Episode 53: The Ideablawg podcast on s. 58 of the Criminal Code of Canada – The Good Citizen

In this episode, we are continuing our discussion of identity fraud and theft type offences. This particular offence involves documentation which confers status of citizenship on the subject holding the document. Section 58 involves the fraudulent use of such a certificate of citizenship or naturalization.

The section reads as follows:

58 (1) Every one who, while in or out of Canada,

(a) uses a certificate of citizenship or a certificate of naturalization for a fraudulent purpose, or

(b) being a person to whom a certificate of citizenship or a certificate of naturalization has been granted, knowingly parts with the possession of that certificate with intent that it should be used for a fraudulent purpose,

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

(2) In this section, certificate of citizenship and certificate of naturalization, respectively, mean a certificate of citizenship and a certificate of naturalization as defined by the Citizenship Act.

The section uses similar language to the previous section 57 in that it applies to all those committing the offence while in or outside of Canada thereby extending the reach of our sovereign authority beyond Canadian borders. Unlike section 57, a section 58 offence does not involve the making or forgery of the document but the giving up of possession or the use of a citizenship document for a fraudulent purpose. This prohibited conduct of use is not as egregious as the creation of a false document under s. 57 as is suggested by the maximum punishment for this offence of two years imprisonment. However, the s. 58 offence is certainly more serious than the offence of making a false statement in relation to a passport under section 57(2), as section 58 is a straight indictable offence while 57(2) is a dual offence.

The documents in question – certificate of citizenship and certificate of naturalization – are defined as per the Citizenship Act. That Act, also of federal origin, is a statute conferring the right of Canadian citizenship on those individuals who attain that status pursuant to s. 3 of the Act. Indeed, there are only three sections to the Act, with s. 3, the application section, containing 24 subsections. Section 3(1) is one of the few sections I have seen which are a drafters’ paradise with the generous use of clauses, sub-clauses, and paragraphs such as in s. 3(1)(f)(i)(A). Needless to say, it is not the clearest of drafting.

To return to the certificates in question in s. 58 of the Criminal Code, the definition of the certificates under s. 2 of the Citizenship Act is not of much assistance. In accordance with that section, “certificate of citizenship” means a certificate of citizenship issued or granted under the Act or the former Act and “certificate of naturalization” means a certificate of naturalization granted under any Act that was in force in Canada at any time before January 1, 1947. I assume that the authorities would simply know the document when they see one.

The offence, as mentioned previously, involves the use of those documents for a fraudulent purpose or knowingly “parts with possession” of the certificate with the intent it be used for a fraudulent purpose. The offence, through the use of the terms “fraudulent,” “purpose,” “knowingly,” “possession” and “intent,” requires proof of a high level of mens rea. One cannot commit this offence through recklessness.

The offence has been in the Criminal Code since 1938 being an offence, as with s. 57, responding to the vagaries of pre-World War II Europe and the waves of immigrants trying to find a safe haven through whatever means possible. As I discuss in the previous podcast on s. 57, the Canadian government’s stand on the immigration “problem” was itself a casualty of the war as persecuted people were refused entrance into the country.

According to a series of British Columbia Court of Appeal decisions interpreting the phrase “fraudulent purpose,” the term “imports dishonesty in accord with community standards” as per R v Gatley, 1992 CanLII 1088 (BC CA), R. v. Long (1990) 1990 CanLII 5405 (BC CA), 61 C.C.C. (3d) 156 (B.C.C.A.), and R v RND, 1994 CanLII 403 (BC CA).

The importance of the section having extra-territorial reach cannot be underestimated. In the 1966 Ontario Court of Appeal decision of Regina v. Stojadinovic; Regina v. Stanojevich, the accused persons, who were facilitating the illegal entry of another person into the United States with the use of a fraudulent certificate of citizenship were acquitted on appeal as the then section did not pertain to an accused committing the offence while outside of Canada. In that case, the two accused planned an illegal entry into the United States but the individual to be sent was otherwise legally in Canada. Mere preparation was not itself fraudulent use per the section requirements. This decision followed earlier cases, in particular the decision of R v Walkem (1908), 14 C.C.C. 122, in which Justice Clement of the British Columbia Supreme Court concluded that “what takes place abroad cannot, in the eye of our law, be an offence against our law (unless indeed made so by statute)." This sentiment follows an even older English decision by Lord Chief Justice de Grey in Rafael v Verelst (1776), 2 W. Bl. 1,055 at p. 1,058 where he states that "Crimes are in their nature local, and the jurisdiction of crimes is local." After the 1966 decision, the section was amended in 1968 to ensure that the offence applied to “every one who, while in or out of Canada.”

The phrase in s. 58(1)(b) “parts with possession” is only found in two other sections of the Code pertaining to property; theft under section 322(1)(c) and section 390 an offence relating to fraudulent receipts under Bank Act. This phrase has a property-related meaning. The phrase is in fact common in landlord and tenant disputes involving “parting with” premises under a lease agreement. This “parting” can occur through bankruptcy or assignment (See Bel-Boys Buildings Ltd. v. Clark, 1967 CanLII 533 (AB CA)) and is akin to sub-letting the premises. However, such parting does not grant the person a right to hand over the premises with tenure. By using this term in defining the offence under s. 58, the handing over of the certificate to another person need not be permanent but can be only for a limited period and yet still be subject to s. 58.

Outside of the Criminal Code, there are other measures the government can take when faced with the misuse of citizenship documents such as refusing the issuance of a passport pursuant to the Canadian Passport Order, SI/81-86 or revoking or canceling fraudulent certificates of citizenship. The use of the Criminal Code provisions are therefore not the only response to this type of conduct but is an expression of the state’s desire to control and protect the status of citizenship through the criminal law.