Someone had thus had $5,000 stolen from their credit card. It is easy to imagine not only how insecure this can make a person feel, but also what problems they may have in resolving the situation with the financial institutions. Even though most of them agree to reimburse a person who has been the victim of what is, to say the least, a distressing act, it is still an extremely difficult thing to experience and resolve.
The purpose of Bill S-4, which went first to the Senate before being introduced in the House, is to combat identity theft. When we talk about identity theft, we are talking about the unauthorized collecting and use of personal information, ordinarily for criminal purposes. This is nominative information, such as name, date of birth, address, credit card number, social insurance number, or any other personal identification number that can be used to open a bank account, obtain a credit card, have mail forwarded, subscribe to a cell phone service, lease a vehicle or equipment or an office, and even get a job.
With its usual wisdom and judgment, the Bloc Québécois will support this bill, which seems to it to be reasonable and to properly represent Quebec’s interests. We are opposed to bills that do not reflect the values and aspirations of Quebec. We fiercely oppose any bill that attempts to intrude into areas under provincial jurisdiction.
Bill S-4 will mainly create three new offences. First, obtaining and possessing another person’s identity information with the intent of using it in a misleading, deceitful or fraudulent manner in the commission of a crime is an offence liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years. Trafficking in identity information is the second offence. Here we are talking about an offence that targets people who sell information to a third party, knowing or being reckless as to whether it might be used for criminal purposes. The third offence, in addition to obtaining and possessing identity information or trafficking in identity information, relates to possession or illegally trafficking in identity documents issued by the government or that contain information about another person.
Those are the three main offences created by Bill S-4. I would note again that identity theft and the use of personal information for purposes other than those consented to by the person for whom it is intended are on the rise in Canada.
This certainly has to do with the development of our means of communication and new technologies.
Other changes have been made to the bill. If I had my druthers, I would be talking about the conflict in the Middle East, but I am afraid it would not be relevant to what we are debating here and so I will not.
The Criminal Code provides for other offences under Bill S-4. A new offence of redirecting mail or causing it to be redirected is created.
There is also the new offence of the possession of a Canada Post mail key. Such a key would obviously be counterfeit.
Additional forgery offences are proposed, such as trafficking in forged documents and the possession of forged documents with intent to use them.
Another new offence is the re-naming of personation, which is called identity fraud.
The final offence that is added is a further refinement of the meaning of fraudulently personating another person.
I think it is probably my responsibility to mention that the bill provides for two exceptions which shield people from forgery charges if they produce counterfeit documents for secret government operations. This protects public servants who shadow people, engage in electronic eavesdropping or infiltrate groups. These public servants would be protected under this bill when they are tasked by responsible law enforcement agencies with creating and using secret identities in connection with their jobs. If they are hauled before the courts for unauthorized duplication, counterfeiting, forgery, or the appropriation someone’s personality, they have a defence that will make them immune.
The Bloc Québécois does not doubt that this bill is necessary. There is even a burning need for it. We all know people among our friends or in our families who have experienced unauthorized use of their credit card or debit card or some other people who have had their identity appropriated for nefarious ends.
Identity theft is becoming very widespread. The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimated that consumers, banks, credit card companies, stores and other businesses lost $2.5 billion as a result of identity theft or the cloning of credit cards or other cash substitutes of this kind.
In 2006, Phone Busters received some 7,800 calls from victims of identity theft reporting total losses of over $16 million for themselves or for businesses. The scope of the problem is apparent.
According to a survey Ipsos-Reid did in 2006, one Canadian in four—so about 25% of the population or 5.7 million Canadians—said they had been a victim of identity theft.
We might wonder why we need the Criminal Code to fight identity theft effectively.
When it is a matter of organized crime, importing and exporting stolen vehicles, drugs, when lengthy investigations are necessary, when we want to address the smuggling of certain products, then we can understand that criminal law is probably the best route under the circumstances. But when it comes to identity theft, credit card cloning and phenomena that often have to do with ownership or the real ownership of identity papers, might civil law not be the better route?
The former Privacy Commissioner told a House of Commons committee that the real solution to identity theft would require civil sanctions. She said:
Civil sanctions... are very easy to prove and easy for citizens [to understand].
She was of course referring to civil law as opposed to criminal law. As we know, criminal law is far more complex because, for each offence, there must be proof that the individual not only intended to plan or to take a criminally reprehensible action, which is termed mens rea, but also actually performed that act, which is termed actus reus. In civil law, the proof is far easier to establish, because it is not proof beyond all reasonable doubt, but proof by balance of probability.
The Privacy Commissioner said:
Civil sanctions... are very easy to prove and easy for citizens [to understand]. Small claims courts [there is one in Quebec and I imagine also in English Canada]...may provide a more easily accessible deterrent to the growing industry of ID theft. This means, of course, that I think the federal government has to work closely with the provinces, because a lot of what happens in terms of ID theft falls within provincial jurisdiction.
This poses a problem, because on matters of civil law, the federal government needs to work closely with the provinces, especially Quebec. Quebec is not only the main place where French is spoken in Canada, but also the only province with a civil law system.
That means that the government will have to be flexible, courteous, kind, open and skilful. I must say that these are not qualities the government has been known for in intergovernmental relations.
We need only consider the cavalier way in which the federal government treated Quebec's demand for financial compensation in connection with the harmonization of the sales tax and the GST. The National Assembly of Quebec had even passed a unanimous motion. We need only look at how the government has handled cultural issues and the reconveyance of land adjacent to the National Assembly of Quebec and on the Plains of Abraham.
This is a government that has chosen the federalism of confrontation. It has chosen to be completely insensitive to complaints and, in some cases, even demands that were unanimously supported by the National Assembly of Quebec.
We could go on and on about the Conservative government's insensitivity to the provinces' complaints. If my colleague, the likeable and charming member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, were here, he would certainly give the example of the Kyoto protocol, which has to do with greenhouse gases, and the battle that Quebec and the National Assembly of Quebec waged together. We repeatedly called on the government to honour the promise made by former Prime Minister Chrétien and the treaty he had signed, so as to respect the efforts of a number of industries that had fought very effectively against greenhouse gases.
But the government did not want to respect the strategy of the Government of Quebec.
We need only think of Senate reform. We know that Quebec's National Assembly is worried about Senate reform. We can certainly have different complaints about this institution given that it is not a democratic chamber. We might also say that the Senate is an outdated institution that is ill-suited to a modern parliamentary system. However, we cannot act unilaterally.
The former intergovernmental affairs minister in the Quebec National Assembly, Benoît Pelletier, was my professor of constitutional law. I remember his lectures with a great deal of nostalgia. He was a very good professor and I was a very good student. I remember that the course was on Mondays at 8:30 a.m., too early in some respects. Professor Pelletier would arrive and was able to present his material in a very interesting and lively way. I owe my considerable knowledge of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to him.
Naturally we had differences of opinion and I exercised my prerogative as a student to express mine in the middle of a class on the unilateral repatriation of the 1982 Constitution which, as you know, was opposed by the Quebec National Assembly. Even the former leader of the Liberal party, Claude Ryan, who could hardly be suspected of sympathizing with the sovereignists, had joined with the Quebec National Assembly to denounce the extremely cavalier way in which the matter had been handled.
All that to say that the Senate and the Quebec National Assembly do not want us to review the selection process for judges unless the provinces can formally participate. We know that the role of the Senate, the upper chamber, is to provide the necessary regional balance within the federation.
A little while ago, I was giving a tour of the House to some visitors from Australia, and I believe I explained to them why the House of Commons has a green carpet and the Senate has a red one. First of all, the Senate is the chamber of the monarchy. The Queen never sets foot in the House of Commons. She instead goes to the Senate, as does her representative, the Governor General, who goes to the Senate to ratify legislation.
This is done in the Senate, and not in the House of Commons. The House of Commons is the house of the people, and traditionally, the green symbolizes the meadows, which is where the people first gathered to oppose the monarchy they felt was too authoritarian and self-congratulatory.
These are examples of how the government did not listen to what we would have liked it to hear from Quebec regarding Senate reforms, the GST or cultural issues. I do not want to skip too quickly over the issue of culture.
The current government chose to recognize Quebec as a nation. We know that Quebec is a nation: we have our own history; we have our own vernacular, the French language; we have a different legal system; we have common aspirations; and we have control over institutions and territory. Those are the main characteristics of a nation. The government recognized Quebec as a nation, but in the absence of concrete action to back this up, we have trouble seeing how we can take it seriously.
I remind the House that the member for Joliette, the Bloc Québécois House leader, is an extremely eloquent man, who shows restraint at all times and is not known for excess. Except, perhaps, when it comes to food. But in general, he is an exceptionally controlled man. Now, when the member for Joliette introduced a bill calling for federally regulated companies to comply with Bill 101, we would have liked to have the support of the government and the official opposition. That would have been a very nice recognition of the fact that Quebec is a nation.
Since my time has expired, I will be pleased to respond to any questions my colleagues might have.