Feds propose tough laws for white-collar crime
OTTAWA - The federal government has proposed tough new measures to deal with white-collar criminals, including two-year minimum sentences in fraud cases involving more than $1 million.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says the proposed legislation would also introduce "aggravating factors" for judges to consider when handing down sentences.
Those would include the financial and psychological impact of the crime; the age, health and financial situation of its victims; and whether the fraudster concealed or destroyed related records.
Other aggravating factors would include the "magnitude, complexity and duration" of the fraud and "the degree of planning that went into it."
Under the bill, judges would be required to consider whether to order restitution to victims.
Judges could also call for a community impact statement that would describe the losses suffered as a result of the crime, and they could ban convicted fraudsters from ever handling other people's money again.
Ottawa has long been concerned about Canada's global reputation for being lax on white-collar crime. And recently, high-profile cases of fraudsters bilking investors out of their retirement savings have prompted a public outcry.
Non-violent criminals convicted of their first offence are often eligible for parole after serving just a sixth of their sentences.
In Alberta last month, two men were charged in connection with a scam that police say robbed about 4,000 investors of up to $400 million.
In Quebec, Montreal investment dealer Earl Jones is facing fraud charges over a Ponzi scheme that led to the disappearance of millions in investors' savings. Quebec Premier Jean Charest has been pushing Ottawa to beef up its white collar laws.
Nicholson has been talking for weeks about cracking down on white-collar crime, saying his pending legislation would include minimum jail terms, longer sentences and improved restitution for victims.
He has been working closely with victims' groups to develop the bill.
But some legal experts wonder whether the stricter law will actually deter fraud and corporate crime, since some perpetrators assume they will get away with their crimes, regardless of the punishment.
And top criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan, who has defended entertainment mogul Garth Drabinsky and media giant Conrad Black, has complained that the fight against white-collar crime is approaching "hysteria," unfairly branding business people as criminals.
Victims' rights groups, however, have urged Ottawa to undertake a variety of measures to protect investors from unscrupulous money managers.
Some activists have argued for the creation of a Securities Crimes Unit that would set up a centralized process to handle white-collar crime complaints.
They also want better communication to investors from securities regulators when companies are on their watch list. And they want more resources for police to investigate fraud.