The Chair (Mr. Ed Fast (Abbotsford, CPC)):
I call the meeting to order.
This is meeting number 36 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Today is Monday, October 5, 2009. Just as a note, today's meeting is being televised.
You have before you the agenda for today. We have two matters to deal with. During the first hour, we'll begin a review of the Canadian Human Rights Act, more particularly section 13. We also have two witnesses appearing on that matter. And just so you know, during the second hour we'll return to our review of Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct). We have one witness appearing on that bill.
Once again, I remind everyone in this room to please turn off their BlackBerrys or set them to vibrate. We want to make sure there are no disturbances during our meeting. If you are receiving a call, please take it outside of this room. Thank you for your cooperation in this regard.
Now to get back to the Canadian Human Rights Act, to help us with our review we have two witnesses as individuals, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant. Welcome to both of you. You've probably been apprised of the process. Each of you has 10 minutes to present, and then we'll throw the floor open for questions by our committee members.
Mr. Levant, perhaps you could start. You have 10 minutes.
Mr. Ezra Levant (As an Individual):
Thank you. I appreciate this invitation very much.
I appreciate the fact that this is a multi-partisan committee, and I believe that freedom of speech, the rule of law, and checks and balances in quasi-judicial tribunals are not the property of any one party or, indeed, any one ideology. They're for anyone who believes in debate and discussion. I believe that freedom of speech is a Canadian value.
I'd like to read some prepared remarks.
Last month, section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the censorship provision, was declared unconstitutional. Athanasios Hadjis, the vice-chair of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, ruled that section violated the charter. He said the Canadian Human Rights Commission had become a bully. He called it “aggressive and confrontational”. In March, Edward Lustig, another tribunal member, ruled that the commission's conduct was “disturbing and disappointing”. He said he would follow Mr. Hadjis' lead on the question of its constitutionality. Mr. Hadjis is the past president of a large multicultural organization in Montreal and he was appointed to the tribunal by Prime Minister Chrétien. Mr. Lustig was appointed by Prime Minister Harper.
So that's the state of affairs today. Conservative and Liberal members of the tribunal agree. The commission is out of control. The tribunal will not enforce this illegal law. They've concluded that the commission is abusing our human rights, like freedom of speech.
So how did things get off the rails? To understand what the commission does, we have to understand what it doesn't do. It doesn't help minorities. It doesn't help immigrants or gays. In fact, all but two of the commission's censorship prosecutions in the past decade have been launched by the same one individual, a privileged white male lawyer right here in Ottawa named Richard Warman. He was actually a commission employee and he started filing censorship complaints while he worked there, and his co-workers would investigate his complaints. Needless to say, he won them all and he was awarded tens of thousands of dollars tax-free. When Mr. Warman left the commission five years ago and went to work for the Department of National Defence, he continued to file complaints. Even though he no longer works for the commission, they still pay his expenses: travel, hotels, parking, meals, and even an honorarium. The commission doesn't pay anyone else in Canada to file complaints. Section 13 really is Richard Warman's personal law. Without him, there would be no prosecutions. In itself, that raises questions like conflict of interest and abuse of office and malicious prosecution.
But that's not why Mr. Hadjis or Mr. Lustig rejected section 13. As I mentioned, they called the commission “disturbing”, “disappointing”, “aggressive”, and “confrontational”. I'll give you examples of that conduct now. I think it will shock you.
I couldn't believe it myself at first, so I would be happy to provide documentary evidence for what I'm about to say, almost all of which comes from sworn testimony of commission staff themselves. Here goes: Mr. Warman does something I don't think Canadians expect a government employee to do. For nearly 10 years he's been a member of a neo-Nazi group called Stormfront and another neo-Nazi group called Vanguard and another called the Canadian Heritage Alliance. He actually fills out membership forms, then goes online to their websites and writes bigoted, hateful things, like gays are a “cancer” on society, or that white police should be loyal to “their race”, or that Jews like your colleague, Irwin Cotler, are “scum”.
Seriously, he did this as a commission employee. He wrote hundreds of bigoted messages like that. He convinced other commission staff to do the same thing. At least seven staff have membership privileges in Nazi organizations. Last year, commission investigator Dean Stacey admitted, under oath, that he was one of them. He fingered his two assistants and Sandy Kozak and Giacomo Vigna and their manager, John Chamberlin, too. They all have access to neo-Nazi membership accounts.
Several years ago, Mr. Warman, Mr. Vigna, and Mr. Stacey sat down at a commission computer together and logged into a neo-Nazi website using their membership. But to cover their tracks they hacked into a wireless Internet account of a private citizen named Nelly Hechme so they couldn't be traced back to the commission. Bell Canada's security officer testified to this fact, and the RCMP investigated this hacking for months. The status of the investigation is officially “unsolved”, but the commission remains the only suspect.
I could go on. I could mention the lack of a written ethics code: that Ms. Kozak of the commission was hired after she was drummed out of a police force for corruption; that the commission illegally borrows material from police evidence lockers without a search warrant; that Mr. Stacey boasts this kind of behaviour doesn't break any rules at the commission because there are no rules to break. And instead of cleaning up this filthy, bigoted mess, the chief of the commission appointed by the Conservatives, Jennifer Lynch, defends this conduct and attacks anyone who criticizes it.
Section 13 was thrown out not just because censorship is un-Canadian, illiberal, and a violation of our charter, it was thrown out because the commission itself has become a threat to our human rights and both the Liberal and Conservative tribunal members refuse to let that go on one minute longer. I hope this committee will be united in their revulsion to what I just reported. I can talk about this in the media or on my blog, and so can Mr. Steyn, but only the people in this room and this building can actually put a stop to it.
Thank you. I now look forward to your questions.
Mr. Mark Steyn (As an Individual):
I want to second what Ezra Levant has said. Something has gone badly wrong in the Canadian state's conception of human rights. Until last month section 13 had a 100% conviction rate. Even Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il understood that you don't want to make the racket look too obvious.
Under section 13, citizens are subject to lifetime speech bans--not in the Soviet Union, not in Saudi Arabia, but in Canada. Section 13 prosecutes not crimes but pre-crimes, crimes that have not yet taken place. The phrase “pre-crime”, by the way, comes from a dystopian science fiction story written by Philip K. Dick in 1956. Half a century later, in one of the oldest, most stable democratic societies on the planet, we're living it. Until Maclean's magazine and I intervened last year, the section 13 trial of Marc Lemire was due to be held in secret—secret trials, not in Beijing or Tehran, but here in Ottawa. It is not the job of either Maclean's magazine or me to demand that in this country trials cannot be held in secret. That is the job of you and your colleagues and this Parliament.
Section 13 is at odds with this country's entire legal inheritance, stretching back to Magna Carta. Back then, if you recall--in 1215--human rights meant that the king could be restrained by his subjects. Eight hundred years later, Canada's pseudo-human rights apparatchiks of the commission have entirely inverted that proposition, and human rights now means that the subjects get restrained by the crown in the cause of so-called collective rights that can be regulated only by the state.
I would like to cite an eminent scholar in the field:
||...collective rights without individual ones end up in tyranny. Moreover, rights inflation--the tendency to define anything desirable as a right--ends up eroding the legitimacy of a defensible core of rights.
||...the right to freedom of speech is not...a lapidary bourgeois luxury, but the precondition for having any other rights at all.
Those are the words of the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff, in his thoughtful book, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Ignatieff that freedom of speech is the bedrock through which all others are secured, and I reject the Human Rights Commission's assault on it.
Section 13 is deeply destructive. There are some 33 million people in Canada, yet as Ezra pointed out, one individual citizen has his name on every section 13 prosecution since 2002. I'm sure some of you are familiar with Matthew Hopkins, who in 1645 appointed himself England's witch-finder general and went around the country hunting down witches and turning them in for the price of one pound per witch. In 2002 Richard Warman appointed himself Canada's hate-finder general and went around the Internet hunting down so-called haters and turning them in for lucrative tax-free sums amounting to many thousands of dollars. Hate-finder Warman and his enablers at the commission abused the extremely narrow constitutional approval given to section 13 by the Supreme Court in the Taylor decision and instead turned it into a personal inquisition for himself and his pals.
Abolish section 13, and life in Canada would be affected not one jot, except that Mr. Warman, Dean Stacey, and the other rogue civil servants would have to write their anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist website ravings on their own dime.
Let me take the most recent example of a section 13 conviction. The sole charge on which Marc Lemire was found guilty a month ago was for a post that appeared at his website, written by somebody else. That piece was read by a grand total of just eight people in the whole of Canada, which works out to 0.8 of a Canadian per province, or if you include territories, 0.6153 of a Canadian. And almost all those 0.6153s of a Canadian going to this website and reading this piece were Richard Warman and his fellow dress-up Nazis at the Human Rights Commission, salivating at the prospect of having found another witch to provide more bounty.
In other words, no one in Canada saw this post. No one in Canada read it. Nothing could be less “likely to expose” anyone to hatred or contempt than an unread post at an unread website. Yet Canadian taxpayers paid for Jennifer Lynch and the Nazi fetishists at the commission to investigate this unread bit of nothing for six years.
In the course of securing this itsy-bitsy single conviction, these psychologically disturbed employees of the Human Rights Commission wrote and distributed far more hate speech of their own. As the recent rulings of Judge Lustig and Judge Hadjis confirm, there is no justification for what Richard Warman and the CHRC did.
This is the sad truth about this disgusting agency at the beginning of the 21st century. There would be less hate speech in Canada--less hate speech--if taxpayers did not have to pay CHRC employees to go around writing it and publishing it.
Sometimes institutions do things that are so atrocious they cannot be reformed. They can only have the relevant powers removed, as happened to the RCMP in intelligence matters, or be abolished outright, as happened to a Canadian regiment not so long ago. The Canadian Human Rights Commission should not be more insulated from accountability and responsibility for its actions than the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Canadian Forces.
I call on this Parliament to assert its oversight role and to compel a full inquiry into the commission, its investigators, their membership of Nazi websites, their conflicts of interest, their contamination of evidence, and their relationship with Richard Warman.
Section 13's underlying philosophy is incompatible with a free society. Its effect is entirely irrelevant to the queen's peace, and its use by agents of the Canadian Human Rights Commission has been corrupted and diseased beyond salvation. It is time for the people's representatives in the House of Commons to defend real human rights and end this grotesque spectacle.
Mr. Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Lib.):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, witnesses.
I'm going to give my questioning in memory of Gordon Fairweather, who was a great New Brunswick parliamentarian and the first head of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. He held his seat as a Tory.
I'm saying good things about a Conservative, so we're starting off very well.
Really, I thought today we would have a debate on the concerns about procedure, equality, and fairness versus substantive law--that is, usually something everybody can agree on as egregious, and an act that should be impugned. But I think you have raised mostly, in your 20 minutes, procedural matters, the far-reaching hand of the state, the inequality. Those are all very legitimate concerns, if proven.
I will tell you that it's probably somebody's job to disprove some of the things, Mr. Levant, that you might say, I think particularly with respect to the allegation of hijacking a person's identity, on page 38 of your book. I think if you said that about an individual you'd be sued for liable, probably successfully.
But that's not why we're here. I think we're here to discuss the broader issue of whether what is impugned is wrong, and whether, as Canadians, we believe what Justice Dickson said at the Supreme Court of Canada when he decided that section 13 was a valid constitutional part of our law.
I guess what I'd like to ask you is whether you at least agree that the Canadian Criminal Code provisions are being appropriately administered and whether there is in fact some curb on free speech. The fundamental question is whether you believe there are curbs on free speech when free speech gets into the realm of hate speech, extreme speech, speech that is meant to, in the words of the late Justice Dickson, reduce people so that no one finds “redeeming qualities” in them; and hatred is “a set of emotions and feelings which involve extreme ill will towards another person or group of persons”. As he said, “To say that one 'hates' another means in effect that one finds no redeeming qualities in the latter.”
The cases dealt with by the tribunal are issues about the “Jewish lobby”; and the words spoken were, “that lied to us about Hitler”. I won't go on. I don't think we need to hear the atrocious statements made. But they shocked the conscience of people, and they go beyond freedom of speech. They're covered, in some cases, by the Criminal Code.
Do you believe at least in the Criminal Code provisions on hate speech? And don't you think there are limits?
Finally, you know that the Criminal Code requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is more difficult than on a balance of probabilities. You also know that the Criminal Code has punitive provisions involving jail, etc., whereas in administrative tribunals the sentences meted out are minor in terms of finances.
Let's not truck with the administrative procedural aspects. Let's get to the heart of it. The question is simple: are there limits on free speech in this country of Canada?
Mr. Ezra Levant:
Of course there are limits to free speech. For example, the laws against fraud are a limit to free speech, the laws against forgery, and the laws about copyright. We accept these. Uttering a death threat has been in our Criminal Code for centuries.
In all of these instances, though, speech is incidental. The substance of what is legislated is an actual crime, a harm, or a violence. But having hate speech in our Human Rights Act turns the ideas and the words themselves into a crime.
You say the punishments are light. I put it to you that a lifetime publication ban, $40,000 worth of penalties and fines, and no legal aid are not light, especially for the people who are caught in that system, with no legal aid allowed.
But you outline some of the differences between the Criminal Code and the Human Rights Act. Under the Criminal Code, if you're too poor to afford a lawyer, you will be given one, whereas more than 90% of the people before the Human Rights Commission are too poor to have a lawyer. In the Criminal Code, there is “beyond a reasonable doubt”; not so in the Human Rights Commission. In the Criminal Code, truth is a defence; not so in the Human Rights Commission. In the Criminal Code, honest belief is a defence; not so in the Human Rights Commission. In the Criminal Code, we have procedural checks and balances; the police have to live up to an ethics code, there's an internal affairs organization and you can't entrap people. But that's not so in the Human Rights Commission. These procedural differences, sir, are not a trifle; they are the petri dish in which these terrible things have happened.
Let me close by remarking on the Dickson decision you referred to. In 1990 the Supreme Court, in a narrow four-three ruling, said this law was acceptable. But here's the difference between then and now: back then the law, according to Dickson, would be targeted only at “evil” ideas. Now they're targeted at publishers who publish cartoons or at columnists who have something to say about radical Islam. So it has strayed into politics, which is what Chief Justice Dickson said would never happen—but it has.
Point two, the huge punitive fines, the aggressive behaviour, the entrapment were never imagined by Justice Dickson back then.
And number three, Canada has moved more towards freedom of speech. The dissenting opinion in 1990 was written by Justice Beverley McLachlin. She is now our Chief Justice.
I put it to you that even Justice Dickson would now abolish this law because it would offend him, let alone a 2009 court that is embracing freedom of speech.
Thank you for letting me answer that at some length.
Mr. Ezra Levant:
I'm Jewish myself. I affiliate and recognize as a Jew. Obviously the Holocaust is something that's very sensitive to Jews and others, and yet I agree with the Berlin Jewish community, which last month announced that it supported the publication of Mein Kampf
. Why would the Jewish community of Berlin support the publication of Mein Kampf
? To teach people about the horror of the Holocaust.
Mr. Comartin, you and I are from a generation where we knew about it, but what about an 18-year-old today who knows nothing about the Holocaust? We need to teach why it's wrong. We need to expose these ideas to the new generation.
From a practical point of view, sir, trying to ban ideas in the age of the Internet won't work. All it will do is attach glamour—oh, those ideas are so exciting and sexy that the government wants to ban them. People will want to find out what they're about. You will glamorize it. David Ahenakew uttered some ridiculous comment about the Holocaust. Instead of it dying in a conference with 100 people snickering at him, he became a national celebrity. If you google his name, you'll have 20,000 hits, because he was turned into a star and, at the end of the day, acquitted.
I'll close by telling you three reasons why hate speech is better to be out in the open rather than in private. This was said by Gilles Marchildon, the head of Egale, the gay rights lobby. He was asked why he didn't want to ban anti-gay speech, even the most vicious kind. He gave three reasons why he was for freedom of speech.
One, he wanted to know who the bad guys were so he could isolate them and argue against them.
Two, he wanted what he called a teachable moment—look people, we just saw an act of bigotry; let's re-educate people on why that was wrong.
Three, which I think may be the most important, he did not want to out-source his civic duty to some bureaucracy. If he saw an act of anti-gay bigotry, he thought it was important for everyone to personally write a letter to the editor or tell someone that we don't tell jokes like that, rather than calling 911 and having a six-year prosecution.
Mr. Ezra Levant:
That's right. And of course Richard Warman is paid to file complaints and he receives awards of tens of thousands of dollars.
My legal fees and those of the magazine amounted to about $100,000. Since I won and I was acquitted, if I had been sued in civil court I would have had my costs reimbursed. That's not the case with human rights commissions. If I had been charged under a criminal court, I would have had legal aid. The process has become the punishment.
Again I say to Mr. Ménard, I despise the censorship because I believe Canadians are free people. But putting that tremendous issue aside, the process here brings the administration of justice into disrepute.
The reason I was acquitted and he was acquitted, frankly, is that we're noisier, more articulate, more politically connected, and we're able to raise funds. But until we came along, no one had ever been acquitted, because they were beneath the law. They had no money. They were not articulate. Ninety-plus per cent of them couldn't afford a lawyer, and no lawyer was given to them. No one should be above the law in Canada, but no one should be below the law.
I think, as Mark Steyn alluded to, this whole thing has to be thrown out because it has been corrupted all the way through. The Criminal Code protects truth and honest belief as a defence; this human rights commission does not.
Mr. Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton—St. Albert, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you both, Mr. Levant and Mr. Steyn, for your very enlightening comments regarding this problematic issue.
I must say at the outset that I disagree with my friend Mr. Lemay's reading of the 1990 decision of the Supreme Court in Taylor. It is my understanding that the majority, although they upheld it, did state that section 13 ought to be narrow and confined to extremely hateful messages. As I see it, we've seen in the post-Internet era that this has been interpreted rather liberally, and I think you would agree with that.
But on my question, I mean, we have to find some balance between freedom of expression and the protection of human rights--or what I prefer to call civil rights. I was struck by Professor Moon's report when he indicated that, in his view, censorship ought to be “confined to a narrow category of extreme expression--that which threatens, advocates or justifies violence against the members of an identifiable group”.
Short of condoning, justifying, or inciting violence, he appears to be an advocate for freedom of expression, unqualified. I am assuming you're both going to agree with that, but I'd like that confirmation, please.
Ms. Wendy Rinella (Vice-President Corporate, Title Insurance Industry Association of Canada):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to appear before this committee.
Our association is the Title Insurance Industry Association of Canada. We are federally regulated title insurance companies. The objects and purposes of our association are to promote the common interests and concerns of the title insurance industry in Canada, to provide information and education to its members and the public, to advocate for the betterment of and on behalf of the title insurance industry, and to maintain professional standards and ethics in the title insurance industry in Canada.
Our association is supportive of Bill S-4 and the importance of strengthening the provisions related to identity theft and fraud. My comments here today are in no way meant to be interpreted as a lack of support for the bill, but rather as an attempt to strengthen provisions to deal with the devastating crime of title and mortgage fraud.
Title insurance is a relatively new product in Canada, so I'm just going to give a little bit of background about it. It protects the holder of an interest in real property, either as an owner or as a lender, by indemnifying against loss that may be suffered if title is other than as stated in the policy. It includes a duty on us, the title insurers, to defend the insured’s interest in the title in addition to an indemnity coverage.
As title insurers, we provide policies to all parties involved in a transaction, whether they be owners, borrowers, buyers, or lenders, and on both sides of the equation. Title insurers are on the front line of preventing mortgage and title fraud. We have accumulated expertise in detecting title and mortgage fraud, and this allows us to prevent fraudulent mortgages from being granted by Canadian financial institutions, which clouds the title of innocent homeowners and potentially leads to increased fraud claims in the public system.
Let's talk about real estate fraud. It includes both title fraud and mortgage fraud. It's a sophisticated white collar crime that relies on knowledge of real estate conveyancing and mortgage lending professional practices. Typically, a fraudster targets a house, forges a transfer deed—that's the title fraud—registers the title to the property in his or her own name, forges a discharge of the existing mortgage, and borrows against the clear title—that's the mortgage fraud. In the event of identity theft, a victim faces financial losses, banking issues, and ruined credit history.
We, as title insurers, estimate the average case of real estate title fraud in Canada to be in the range of $300,000. In comparison, the RCMP pegs the average credit card scam in Canada to be around $1,200. The impact of real estate fraud on the victim is extensive. It's not only loss of credit rating; they may lose access to their property, may be saddled with an unpaid mortgage, and may be facing litigation.
I'm going to give you some real-life examples of what has happened to people in Canada. Some of you may be familiar with them.
Snowbirds returning home are greeted by a new homeowner at their door—an innocent third party who's bought the home from a fraudulent conveyor.
A landlord is faced with a new owner of his or her rental property when a tenant fraudulently conveys that property.
The spouse maintaining the home in a divorce finds a foreclosure sign on the lawn because the former spouse has taken out a new mortgage with the assistance of an impersonator, usually a new boyfriend or girlfriend or a family member. This is very common.
A child with the same name as a parent mortgages the parent’s property and absconds with the money. One of our companies is in the midst of litigation over this exact issue.
A fraudster makes a bona fide purchase and then flips the property several times to straw buyers to defraud lenders, also known as the “Oklahoma flip”.
A real estate agent makes a fake MLS listing and sells the non-existent property to immigrant investors.
A lawyer does not pay off a mortgage to obtain a discharge, but rather takes the money, and the new owner is subject to the prior mortgage. This case in B.C. was probably the biggest case of real estate fraud in Canada. It was exactly that the lawyer had not discharged the prior mortgages.
We also see fraud on commercial properties with impersonation of corporate directors. A title insurer recently paid $876,000 in order to resolve the claim for the insured lender. A fraudster filed a forged notice of change, appointing himself as the director of a corporation. The fraudster obtained a first mortgage that was title insured. Shortly after closing, the mortgage went into default, and the fraud was discovered when the insured lender initiated mortgage enforcement proceedings.
Well, these crimes often go unpunished or lightly punished. According to Gary Ford, who's the author of The Canadian Guide to Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft and Other Fraud, which I'm sure every member of this committee has read:
||The risk of Jail time is not strong in Canada. For example, there was a recent case of one convicted mortgage fraudster who was sentenced to 30 days in jail to be served on weekends. Another fraudster convicted of 33 charges of fraud was sentenced to 38 months. Not much of a deterrent considering the large sums of money involved.
So what are we recommending to the committee today? Well, number one, we'd like to see you improve sections 386 and 387 so that they can be used, and educate the police force on how to use them. I know the latter part is not really your role. Second, we’d like to see real estate fraud added to subsection 380.1 as an aggravating circumstance, in terms of sentencing, and that the maximum penalty for fraud be increased from the current 14 years.
Let’s talk about sections 386 and 387. We've raised this point with the minister. As well, I believe Mr. Comartin has raised this issue with the learned adviser from the Department of Justice. In both cases they indicate that these sections are rarely used. Our view is that they should be improved if they are rarely used, so that they can be used effectively. Furthermore, as the RCMP commissioner advised this committee in his comments, police forces need to be educated on how to apply these sections.
The federal government needs to act to strengthen the provisions of the Criminal Code to ensure that the fraudsters who commit real estate fraud are prosecuted. In my brief I have the following highlighted in bold print: “Steal a homeowner’s title or equity in their property and there should be mandatory jail time. In Georgia, there’s a minimum of one year for a first offence and three years for a second offence.”
Currently, section 386, “Fraudulent registration of title”, and section 387, “Fraudulent sale of real property”, of the Criminal Code should address real estate fraud but are deficient in a number of ways. Section 386 imposes three hurdles to a conviction. The crime must have been, one, committed “knowingly”; two, “with the intent to deceive”, and three, by making a “material false statement or representation”.
Section 386 contains no minimum penalty like Georgia's does. Section 386 does not include other persons involved in the fraudulent process, such as the recipient of the fraudulent funds, or does not include the registration of a fraudulent instrument.
Section 387 is limited to fraudulent sales and excludes fraudulent mortgages, and section 387 is limited to where the accused knows “of an unregistered prior sale”, which makes conviction under this section difficult.
Let’s talk about subsection 380.1 and the proposed increase in the maximum penalty.
Our related concern is that some of the sections related to identity fraud may be difficult to apply in the cases that we’ve seen in title fraud and mortgage fraud. For instance, in the aforementioned case, where family members have the same name--which I refer to as the George Forman phenomenon--and in the case of an abused power of attorney, I raise whether the court will be able to apply the impersonation or identity fraud sections.
I also note that we are seeing many different types of forgeries. We’ve seen a forged MLS listing, a forged registration of corporate directors, forged corporate signing officers, etc. It is likely that we will see more and varied approaches in the future.
I believe that the minister noted when he was here that this legislation was “just catching up” and that it was focused on ensuring that identity theft, the enabler to identity fraud, also be a crime. I fully agree, but I also want to ensure that the $300,000 crime carries a stronger penalty than the $1,200 crime. I think it’s incumbent on legislators to ensure that there are no loopholes when a homeowner is deprived of equity or title to their property. Again, we believe the perception is that there are nominal penalties related to real estate fraud and that they go unpunished. So we’d recommend that these crimes be included as aggravating circumstances and the maximum penalty be raised.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.
Mr. Daniel Petit (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Rinella, I am going to ask you the same question you were asked earlier. Nine provinces and three territories use the double mandate system, that is, a person can be a notary and register mortgages, and also be a lawyer. But in Quebec, the profession was split in two categories: notaries and lawyers.
Title insurance is a unique practice that comes to us from the United States. When you buy a piece of land in that country, given that all land came from the US government and was then transferred to private owners, it can be difficult to know the true identity of the person who sold the land or who asked the bank for a mortgage. In actual fact, it is an identity problem.
I know that something like this could happen in common-law provinces or during the sale of crown land in the north or elsewhere. The Criminal Code also applies to Quebec. What you are asking us to do would hardly apply to Quebec at all.
In the legislation that we put forward and that addresses identity theft, would you be satisfied with simply making it an aggravating circumstance? There is a difference between making it an aggravating circumstance and making it a separate offence. If a judge was considering a case of real estate fraud in Quebec, and neither was the notary involved nor was there a series of identify of thefts, in terms of a conviction, would you be satisfied with the aggravating circumstance or would you need a specific offence?