Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. I believe it is a good bill, and the Bloc Québécois supports it. All members in this House agree that this bill should have been passed at least 10 years ago.
For those of us who are just joining us on television, I would like to talk about the three new offences created in this bill.
The first offence involves obtaining and possessing identity information with the intent to use the information deceptively, dishonestly or fraudulently in the commission of a crime.
The second involves trafficking in identity information, an offence that targets those who transfer or sell information to another person, with knowledge of or recklessness as to the possible criminal use of the information.
The third involves unlawfully possessing or trafficking in government-issued identity documents that contain information of another person. These three offences are the most common in our system.
Furthermore, this bill would add a new power permitting the court to order, as part of a sentence, that an offender—and this is the best part—be required to pay restitution to a victim of identity theft. Not only can the offender be sentenced to prison, but he must also pay restitution to the victim. All of the expenses incurred by a victim of identity theft can be reimbursed by the criminal himself. That is important, and worth noting.
I would add that the Privacy Commissioner said the same thing. I will quote her further on. This is particularly important because she has made a number of calls for changes to the Criminal Code so that we can more effectively fight identity theft. She herself has said that this tool is not very effective.
I don't think it's just an issue of the Criminal Code. As you know, our law administrators hesitate to use the Criminal Code: the standards of proof are higher, and the charter may apply, and so very often you have to have a fairly clear-cut case to use the Criminal Code.
She goes on to say:
Civil sanctions are very easy to prove and easy for citizens, for example, to take to small claims courts, which 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 is where it gets important. If offenders are forced to reimburse the victims whose identity they have stolen, by dealing directly with the courts of each province, this would make things much easier for us, and it would be easier for the victims to get their money back. By going through a provincial court, like small claims court for example, which can hear cases up to $7,000, if I am not mistaken, the offender can be ordered immediately to reimburse the victim.
I certainly understand how this list of new offences created might seem repressive, but the fact remains that we have not addressed the idea of prevention.
Prevention is important to the Bloc Québécois. Why? Because regulations allow us to better manage the storage and retrieval of the information held by businesses. As well, the government should take additional measures when it comes to amendments regarding identity theft. What other measures could be added? How does someone have their identity stolen? I understand that personal identification can be stolen using someone's PIN, by copying or stealing someone's credit card, or at an ATM.
The fact remains, however, that many businesses do not take good enough care of the documentation and personal information submitted to them. For instance, I am sure everyone has read about ID documents found in the trash in an alley behind a convenience store, because employees decided to throw away their copies of credit card statements. Drugstores have also thrown away all sorts of information. Businesses that manage our personal assets are not as careful as we are. We can protect our personal information. We have PINs. I am sure every one of us is very careful when using a PIN, a credit card or any other document.
When we are at the mercy of businesses that are not careful, we can be in big trouble, and the resulting process can take a very long time. You realize, for example, that the balance in your bank account is lower than it should be or that someone has used your credit card, and you do not know how it could have happened. You learn that your personal documents have been found in a trashcan and used by criminals to obtain other credit cards and get more money. It is easy for a criminal who knows someone's date of birth and social insurance number to open a bank account under that person's name. It is very easy. With all the right information, it is even possible to obtain a line of credit by phone and use it to make withdrawals. Therefore, it is important that businesses be as careful as we are with our personal information.
In a future bill, we should really consider introducing prevention at the level of businesses. I am not speaking of just small businesses. How many others have contributed to identity theft? Banks have lost personal information. Information is stolen or accessed by hackers from other businesses. They readily admit that millions of dollars have been stolen from them. In the end, everyone pays because the banks are not saddled with the loss. The loss is written off and that is that. We continue to pay for those who do not protect our identity.
We should really examine this issue and do something in terms of legislation to protect people against those who are not careful with our personal information. This does not affect just the private sector. If that were the case, it would be another matter. The government also referred to all the questions asked about this bill but what has been happening with this government? As one of my colleagues was saying, with regard to government, in June 2006—which is not so long ago and we know who was in power then—,the auditor general estimated that there were 2.9 million too many social insurance numbers circulating. That is not a small number. We are not talking about 10,000 or 100,000, which would still be too many.
How can the government have 2.9 million more social insurance numbers in circulation than the estimated number of Canadians who are 30 and older? Do you see the paradox? We are prepared to find and punish, in some way, people who steal the identities of others. Yet, the government is immune from all that.
That figure of 2.9 million is quite something. How much identity theft occurs in one day? The figures are probably appalling. We could report the statistics but businesses will never admit to having had the personal information of 100,000 people stolen from them.
No one will admit to it because any trust in these companies would then be lost. Follow-up by companies is all the more important if the government does its own. What has the government done since 2006 about the extra 2.9 million social insurance numbers? Nothing. We have not even heard a peep about that.
For those listening, this has to be appalling. How can one have any confidence when hearing about bills to protect society when our own government cannot even ensure our protection? That is not all. In 2004, when the Liberals were in power, the Minister of Transport was questioned at length about items, supplies or uniforms that I can list.
In 2004, the media reported that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, for which the greatest efforts are made to ensure its protection, had lost the control over its uniforms. Between January and September 2004, of approximately 75,000 uniform items that had been distributed to some 4,000 screeners, a total of 1,127 items were reported lost or stolen, including 91 shields, 78 shirts, 30 windbreakers, and 25 sweaters, all of which bore the agency's logo. According to the CBC, some uniform items were even offered to the highest bidder on eBay, an online auction site.
It is one thing to ask something of others, but it is another to ask the same of oneself. That is what the public wants governments to do: stop imposing things they themselves do not do. That is where it should start. They do not do prevention work and they keep taking the easy way out, by imposing prison terms. The same sentence would apply to those who have committed this offence. However, we are already hearing about people serving one sixth of their sentence, something that is causing discontent among political parties and that the Bloc Québécois had been denouncing. It is all fine and well to say that a five-year minimum sentence was handed down, but for a first offence, the time to be served is two months, and one sixth of that full sentence means that, after a few short days of imprisonment, the offender is free again. Moreover, those who remained in custody pending trial might be done serving their sentence and be released immediately following trial.
What message do we want to send the public? First, care must be taken, which makes a lot of sense. Second, the public expects the government also to use care with respect to personal documents it keeps or issues because, with a social insurance number, it is easy to take someone else's name, let alone to falsify information.
Today, computers make everything possible. The Internet is used for phishing. For example, people are fooled with logos into giving their PIN. Many things can be done to start with, and the first is to inform people. When I see the government spending $100,000 just to advertise the programs it is setting up, I know it is perfectly capable of spending some money on informing the public about the way to protect personal information. That is one thing. But, there is also a way for companies to protect the information they receive from us.
After a credit card transaction at the convenience store, we keep a paper copy. But, what do we do after two years? We want to get rid of it. The easiest way is to throw it in the garbage. That is why the example that keeps coming back in the House of Commons is the garbage can.
Some people have nothing to do but search through garbage cans to find these documents. They line their pockets because someone did not dispose securely of personal documents belonging to somebody else. I am sure that such a person would act otherwise with his own personal information. That person would not leave a piece of paper with information on a credit card transaction lying around; he would throw it in the garbage. However, we need to educate people to show them that someone else might have to live with the consequences and could be in greater trouble.
Let us take the example of a student who lost his wallet. Everyone knows that students do not have pots of money. Their bank accounts are always nearly empty. If a student trusts the convenience store and someone at the store manages to empty his bank account where he had the money to pay his university fees, the student will be faced with a rude awakening. Really, awareness among those people must be raised.
The appropriate solution would be an advertising campaign to raise awareness. However, it is also important to train people working in businesses. Employees need to be shown how to dispose of these documents.
I sat on the committee that looked at the documents pertaining to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. I wanted to include a clause in the bill that would fine businesses that were caught leaving documents belonging to other people in alleys, garbage containers or elsewhere. It is important not only that businesses be made aware, but that they be punished for thoughtlessly leaving documents where anyone can find them.
I was told that this was not a good solution and that businesses should install shredders instead. One of my colleagues even went so far as to suggest conducting a study on shredders. I believe that Parliament has more important things to do than conduct a study on shredders or how to dispose of personal documents belonging to other people. I believe that that was taking matters a bit too far.
However, I do feel that we can take other bills further. This is a good bill. It is a start. We had to start somewhere, and this bill is a step in the right direction, but we must carry on and not rest on our laurels and say that three new offences have been introduced to solve the problem. This bill will not solve the problem. It will address the problem of people's wallets being stolen, but we should go further with a new bill that allows victims of identity theft to go to small claims court to recover lost money from people who stole their identity and withdrew money from their account. I believe that that would be a good thing, and it should be in a new bill.
In closing, I will say that I am in favour of this bill. I do not see why we could not propose new initiatives in a new bill and really raise awareness among members of the public and businesses.