House of Commons Hansard #59 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was card.

Topics

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1 p.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to what the member opposite had to say as he rejected any thought, any discourse or any debate on this topic. I agree with some of his concerns about government moving in this direction at this time and I will speak about that later in debate.

A whole series of changes have taken place in the world in which we and our constituents, the people we serve, live. They have served to do various things to diminish personal privacy, because privacy is largely a myth right now given the pervasive nature of the kind of tools that we use to live our lives. Tremendous benefits have come to us through creative uses of technology in other aspects of our lives, benefits and efficiencies that are not received through government.

Is the hon. member opposed to the nature of a compulsory national identity card, or is he just generally opposed to government having anything to do with technology?

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1 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. It is like the old question that is asked quite often, “Would you buy a used car from this person?” Would you buy any kind of a registration card from this government? That is part of it and that is part of the turn-off. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

However, compulsory registration of everybody? No. There is no way anyone should support that. It would be up to individuals themselves as to whether or not they feel they need the card.

We talk about this card as if this is going to be the one thing that will ensure privacy and secrecy. The social insurance cards were supposed to do the same thing and we have what, 1.5 million cards unaccounted for, maybe again because of the incompetency of government but also because of the expertise of the criminal element that can end up duplicating everything. How often have people been told that their credit cards are safe or that their bank cards are safe or whatever? Nothing is safe.

Perhaps if government developed and showed us the costs of a card that would provide us with the type of security everybody talks about and we knew what we were getting into, then those who want to avail themselves of such services could.

Other than that, until that happens, until we see the products, until we see the wounds, nobody is going to buy in. A lot of it, again I say to the member, is not because of the idea of being secure and safe and people having their privacy protected, but because of the incompetency of the way in which this has been handled, particularly by the present government.

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the debate has generally identified that mandatory identity cards would pose a more serious threat to privacy considerations than a voluntary card.

My question for the member is this. On the presumption that this would be voluntary and since there is about $3 billion to $5 billion of health care fraud a year, does he believe that a card which would have a person's health card number, picture, and possibly even other disclosures a person may want to make, such as blood type, allergies, who to contact in the case of an emergency, et cetera, might not be a bad idea as a starting point?

If that is the case, then can he envision extrapolating it to include other information with regard to personal identification, which would be able to be fast tracked through border points or international airline travel so that the volume of security check activity could be alleviated by those who would have already pre-cleared themselves?

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1:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, now we have taken away the toque, the hockey stick and the tape and we are just down to the cost of the sweater, I guess, in relation to the MasterCard.

Let me say to the member that I do not think there is anybody in the House who would not rather have some kind of secure system that would protect our privacy and identity, if it were possible. However, when the member talks about what the card can do, in order for me or anybody else to be able to access this card for these complexities just imagine the type of complicated back-up technology that would be required to put such a card in play.

Whenever we get into something like this, the first thing we have to do, if we are responsible keepers of the taxpayers' money here, is a cost benefit analysis. It is too bad we did not do it with gun control. If we do it with this and the government can come back with something worthwhile, we might have a different type of debate in the House.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, who I am sure will have many brilliant comments to make on this subject.

I must admit that I rise today with mixed emotions. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has asked the country to engage in this debate on national identity cards. The unfortunate part of it, which we have heard in the debate so far, is that there is just so much speculation as to what form this card would take. Would it be voluntary? Would it be mandatory? Would the public have to pay for it or would the government assume that cost? How much would it cost? Would it be a card based on just a picture, or would it have fingerprints on it, or would we try to do something more technologically advanced? The list of questions goes on.

On Monday of this week, part of the citizenship and immigration committee met in Toronto. I had the opportunity to sit in on those hearings. One of the issues we were discussing, one of the topics, to take up the minister's suggestion, was the use of these cards and whether or not they make sense. We heard from several members of the public there, both as individuals and as representatives of groups. After they made their presentations, I asked all of them if any of them could give me a good reason for the card and if in fact we should proceed with it. All three representatives who were there answered no. They could not see a good reason for it and were definite that we should not proceed with it.

One of the members of a delegation was Morris Manning, a well known criminal lawyer practising in Toronto, but whose reputation I think covers the whole of the country given some of the work he has done over his many years of practising law. He gave us a thick lawyer's brief covering a great many of the issues and addressing some of the points. I want to give him credit because a number of the answers, suggestions and points I will be giving today come from some of the issues he raised.

We heard from the minister that one of the reasons for introducing this card is that it would in some fashion reduce racial profiling in the country. I do not understand that. I have had some very extensive background work done on this issue in my riding, because my riding is on the border and I regularly see the consequences of the racial profiling that has been instituted on the American side, first formally and now informally. Just so that I am clear on this, that racial profiling is particularly directed toward people who come from the Middle East, northern Africa, Pakistan and India.

A card of this kind will do absolutely nothing to deal with the issue of racial profiling. The discrimination that goes on, and the abuse and humiliation that people suffer, will continue unabated. If someone is an aboriginal member of society in Canada, nothing will be done to ameliorate their situation as far as racial profiling on reserves is concerned and the discrimination they suffer from. If someone is an Afro Canadian and in downtown Toronto, having this card will do absolutely nothing to reduce the racial profiling and the consequences that the Afro Canadian community suffers from.

The minister's position on this is in fact without merit. I will go further and say that the card will move that racial profiling off the streets, away from our airports. It will not just happen there or at the border. It will be happening in boardrooms, on paper and in our computers, because people will be identified by their name alone as being from some other group that we want to discriminate against. There is no merit at all in this position.

Already we have heard, just in the last few minutes, that somehow we should be using the card as a way of dealing with consumer fraud. There are two answers to that. It is not our responsibility as a government to be dealing with that problem. That is a problem that has to be dealt with by the people who are giving out the credit. It is their responsibility, not the government's. The second point is that it does not work. Every time an advance is made, the criminal element figures a way around it, so it is not going to be a solution. Also, when we look at what the potential negative consequences are of having that kind of card in circulation, there is no way we should be going down that road.

There has been what I can only call a ridiculous suggestion that somehow the card will be used as an alternative to or replacement for passports. We are involved in an international protocol and international treaties with the rest of the globe, I think without exception, for the passport system. It is an international system. The introduction of an identity card in Canada is not in any way going to provide an alternative to that system. If we hear that there is some suggestion that the whole globe is going to get together and introduce an international identity card as a replacement for passports, then maybe we could be looking at that system but that is not what we are talking about at all. The globe is not looking at that kind of a system, so that argument as to why we should have a national identity card also goes down the tubes.

Let me go to the other side. Why should we not have these types of cards? The essential and fundamental answer to that is in fact the fundamental rights and freedoms we have in our country. The right to move around is recognized in the charter, our mobility right, our right to move around in our society without being confronted by authority in whatever form, whether it be police officers or school authorities and so on, asking to see our documents. That is a system we see in police states, not in Canada.

Why should we not do it? Again we hear that the technology is so well advanced that we can make it foolproof. I made the point earlier that this in fact is not the case. More specifically, we hear about the iris scan or some other type of biometric methodology. People are watching too much TV and too much science fiction. We do not have those systems. They do not exist. There is no technology at this time that allows us to do this. Those cards do not exist. I repeat, that technology does not exist. It does not exist in this country and does not exist anyplace on the globe.

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1:10 p.m.

An hon. member

That's not so.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

It is so, but given the knowledge on the other side of the Chamber, Mr. Speaker, I should ignore them.

There is one more point that Mr. Manning made, and I want to go back and acknowledge the work he has done, which I think is very helpful to this discussion. He did look around the globe. He looked at some other countries that have looked at this in their court systems. Specifically, although he said they were not the only ones, he drew to our attention both the Philippines and Hungary, which have taken the issue of a national identity card all the way up to their supreme courts, their courts of final decision making. In both of those cases they were found to be unconstitutional. My question was why not, and this, I believe, will not survive a challenge under the charter. We cannot impose this on our system.

My final point is that both England and the United States have given consideration to this. England is currently looking at it and, as Canada is so far, is getting very negative reactions to the concept. The U.S., as we heard in one of the earlier commentaries, has in fact rejected it. It attempted a few years ago to expand its driver's licence system into a national identity card. It was shot down overwhelmingly in that country. The countries that we are most close to in terms of our jurisprudence and our legislation have rejected it or are about to do so.

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1:15 p.m.

Brampton Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member spoke about racial profiling of Canadians of Arab origin. I have seen him at many Canadian Arab functions. I am sure he agrees with me that most Canadians of Arab origin are very upset with the U.S. policy to ask only them to be fingerprinted. I am one of them. When I cross the border I must be fingerprinted despite the fact that I have been a citizen here for 35 years and I am a member of Parliament, but the law says because I was born in a certain country I have to be fingerprinted.

The discussion we are having about proposed ID cards which we may or may not have in the future cannot prevent racial profiling of Canadian citizens at the border.

Would the member still oppose the fact that I cannot cross the border like anybody else in the House without having to be fingerprinted because of my place of birth? Would he support the concept that I be equal to him when I cross the border to the United States because I would have an ID card as would he? My thumbprint, as the minister said, does not have a colour, religion or faith. My thumbprint is mine. Nobody can fake that. It is the same for the member. He could cross the border based on his thumbprint and I could cross the border based on my thumbprint.

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1:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, it will not work. The Americans will not recognize that. If someone has a criminal record and is pardoned in this country, they will not recognize that. They have already decided they will not do that.

The other reality is that the card does not protect someone from informal racial profiling.

I rose in the House on a number of occasions and challenged the Minister of Foreign Affairs to deal with this issue, to complain to the Americans, to protest, because of the humiliation and the abuse that was occurring at the border, particularly to people of Arab and Muslim backgrounds. I was brushed off most of the time by the minister.

The reality finally got through to the U.S. and it has backed off in the formal programs, but informal discrimination and racial profiling is going on.

One of my constituents, a very fair featured woman with black hair, a citizen of Canada for 12 years and a resident for about 16 years, was constantly being stopped at the border as she went back and forth every day to work in the United States. She could not figure out why. Finally she realized it was because she still had a Middle Eastern accent. That is how they were identifying her. One day she happened to be wearing a crucifix, because she is Christian not Muslim, and she was not stopped that day. From then on she wore a crucifix when she went across the border.

Is that what we will have to do? That is the alternative to the card if we are to really try and deal with it. That is what is happening at the border and the card will not change that one iota.

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1:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to comment on some of my colleague's statements. First, I believe I heard the member correctly in that he referred to the card as being either voluntary or mandatory. I can assure him that if it is a national card it would be like the social insurance card and it would have to be mandatory for it to work properly.

There was one statement that really kind of shook me and I would like the minister to explain. I believe I heard the member say that consumer fraud was not the business of government. I thought the function of government was to protect its citizens and the government has to move to do something. Above all, our citizens should be protected from consumer fraud. Consumer fraud is not just the business of those conducting the fraud.

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Brampton Centre, ON

He is not a minister.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is right, I am not a minister and I certainly would not want to be a minister in that government.

To deal seriously with the question, the member is correct in that the government does have a role. However, prevention is the responsibility of the people issuing that credit. That is not anything the government can effectively do anything with.

Sure the government has a responsibility. Consumer fraud is a crime. Under the Criminal Code there is a responsibility to make it a crime and to enforce it in our courts.

The point I was making is that the issue of prevention of consumer fraud is not one that should be the government's responsibility. It should be the responsibility of the company that is issuing the credit to those individuals.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to the NDP opposition day motion which states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the introduction of national identity card offends the principle of privacy and other civil rights of Canadians and this House therefore opposes its introduction.

I am proud that it was our House leader, the member for Vancouver East, who introduced the motion, seconded by the member for Winnipeg--Transcona. Both have spoken very well on the subject and have articulated clearly what some of the NDP's reservations are about the introduction of such a measure.

I thank my colleague from Windsor--St. Clair for sharing his time with me and for so eloquently speaking to this subject just a moment ago.

I will open my remarks, as have some of the other members, with a quote from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, not just because he puts the point so well but because it gets up the noses of the Liberal MPs so effectively. Some clearly disapprove of Mr. Radwanski's comments. His comments irritate them, so it is all the more reason for me to dwell on them extensively in my speech.

In 2002, Mr. Radwanski in a speech to the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs said that in a free society:

We need to make loss of privacy the exception, not the new way of doing business. And we need to have an attitudinal change that both recognizes the threats and places limits on them. The burden of proof must always be on those who say that a new intrusion on privacy is necessary to meet some important social need. Every such proposal should be calmly and carefully assessed on its own merit. It should be tested against four key criteria.

It is important to put these tests forward here today. We must ask ourselves if the introduction of national identification cards will meet these tests to see if the cards are truly necessary or if there is merit to them.

The first test that Mr. Radwanski suggested is, is there a demonstrable necessity to address some specific problem? What is the goal, what is the objective, what is the Liberal government seeking to achieve? We have not really heard clearly from the Liberal members to date, other than the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who pointed out that for the narrow purposes of the immigration file, he sees the need in terms of immigration.

Second, is it demonstrably likely to be effective in addressing that problem? We have heard members, such as the member from St. John's, Newfoundland, who seriously doubt whether the introduction of the card would even achieve what few specifics the Liberal government was willing to share with us. It was pointed out as well the very real concern that the introduction of the card by the government's own estimates would cost about $3.6 billion and that is if everything went perfectly smoothly. If recent examples are any indication, such as the disaster of the gun registry, we could expect cost overruns of god knows how much over that $3.6 billion.

Surely it is not demonstrably likely to be effective in addressing even the narrow range of problems that have been brought to our attention by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Third, is the reduction in privacy proportional to the benefit to be derived? Most of us would argue that in a free society the minimizing and trivializing of the issue of privacy is not equal to any benefit that might be derived.

Fourth, is there no other less privacy invasive alternative that could accomplish the same purpose? In other words, have we exhausted every other avenue of recourse to achieve the goals as outlined or the reasons that ID cards should be put forward? I would say that the answer is no, that we have not exhausted this idea.

We have seen member after member rise today to express concern at the loss of privacy, the erosion of our personal freedoms, and the very things by which we define ourselves as Canadians. We have heard very little from the government side as to why these cards would be necessary, other than a professed convenience. We would be lumping all of the other forms of ID into one information card.

Some people are offended even more than I. People were speaking to me in the lobby, asking why we would stop at this national ID card, why not have a microchip implanted under our skin and we could pass by some kind of a screen and the government would have all the information it needed on all of us. Another even more cynical person said we should have a tattoo of a bar code on our forearm and it could be scanned. Maybe having it across our foreheads would be more applicable, especially in the case of the member for Winnipeg South. It would cover up part of his expansive forehead.

Many people view the introduction of a national ID card in much the same vein as these comments about a microchip or a bar code. I guess it is clear from all of the speakers here that Canadians are not willing to forfeit any of the personal freedoms we enjoy as Canadian citizens, especially when no one has made the case as to why it is necessary to do so. We should always tread very carefully when we go down the slippery slope of the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. In the absence of a compelling argument as to why it is necessary, we probably will follow the lead of other countries like Australia and the United Kingdom which have considered this issue, contemplated it, given it serious debate and rejected the idea.

I suppose that using our opposition day motion is pre-emptive in a way. We are hoping to convince the ruling party that Canadians stand fairly united and have reached a fair consensus that this is an intrusion into their personal freedoms that they are not willing to accept.

Other speakers before me have mentioned valuable comments from one of the country's leading constitutional lawyers, Morris Manning. He recently joined immigrant and multicultural groups in denouncing the proposal for a national identity card. He said that Hungary's constitution bans it and it has been ruled illegal in the Philippines. These are countries that contemplated the introduction of such a card. As I said, the government of Australia nearly collapsed over plans to introduce such a card 15 years ago. Mr. Manning warned the immigration committee chair that the ID cards would increase racial profiling, would do little to combat terrorism or identify fraud, and would invade people's privacy by creating a huge database of information.

As a Manitoban, I have a graphic illustration of how personal data can be compromised. When the Filmon Tory government was in power, it privatized and contracted out, sold if you will, the health data on Manitobans, the private personal information about their personal health. The government contracted that out to a private firm, much against the hue and cry of many Manitobans.

That firm, as companies will do, then merged and was sold to another American firm. Now my personal health information is in the hands of a private company in Houston, Texas. I do not know if it is going to sell my personal health information to a drug company that might want to solicit me to buy a certain product, or sell that database to a magazine subscription company. How do we know, once it gets into that realm, if it is really secure?

There is no perfectly secure database system that cannot be compromised. The more important data that is put on that card, the more interesting it is for those who would have nefarious purposes for that card to access that information and steal it. It makes it a target for those who have the wherewithal to compromise the cards.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, tempted as I am to respond to the health questions and point out that the member's health information is only as secure as the lock on the dumpster behind his doctor's office, let me venture into the civil liberties debate.

I too have a quote from a civil libertarian, Alan Dershowitz, from the Harvard law school. He said:

Finally, there is the question of the right to anonymity. I don't believe we can afford to recognize such a right in this age of terrorism. No such right is hinted at in the Constitution. And though the Supreme Court has identified a right to privacy, privacy and anonymity are not the same.... A national ID card could actually enhance civil liberties by reducing the need for racial and ethnic stereotyping.... From a civil liberties perspective, I prefer a system that takes a little bit of freedom from all to one that takes a great deal of freedom and dignity from the few.

How would the member for Winnipeg Centre respond to that?

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is the very question that I was just asking myself. Actually the two competing authorities that were quoted, Manning and the authority that the member for Winnipeg South quotes, went at each other on that very issue and disagree. There were two opposing points of view.

In my point of view we do not compromise personal freedoms. I believe that freedom and dignity are things that we can afford and maintain in this country. We do not have to sell or compromise them to achieve greater safety in the community. I do not believe that we have exhausted every avenue of recourse in terms of tightening up the Canadian system as it pertains to terrorism and I do not accept the argument that the national ID card would take us any further down that road to safety and security within our borders.

I do not buy the argument, and I do not even hear the argument being made by the Liberals, why sacrificing personal freedoms or how sacrificing them would make us any safer or more secure. If I were to hear a compelling argument from them I may even be willing to concede that we could give up that little bit.