Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join today's second reading debate on Bill , which would amend the Criminal Code to address the serious and ever growing problem of identity theft.
Although introduced in the Senate, the bill's proposed reforms are familiar to hon. members as its predecessor, Bill , which was virtually the same, was introduced in this chamber in the previous Parliament and had received all party support at second reading.
I hope Bill can similarly receive all party support now and be quickly passed into law. Canadians urgently need the protection it would provide against identity theft, a problem that the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus has estimated cost Canadian consumers, banks, credit card and other businesses more than $2 billion each year and a problem that has enormous personal and psychological impacts on its victims. I should add that oftentimes the victims of identity theft are the most vulnerable Canadians.
Identity crime encompasses the collection, possession, trafficking and use of identity information belonging to another in committing crimes such as personation, fraud or misuse of debit card or credit card data.
For example, it occurs when somebody pretends to be an account holder in a transaction and uses the true account holder's identity to access his or her credit or actual funds. It also occurs when someone acquires and uses the identity of another to carry out otherwise ordinary transactions, such as to rent an apartment or to buy a cellphone, which are then used as part of a broader criminal scheme. In these instances, if the crime is eventually detected, the trail leads back to the identity of the unfortunate innocent person whose identity was stolen. We know that organized crime and terrorism routinely engage in identity crimes to carry out their criminal operations. I doubt that any one of us, within our constituency, cannot name someone who has been the victim of identity theft.
Bill proposes to create three new offences that will target the preliminary stages of identity crime and will enable police to lay charges, for example, before the crimes of fraud or impersonation are committed.
The first new offence would be called identity theft and would apply to attaining and possessing identity information with the intent to use the information deceptively, dishonestly or fraudulently in the commission of a crime.
The second new offence is trafficking in identity information, an offence that targets those who transfer or sell information to another person with knowledge of or recklessness toward the possible criminal use of the information. This offence targets the middlemen, and that is those who traffic the stolen identity information from one person to another, but who may not otherwise be involved in the fraud or other crimes in which the information is destined to be used. The trafficking of such stolen identity information is often part of organized crime's identity fraud activities.
The third new offence is for unlawfully possessing or trafficking in crucial government-issued identity documents that pertain to other people.
Each of these new offences would carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and would complement existing Criminal Code offences such as fraud, impersonation and forgery that already prohibit the most harmful consequences of identity abuse.
Bill proposes other new offences that will complement other existing Criminal Code mail and forgery offences. It will create the new offences of fraudulently redirecting or causing redirection of a person's mail, possessing a counterfeit Canada Post mail key and possessing instruments, often referred to as skimming devices, that are used to extract and copy debit and credit card information.
Bill would also facilitate law enforcement's investigative activities by adding new offences and certain existing offences to the list of offences for which a wiretap order may be obtained.
Importantly the bill would enable sentencing courts to order an offender to pay restitution to a victim of identity theft or fraud where the victim had incurred expenses related to rehabilitating the reputation and credit history.
Bill also proposes two exemptions to address potential negative impacts on the undercover work of law enforcement. I want to spend a moment on this aspect of the bill, as this issue attracted significant interest in the Senate. It is important that these are clearly understood for what they are and are not.
The exemptions in clauses 7 and 9 have been carefully crafted to permit the police to obtain and use identity documents in a fictitious name to support undercover activities. Concealing the true identities of undercover police officers is a problem akin to a uniformed officer carrying a sidearm. The law exempts police officers from offences that would otherwise by committed by carrying their guns, for example. The proposed exemptions will do the same thing for undercover officers with respect to identity documents.
Some will argue that these exemptions are unnecessary and inappropriate, since it is already a scheme in the Criminal Code that operates as justification for offences committed by the police during a criminal investigation. While it is true that sections 25.1 to 25.4 of the Criminal Code could be used to justify the use of false identity documents by the police, that approach would require each officer to weigh the proportionality of using the documents each and every time he or she relied upon them.
While this is an appropriate test where the police are engaging in conduct that amounts to an offence that has not been specifically authorized by Parliament, it is the government's view that it would be inappropriate to require the police to rely on this scheme for a discreet, pre-defined activity that is clearly in the public interest. It is essential to keep in mind that the proposed exemptions do not give the police the authority to commit identity theft or other fraudulent activities. Any other offences that an officer may be required to commit in the course of a criminal investigation would have to be justified under the scheme contained in the appropriate sections of the Criminal Code.
Lastly, the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee, which undertook a thorough study of the bill, amended it to provide for a five-year parliamentary review. This would provide us with a welcomed opportunity to assess the impact of the reforms in combatting identity theft.
Bill would provide much needed new tools for Canadian law enforcement and much needed protection for all Canadians against identity theft. I urge all hon. members to consider the most vulnerable in their constituencies when they consider the bill. As we all know, many members of our communities have been the victims of identity theft and the psychological impact of having one's identity stolen or misused can be quite profound.
I urge all hon. members to support the bill and support its swift passage.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill today.
I have been here for three and a half years or so, and it seems that we deal with issues that are important to Canadians sporadically and cyclically. This is not the first time I have risen to speak on identity theft legislation. It is not the first time we, as a Chamber, have considered it. It just seems to be a shame that after three and a half years Parliament has not tackled identity theft. Prorogation is one thing that comes to mind.
We have to come together, as parliamentarians, to pass legislation that works in making Canada a better place. We do not need lawyers or members of Parliament or professors to tell us that Canadians at the Tim Hortons on St. George Boulevard in Moncton or Quispamsis are concerned about identity fraud, identity theft.
They may not use those terms, but they know what it is if they are offered a free cruise by some company in the United States if they only put $200 on their credit card and then they have their Visa racked up to its limit. They know what that is. That is good old-fashioned hucksterism, old-fashioned theft, which one only admires. They want us to respond in a modern way to a modern problem which, at its roots, is a very old way of just tricking people. This bill is one that we are pleased to recommend.
Again, all too often we do not recognize the good work of the Senate. On the Senate justice committee, we have les éminences grises, many people who have years of constitutional legal experience. Clearly they have brought to bear amendments or changes to this bill that were needed from the previous bill, which was introduced into Parliament in the last session before the pin was pulled. Some of those examples are modernizing our definition of what constitutes an identification card.
The last clause of the bill says that there shall be a five year review of this legislation. Now many of us, and I know the member for would agree, think that the Criminal Code in general should go through a comprehensive review. We seem to be adding layer after layer to the code without any real and thoughtful revision or compilation of its true essence.
In this act, and it seems to be a trend in a number of acts, there is the suggestion that every five years there would be a full review of how we are doing with respect to identity theft or identity fraud. As members know, we did a similar thing with respect to anti-terrorism legislation. We think there should be such a mechanism for the designation of organized crime as well.
In its first proposed subsection, this bill has a hybrid offence, which means summary conviction or indictable. There are some offences that will be below a mandatory limit. If we only went with indictable or serious offences, we might lose a lot of the minor offences that happen every day with respect to identity fraud.
This is not a case where we are just going after the big pilfering of accounts. This bill is designed to catch, as I mentioned, the rack up of $200 on somebody's Visa bill. That would be a summary conviction offence. That part is good.
Discretion is a word we use on this side quite a bit. Discretion should be inherent with judges and prosecutors so they can mold the law to the factual situations they see in our communities every day. Hooray that the Conservative government allows discretion in this bill for prosecutors to proceed by way of summary or indictable offence.
The offence itself states that anyone “who, without lawful excuse, procures to be made, possesses, transfers, sells or offers for sale an identity document that relates” to another person is liable for the crime to a term of up to five years in jail.
The identity document is something else that the Senate added to the debate by further specifying what it should be.
Clearly, these are documents that we know of every day. We see them used every day and there is reticence in the minds and hearts of people as to whether they should be handing over their social insurance number, driver's licence or health insurance card. There is a timidity about giving information that identifies a person, particularly to businesses, but also to government. This includes birth certificates. Death certificates were added. One might ask how it could be identity theft if a death certificate is taken because the person does not exist any more. Clearly, it is an issue of identity fraud, where somebody plays on the personage of an estate or of a dead person.
Also included are passports, citizenship documents and employee identity cards. An expansion allowed by the Senate takes into account that employee identity cards sometimes have so much information behind them, either encoded on them but more likely behind them in terms of the application, that they are almost more valuable than a social insurance card or a driver's licence. It is a very modern suggestion to add it to the list.
Before getting into the guts of the bill, I want to talk about the difference between identity fraud and identity theft. The last bill in the Commons took the approach that we should be more concerned with identity fraud rather than just identity theft. To the average person and to the judge interpreting our laws, identity theft might just say that one is stealing somebody's person, who they are legally, for a bad purpose.
Identity fraud dips in and out of the idea of the entire theft of the identity. It suggests a broader definition, which would encompass all of the stages involved in the crime, such as acquiring, collecting and transferring personal information as well as the actual use of the information. It is much like car theft, a bill that we dealt with earlier today. There are typically many players in the stages of identity theft. It is not a situation where someone leaves a Visa card behind at a store and then someone else tries to use that Visa card at another store. That is clearly a case of identity fraud and identity theft for the purpose of the next purchase.
We are talking about wholesalers of information who gather up student ID cards. We have some students as pages. Mr. Speaker, you probably do not recall as well as the pages do about being a young person at Queen's or U of T and nonchalantly giving all of one's information to the registrar. What if that is privatized? What if it is a private group of companies that amass that information, take those partial identities and sell them to Maclean's to sell magazines?
What if that information is intercepted along the way and used for an improper purpose? It would be very difficult to find out how that happened. The young student might say that he or she has only ever given all of that information to Queen's University, so he or she will blame the university, but that may not be the case at all. The person along the way might be an errant secretary, data information analyst or whomever. Anyone involved in the acquiring, collecting or transferring of the information is hooked by this legislation.
Calls for the amendment to the code in this regard have been going on for some time. Papers have been written for some time on the issues of identity theft and identity fraud. One of the best papers talked about the most fraudulent uses of personal information by identity thieves. Initially, until we took it to this level, this law did not deal with the collection, possession and trafficking of the information. We feel that with the additional offences added by this bill, this is now addressed and adequately covered. We are here in 2009 talking about it.
Identity theft is a serious criminal activity. We have reviewed the bill. Between the speech of the parliamentary secretary and my opening comments about the basis of the bill and the documents that are included in the definition, we know that we have a strong bill. People in the community might ask why it is so urgent. Identity theft and identity fraud are a serious and lucrative industry. How do we as lawmakers have any evidence of that?
The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus has estimated that identity theft costs Canadian consumers, banks and credit card companies, stores and businesses more than $2 billion annually. Two billion dollars used to be a very meaningful number until deficits were running into the area of $50 billion. Two billion dollars use to be the annual cost of a major national program. As I say, $50 billion has probably diluted the meaning of $2 billion, but we know that this is a very serious set of criminal activities. As I mentioned, it is the unauthorized use, collection or trafficking of information. This is the pitfall.
Mr. Speaker, you are an established person, well known in Canada, and you may think this would never happen to you. The worst thing you could do to prevent that from happening to you is to pretend that it cannot happen to you. It is never too late to learn how to safeguard yourself from this type of fraud.
There may be many people in the Canadian public who may think they are protected, because they use a chartered bank, they have known their bankers forever, they have only had one credit card in their lives, they pay their phone bills at city hall, they do everything they can to keep their transactions as discreet, one to one, even personal. According to Louis Robertson, head of the RCMP's Criminal Intelligence Analytical Unit at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre, identity theft is now probably the most important problem for Canadian consumers.
In 2006 there were 212,000 Canadians who were victimized by identity theft, and their losses, in the use of identity as well as credit card manipulations, ran over $15 billion. Somewhere, depending on whether one subscribes to what PhoneBusters did on a call-in basis of $2 billion, or the RCMP with the $15 billion figure, is the reality about the figures three years ago.
As far as Canadians feeling that they are gripped by identity theft, there was a survey conducted by the McMaster eBusiness Research Centre, MeRC, on behalf of the Ontario Research Network for Electronic Commerce, ORNEC, which was designed to determine the nature and extent of identity theft and fraud so that lawmakers would know that they had the evidence to bring in a bill like this one.
The survey itself, with over 3,000 valid responses, suggests that 6.5% of Canadian adults, or almost 1.7 million people, were the victims of some kind of identity fraud in the last year. Over 20 million hours and more than $150 million was spent to resolve the problems associated with these frauds.
The issue is that this is costing the economy of Canada more than just the money that is pilfered and taken away from Canadian consumers and taxpayers. The survey also counts the millions of hours spent trying to recover the data that was lost and create new data. Anyone who has ever lost his or her wallet knows that it is a nightmare to replace all of the things in it.
More than half of the frauds that have occurred to the Canadian public involve nothing more than unauthorized purchases made with credit cards. That is certainly something we hear about quite often.
If we eliminate credit card fraud as the most popular or well-known instance of fraud with respect to identity, with the incidence rate and costs quoted above, the number of victims is reduced to 700,000, but they still spent 12 million hours, not the 20 million hours, but 12 million hours and more than $110 million of their own money to resolve the problems.
Most victims, 57%, did not know how their personal information was accessed, but when they did know, the identity fraud was most often associated with a business transaction conducted either in person in 25% of the cases, or online in 15% of the cases. This is exactly consistent with what I said earlier. People who are careful about their identity issues try to keep their business transactions discreet and personal, but it is actually more often the case in personal business conducted, that is 25%, than it is for online purchases. That is an important thing for Canadians to be aware of.
This bill captures anyone along the chain involved in taking personal identification information.
Debit card skimming made up 13% of the fraud incidents. Twenty-five per cent of all cases of identity fraud were committed by someone known to the victim. This survey found that to be the case. They were not known by the victim in 7% of the cases.
Very few of the cases of identity fraud were reported to the police, only 13%, or to credit reporting agencies, 6%, or to PhoneBusters, .5%. This indicates that perhaps there is an embarrassment factor. People also might realize, as many people do, that there are inadequate legal provisions to cover the instance, which is the reason we are enacting this law.
If one were to go to police authorities before this law came into effect, the police authorities might well say that this is a civil matter. How often do Canadian citizens hear from police authorities that the fight over the loss of money between the card holder or bank customer and the bank or credit card company is a civil matter and it will not be investigated? That is why there is such low reporting. We hope with this law that there will be more reporting because, frankly, the police will have a better tool to work toward the elimination or the curbing of identity theft and identity fraud.
In closing, the Canadian consumer can protect his or her personal information from physical theft in a number of ways. The government has been adept in some quarters in publicizing a message, at least outside this House, so I would call on the government to take up this campaign of advising and educating members of the public on how to protect themselves from identity fraud and identity theft. It would be disingenuous to suggest that this law is going to eradicate all identity theft and identity fraud.
This is what Canadian consumers can do. I think that the government should lift provisions from this speech for a public education campaign that could be a companion to this bill. These suggestions are from the survey of 3,000 people, of what are the most effective means of protecting one's identity and what have proven to be effective.
Seventy-nine per cent shred financial documents or important documents all or most of the time. Many use a locked mailbox all of the time, or most of the time. Many keep sensitive information in a secure location, such as a locked box or a drawer, all of the time or most of the time.
Many have eliminated or reduced the number of identity documents that they carry with them. How many people do we know who, because of loyalty programs, credit cards, identity documents needed for almost any club, association, building or job, have two wallets or in some cases a wallet so big that it is the size of a desk? One idea is to get rid of unnecessary identity documents.
Many have stopped receiving mailed account statements or have reduced the number of mailed statements that they receive.
Canadian consumers take the following measures to keep their personal information from prying eyes or unauthorized access. One has to do with securing one's information, and one of them has to do with security at the workplace or at a social event where information may be spied upon.
Never or rarely give information over the phone to people claiming to do surveys or offer promotional goods and services, unless one is a Liberal and is asked by a reputable polling agency what one's view on the next election might be. I highly recommend not doing that.
Make sure no one is watching when using an ATM or debit card machine. The public would be wise not to give credit cards to waiters or gas station attendants in the absence of the card holder himself or herself.
Those are just some of the things that consumers can do.
In summary, this is a good bill. It is a shame we did not get at it earlier. It should give law enforcement officials the tools to fight identity fraud. We should be thinking in terms of identity fraud, not just identity theft. We should put out a public education campaign to make sure people do not do things that put them in jeopardy. We should give the Senate a pat on the back for making this bill better.
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 , 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 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 . 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 . 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 , 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 , 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 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.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill , a substantial irritation in my emotional level. I say that because the bill and this problem has been around the House for way too long a period of time. It has been delayed repeatedly by the government in spite of the reality of the problem for the whole of the country. Large numbers of people are suffering very negative consequences from identity theft criminal acts.
I want to go through it because it bothers me that the government pretends to be strong on crime and says that it will fight it in every way, but the bill is a classic example of how it is attempting to mislead the public in that regard.
The bill was introduced in the last Parliament to address the issue. It has had some amendments since then. It was knocked off its normal rotation because of prorogation by the government in September 2007. It was reintroduced when Parliament reopened. It went through the process of first and second reading. It was sent to the justice committee by March 2008, at which point, we were confronted with a justice committee that no longer functioned because the Conservative chair refused to call meetings or when he called meetings, he would abruptly get up and leave the chair and nobody would replace him. That went on until the summer of 2008 and early fall, when again the government stopped Parliament by calling an election against long-term promise by the not to do that.
We came back after the election and we were into a whole battle over conduct of the government in terms of not seriously addressing the fiscal crisis that both this country and countries internationally were confronting. Then we had another prorogation in December 2008.
We came back after the prorogation and what did we see? We saw this bill, not coming to the House, not to the elected chamber in our Parliament, but going to the unelected chamber down the hall, where it sat. Finally it was sent over here earlier this week.
The bill should have been law by the end of 2007, at least the initial issues that we were addressing, even without the amendments. At the rate we are going, it is not going to be law until sometime near the end of 2009. All of that delay is because of the government.
It is quite clear that the Conservatives cannot claim they did not know how serious the problem of identity theft was in the country. The member from Alberta on the government side introduced a private member's on this issue in a very concrete and extensive way. Unfortunately, it was not the appropriate mechanism to deal with a problem of this size. However, that bill is almost three years old. Therefore, in a very clear and irrefutable way the House has known about this problem for at least three years. It knew what we needed to do about it, as well, in terms of a legislative response.
The Criminal Code, as it is right now, is inadequate to deal with the identity theft problem. We have provisions in the code around forgery, impersonation, creating false documents, but they are a reflection of a technology and a societal norm that is 40 or 50 years out of date for the current situation we have. The ability, for instance, to manufacture large numbers of credit cards is a technology that has only existed for about 10 years. The ability to get personal identification numbers, or PINs, credit card numbers and other identification numbers electronically and in large volume has only been possible as the Internet developed, realistically the last five years.
We knew for at least three years, though I would say any of us working in this area at all knew for much longer than that. The government certainly knew, the Department of Justice knew, and our police forces knew. In spite of all that knowledge, here we are today in the House debating this bill at second reading once again.
The bill itself in fact addresses a number of the issues. When the bill was in Parliament last time, my party was prepared to support it, as far as it went. Its inadequacies are some of the areas it does not touch on.
We heard the question earlier from the member for about whether it adequately addresses the issue, in the 21st century, of mechanisms one can use to steal an identity from someone and impersonate that person. We will know better once we hear from some more of the experts, but the answer to that question is that it probably does not. I am not sure this bill goes far enough to address that issue. It does in part, and I will credit the government for that, but I am not sure it does fully.
There are some good provisions in the bill. We heard questions today around the difficulty of dealing with identity theft in our civil courts, which has been a real problem in terms of their ability to deal with it, but mostly on the part of the individual who has been wronged to be able to identify the person who stole the identity and profited from it to the victim's disadvantage.
Again being critical of the government, there are not adequate police resources deployed in this area. It is interesting that the approach of the government has always been to concentrate on what it calls serious crime, but it is usually stereotypical of criminals who are drug addicts or other addicts, or have serious mental health problems, who commit violent acts.
If we look at the bills that we have gone through, almost innumerable since the Conservative government has been in power, I do not think we could point to more than one bill that addresses white-collar crime. That is mostly what we are talking about. This has a major impact on many lives, but as I said earlier, we are four or five years behind where we should be down that road.
I say that not only because of the inadequacies, and at times, incompetencies of the government, but we also have to look at it in comparison to what other jurisdictions have done. Western Europe has developed technological levels the same as ours. The United States, Australia and New Zealand are way ahead of us in dealing with the issue of identity theft, ahead by at least half a decade, in some cases as much as a decade. We are playing catch-up to a very strong degree, and we are not doing it well because of the manoeuvring of the government.
With regard to the ability of our police officers to deal with investigations in this area, it is extremely limited. A number of them do not have sufficient training, but overall, there simply are not enough police officers in this country to deal with this problem. They need additional training. They do not get it when they go through their basic training to become police officers, whether that be the RCMP, or provincial or municipal police officers. They need quite extensive additional education in order to be able to combat this crime at the police level.
I know from talking to prosecutors that they feel that they need additional resources to prosecute adequately. Some of those resources are in the form of changes to the Criminal Code and they are, again to the credit of the government, reflected in some of the amendments that we would be passing if Bill eventually goes through. In terms of the financial resources, they are clearly not there in sufficient numbers.
When this bill went through the Senate, I believe it received either five or seven amendments. A couple of them seemed to be, on the surface, just very technical amendments. One was changing the singular to the plural, but I think there was something more there. So that will be one of the issues we will have to address at committee.
In the provisions, the government empowered our criminal courts to make restitution orders not only for the costs of the proceedings but also the direct losses suffered by a victim of identity crimes, including compensation for replacing all the documentation they have to replace.
In some cases, it can be very significant compensation. For instance, if someone is in the process of trying to obtain a mortgage, their identity is stolen and their name shows up on a debtors list through some of the credit-granting agencies, they may lose their mortgage, and by the time they get it straightened out, they may have lost the real estate transaction and thereby suffer quite severely. It could be thousands, and in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars in damages by the time they straighten it all out and purchase a new building, which by then would be valued higher. They would have taken a real financial hit.
The section that would be amended with regard to restitution would allow an individual to show that evidence to a criminal court and have them order the perpetrator of the crime to compensate the person.
I am sure as people are listening they are thinking that in most cases they would not expect to be able to collect that money back, but the reality with a great deal of identity theft is that, in fact, it is perpetrated by organized crime. So if the individual can be identified, and more importantly, the gang, the organized crime unit, there may be a reasonable opportunity for getting those damages back. The proposed restitution amendment is very appropriate and could turn out to be quite a valuable tool.
With regard to the other sections, the principle sections, creating the offence of identity theft is absolutely crucial. Again, our Criminal Code is so far out of date with regard to the type of criminal activity that is going on here that it is just impossible to use for identity theft as it is being performed now. That is very important, and we are quite supportive of that.
Creating greater penalties and clearer offences for creating identity documents, whether those be ones issued by the government or some other level of government or documents of a commercial nature that would identify a person, in all cases I think these amendments catch that type of activity and clearly make it a crime with appropriate penalties attached.
One of the amendments that came from the Senate was a five-year review that was not in the bill that the government had originally presented. I think that is probably an appropriate amendment, one that we can support. Unfortunately, as so often happens with those reviews, they get done much later than when they are scheduled, in part because the justice committee is so busy. However, we would support that.
I want to address a few comments to the inadequacies of the bill, in particular in the real estate area. I have had some contact with individuals who work in that area. We have had a number of quite notorious cases in Ontario.
In fact, there was a court judgment that I think the average citizen was shocked by, where a couple had bought a condo in the Toronto area and were in residence for I think it was 17 years, but someone else, a criminal, forged documents, created a false identity, went into a lawyer's office and signed documents that put a very large mortgage on that condo, I think it was $200,000, impersonating the real owners. Ultimately this was discovered. The bank took action against the owner. It came out clearly that it was a situation where they had not participated at all in the fraud, but a court in Ontario ruled that in fact the mortgage could be enforced against them.
This ultimately required, I believe, an amendment to the legislation in Ontario retroactively to prevent the consequences of that decision. However, that type of ruling could in fact happen in other provinces, as I understand the situation today.
Bill does not address that issue at all, as I see it. Again, that is why it is crucial for this to go to committee. Unless I hear opposite from legal experts there, I think this is an area where we need to buttress the bill and put additional provisions in to make it very clear what the penalties will be if that kind of fraud is perpetrated, but also to protect valid legal homeowners and business interests as well.
I have heard from title insurance people in Ontario that there is a current section in the Criminal Code that addresses this in part, but it is way out of date. They are looking for amendments in that regard. It is one of the ones that I think we would have to try to convince the government to support and bring those people in to indicate what the situation is.
I can say that this issue has occupied a significant amount of time of the law societies across all provinces and territories. They have spent, I would say, the better part of the last 10 years trying to get some reasonable controls in place so that type of abuse does not occur.
Lawyers in Ontario, as recently as this past year, have had imposed upon them much greater responsibility to ensure that the person who is sitting at their desk signing legal documents is in fact that person and not pretending to be someone else.
That has taken a great deal of effort by all the law societies. We do not know yet whether it is going to be successful in terms of preventing these types of frauds, but that is what the provinces have done.
Correspondingly, we need to do more at the federal level in the Criminal Code. I think the section of the code that deals with this area and is not addressed at all in the bill, from what I can see, needs to be strengthened quite significantly.
Once we hear more evidence on this, and I am not sure what happened at the Senate as to whether it addressed this problem, I think we are going to find that the whole issue of impersonation appears not to be dealt with strongly enough. We will probably have to look for some amendments to strengthen the bill there.
I will make one final point. We have heard from the banking system and credit card granting companies that they are very interested in coming forward. I am left with the impression that they think there is additional work that needs to be done on Bill to strengthen it, to try to prevent these types of crimes from happening. Again, it is very important for this to go to the committee for that purpose.
We will be supporting the bill in principle going to the committee, hopefully to strengthen it there and bring it back for third reading and passage and finally get this into place, in spite of all the delays we have had from the government.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise on this very important issue of identity theft. Bill , which comes to us from the Senate, is certainly a very important starting point. I should begin by saying the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill.
We are obviously very concerned about identity theft. We are worried about it. The Criminal Code needs to be modernized to take this kind of theft into account.
However, identity theft should be fought through the concerted action of various levels of government. This is actually what we have just seen. It has probably not been done yet or not done well enough. It is important, therefore, to take a look at this bill and send it to committee for study of other aspects than changes to the Criminal Code. These changes are important and we agree with them, but that is not enough.
Governments need to look at other measures, such as public education, to reduce the number of victims. Identity theft and identity abuse could, in many cases, be dealt with through a good, Canada-wide education campaign.
Take the case of older people whose identities are often stolen because they are incredibly naïve when people approach them and when they use their own ID. A very good information campaign targeted at these people in particular would certainly result is less theft and reduced court costs. We should not rely solely on the Criminal Code and we should definitely establish a program to inform people about how their identities are stolen and with which means of communication. People’s identities are stolen over the telephone. That too reveals a disarming naivety.
We cannot expect to solve everything just by suppressing theft, and parallel to this legislation, we should also adopt regulations to provide better guidelines for the way companies manage, store and dispose of information. We need regulations outside this bill that would make a major contribution to providing better guidelines. There are also measures to ensure increased security and uniformity of the processes for issuing and verifying people’s identity documents.
Often, in the case of real estate fraud, people do not know how to protect their identity documents. We are not talking about credit cards here. Credit cards are important, but I think we talk about them far too much because some very major identity thefts take place through real estate transactions. People even sell houses that do not belong to them. Some people do that on quite a regular basis. Then it gets extremely complex for the victims to get their identity back. This legislation must address thoroughly the question of identity theft as it relates to real estate, because these transactions cost people huge amounts of money. Often these people have their entire lives ruined. Once they have lost their home, a year or three years later they are living somewhere else, but they have lost part of their life’s dream.
Coordination with governments is important, therefore, but we must also include real estate fraud more specifically. In some real estate frauds, and I have had cases in my riding, the people are no longer entitled to cross the American border because they are considered to be the ones who committed the fraud themselves. It is a temporary situation, because once that is resolved, everything is put back as it was.
This is therefore very serious and it is much more than a temporary pecuniary loss.
The purpose of the bill is to combat identity theft such as the unauthorized collection and use of personal information for criminal purposes. This is important. People do it in order to steal from other people. It is rare for someone to steal an identity simply to identify themself as someone else. In general, the bottom line will be crime.
Names, dates of birth, addresses, credit card numbers, social insurance numbers and any other personal identification number can be used to open a bank account, get a credit card, have mail forwarded, subscribe to a cell phone service, lease a vehicle or equipment, or even sell a house one does not own.
Three new basic offences are created by this bill, and that is very good. They are all subject to a maximum term of five years. That is why we believe these three offences should be considered in committee. They must be properly assessed so we know whether they will properly protect the public.
The three offences are: obtaining and possessing identity information with the intent of using it in a misleading, deceitful or fraudulent manner in the commission of a crime; trafficking in identity information, an offence that targets people who transfer or sell information to a third party, knowing or being reckless as to whether the information might be used for criminal purposes; and possession or illegally trafficking in identity documents issued by the government that contain information about another person.
People become someone else and are responsible.
There are also other amendments to the Criminal Code; the new offences of redirecting or causing to be redirected the mail of another person are created.
That may not seem serious, but people regularly take someone else’s mail, particularly in the suburbs.
The new offence of possession of a counterfeit Canada Post key will also be created.
That will be in the law and it is very important. Canada Post is installing more and more mailboxes with keys throughout rural communities. People are able to get their neighbours’ keys to steal their mail.
Additional forgery offences, such as trafficking in forged documents and possession of forged documents with the intent of using them, will be created.
This is another point addressed by the law that should be thoroughly considered in committee.
There will be the new term for the offence of personation, to be called identity fraud, and the meaning of the expression “personation” is clarified.
Moreover, the addition of a new power would enable the court to order the offender, as part of the penalty, to make restitution to the victim of identity theft or identity fraud for the expenses associated with rehabilitating their identity, including expenses to replace cards and documents and to correct their credit history.
All this does not address thefts in connection with real estate, which cost victims huge sums of money.
This legislation needs to be coordinated with the Civil Code of Quebec so that people can recover their property, whether it is money or something like a boat that was sold by someone it did not belong to. This often happens, because boats are harder to identify than cars. Even a house can be sold fraudulently.
Since this law should have been passed long ago in Canada, it is important to look at what has been done elsewhere, especially in the United States and France. I would like to give an example of what is done in France. Identity theft is not an indictable offence in itself, except in very specific cases, such as using a false identity in an authentic document or an administrative document intended for a public authority. Assuming a false name in order to obtain a police record check is an offence under the French criminal code. These are things we should look at, because the proposed legislation does not cover them.
In France, specific provisions stipulate the following:
A penalty of six months' imprisonment and a fine of € 7,500 [a substantial fine] is incurred by:
1. using a name or part of a name other than that assigned by civil status;
2. changing, altering or modifying a name or part of a name assigned by civil status,
in an authentic or public document or in an administrative document drafted for public authority, other than where regulations in force permit the drafting of such documents under an assumed civil status.
It would be a very good idea to refer to civil status for names, as French law does. Earlier, a member said that in Quebec, there are two ways for a person to be identified: by birth record or by government record. The first has been abandoned, and now only the government's birth records are officially valid. That is why it is a good idea to work with other governments to stay on top of how things are changing in the provinces.
Another important thing in France is this:
Identity theft becomes a criminal offence as soon as one “[assumes] the name of another person in circumstances that led or could have led to the initiation of a criminal prosecution”. In this case, it is punishable by five years' imprisonment and a fine of € 75,000.
That shows just how heavily the law relies on authorities with respect to civil status. It is interesting to see how other countries do things.
I have one last example, also from France. One article reads as follows:
Assuming the name of another person in circumstances that led or could have led to the initiation of a criminal prosecution against such a person is punished by five years' imprisonment and a fine of € 75,000.
[...]sentences imposed for this misdemeanour are cumulated, and may not run concurrently with any imposed for the offence in the context of which the name was usurped.
The penalties set out under the first paragraph apply to a false statement in respect of the civil status of a person which has led or could have led to the initiation of a criminal prosecution against another person.
That is why I think it is so important for the committee to find out how things are done in other countries and to acknowledge that others already have good identity theft legislation.
The Conservative member mentioned earlier that if we are serious about this bill, we should adopt it immediately without sending it to committee. We believe that, on the contrary, even though we support the bill and it is necessary, there is work to be done in committee. We cannot skip this very important step.
I was saying that the Bloc supports this bill. We wish to send it to committee because identity theft is an issue that we have felt strongly about for a long time. It is important that we realize that identity theft, the issue before us, can happen in various ways. For example, someone could take a social insurance card and use it to obtain housing under a name other than their own. They could build an identity with very few documents.
Mr. Pablo Rodriguez: Come on.
Mr. Christian Ouellet: Absolutely.
In 2004, costs associated with identity theft were in excess of $50 billion in the United States. That is huge. Identity theft is costly for consumers, banks, business people, and governments as well. The federal government has to initiate legal proceedings while the police must check all complaints. Provincial governments lose money through health card fraud and, eventually, medical insurance. Non-Canadians have fake cards. It is the government, and in the end every one of us, that pays for it all. Health cards are passed among foreigners who are not even Canadian citizens and do not have a Canadian identity. Those people come here to be treated at taxpayers' expense. That is truly unacceptable.
In 2002, 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. Once again, citizens are forced to cover these losses.
In addition to these financial losses, victims of identity theft suffer damaged credit ratings and compromised personal and financial records. As I said earlier, some people cannot cross the Canada-United States border because they have been the victims of identity theft.
According to a very interesting 2006 Ipsos Reid poll, one Canadian adult in four, that is 25%, or about 5.7 million Canadians, reported being a victim of identity theft or knew someone who had been a victim. We can see how common it is, how absolutely necessary this bill is, and how it could be broad enough to stop this. I will say again that this bill is no replacement for a very good education campaign. We absolutely need to have both.
In conclusion, I want to say that the Criminal Code is an unwieldy instrument for fighting identity theft. The rules of evidence are strict but necessary; we agree on that. It is important to harmonize with the civil laws so that, in some cases, the civil law alone can be used to recover lost funds.
Other measures will have to be put in place to effectively fight identity theft and recover lost funds.