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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11:55 a.m.

Brampton Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, last week when the minister spoke about this issue in the citizenship and immigration committee, he used the phrase that it was for discussion purposes only, that there was no commitment. I commended the minister then and I commend the minister now. Backbenchers often complain that everything is done from the top down. This time the minister has gone from the bottom to the top in asking us to have a discussion on this issue and again the minister is being blamed.

Would the member comment on the motion itself? I know that the motion was introduced by the NDP member for Vancouver East, but I think there is misrepresentation here somehow. The motion mentions “the introduction of a national identity card”. There is no introduction of a national identity card, there is a discussion only. Perhaps the member could comment on the motion.

The hon. member also spoke about the meeting we had with the minister last week and the minister's discussion today here in the House. The minister has not made up his mind. He is just asking us for consultation. As a matter of fact the minister will be travelling across the country to get points of view from Canadians. I would like the hon. member to comment on this point too.

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Noon

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, in regard to the technicality of the motion itself, I believe the intent of the motion is to enter into a debate. Our colleagues from the NDP are saying that they are not in favour of a national identity card program whether or not it is just at the debate stage. I would say the Alliance agrees with that. I cannot speak for my colleagues from other parties, but certainly the questions I raised today go a long way in sending a message to the minister as to where he needs to go with this idea.

I am glad the minister has not made a decision. That is good. I am surprised the debate has gotten this far down the road without the kinds of questions I asked earlier being addressed. As a minister of the crown, I would have hoped he would have had some cost analysis for us on what it will cost. I would have hoped he would have set down some ideas for doing some test trials on a voluntary basis on this program. I would have hoped he would have had some very specific outlines for us before bringing it forward as an idea and saying, “Hey, what do you think about this?” A time and a place for that is fine.

The fact that the minister is putting so much of his time and energy into this idea signals to us that it is more than just an idea. It is something into which he is putting his time and effort. He just said he wants to show leadership on this issue, so I would argue that it is more than just a point of debate; it is something that he wants to see happen. He is now expending his energy to try to solicit support for this idea. He has said that if it becomes clear that there is not support for the idea, he will not move forward with it.

I am simply saying that there are a lot of questions to be answered about this program before we can proceed with it. If the minister wants our input, he will get it. He is getting it today. He has had it in committee. He will have it when he travels to other areas of the country.

I repeat that what the minister should be doing is focusing on the programs that are not working very well right now in terms of our identity documents. He could work with his colleague from foreign affairs on the whole issue of passports. I know he wanted to move on the maple leaf card which a previous minister introduced to try to solve the problem around the IMM 1000 documents. However, the whole issue of the security of our documents has not been addressed.

Whether it is a national identity card, a biometric card or a combination of both, there is no way we can say that fraud will never happen again if individuals can have access at the ground level to those documents and fill in false information from the very beginning.

I would say let us look very carefully at what the minister is saying, because there are some very big holes in the claims he has made here in the House and across the country. This is a good place to bring those questions forward.

I thank my colleague for the question because it gave me a chance to expound a little bit more on the details of my arguments.

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Noon

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his comments on this important topic and say that I agree with him. The NDP is also concerned about the concerns of Canadians regarding the loss of identity and protection of identity. When we find out that in a poll of 3,000 people 75% are concerned about that loss of identity, we take that seriously.

The fact that there is a leak requires us to protect that identity by going the route of a national identify card. It does not however address the issues that people are concerned about.

Recently, thousands of Canadians received letters from their insurance company saying that there was a theft, in Regina, of a hard drive and there may have been a lot of important information that was stolen, and that they should keep an eye out at their banks and at various places where they do business to see whether any material had been accessed.

It is disturbing for Canadians to suddenly realize that their information is being moved around and that it can be stolen. As it turns out, it looks like this hard drive may have been stolen for reasons other than for information theft.

I would like to ask the member, how is it that a national identity card would allay the fears of those thousands of people who have had the experience of identity theft in that respect?

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12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would say that there is no way that having a national identity card would alleviate those fears of identity fraud. There was a day when none of us really thought about that whole notion, maybe even five years ago.

However, I even find myself wondering, when I am on the Internet, if somebody is now scanning my computer as I am on it, do I have the proper firewall and do I have the proper protection against identity theft.

Certainly, this card would not ensure that there would be no identity fraud any more. I think it is false faith. The minister is asking us to put our faith in a system, in a technology, that has not even been developed yet and is saying that this is the answer, this will end identity fraud, when in fact he cannot verify that.

He is asking Canadians to take a giant leap of faith. I would say, wait a minute, let us stop and take a very close look at this first. Let us solve the problems with the systems we have now before creating another one which could then suffer from the same kinds of problems.

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12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will have an opportunity to address this subject more fulsomely when I speak, but I was intrigued by the member's reference to the example used by the former minister of immigration who made some comments, if I understood correctly, that the possession of this card would somehow enable the police to stop someone on the street to demand identification.

Could the member explain that to me? Is there something that prevents the police from stopping people on the street and asking for their driver's licence today or asking people to identify themselves? How would the possession of another piece of identification change the powers of the police?

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12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly raised that point. In fact, I gave a direct quote from the former minister of immigration just to highlight that there are concerns among government members about the whole notion. The member would have to take that up with the minister to find out exactly what she was thinking when she said that. I cannot answer for her.

A more salient point that was made by the former minister of immigration, the current Minister of National Revenue, is:

It's premature to suggest that this would be acceptable to this Cabinet. We haven't had a discussion about it. It's not on the table.

That is the whole issue of the national identity card itself.

In terms of whether having another card would stop the police from being able to ask for it, no, I guess it would not. However, I do not know exactly what the minister was driving at with that particular point. I only know that when a former minister of immigration raises concerns about a program being introduced by a cabinet colleague it should raise a red flag for all of us that there is not a unanimous moving forward from the cabinet even on this idea and that there are a lot of questions to be answered. And when cabinet colleagues have questions, we should have them too.

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12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wish to ask for the unanimous consent of the House regarding a motion concerning private members' business. I wish to move that notwithstanding Standing Order 87(2), the draw for private members' business which is scheduled to be held today at 1:15 p.m. be postponed until Thursday, February 27, 2003, at 1:15 p.m.

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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent to propose the motion?

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12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak on this motion moved by the New Democratic Party. This is not a votable motion because it was presented on an opposition day, and some motions are votable and others are not. The motion reads as follows:

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

First, I would like to inform the Chair that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Mercier.

This motion is being moved today because, last November when the federal government and Manitoba were signing a bilateral agreement, the minister publicly mentioned this idea. Since the media more or less ignored it, he brought it up again during an interview. Last week, he mentioned it again, but this time before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

The committee wanted its members—currently travelling across Canada regarding a bill under consideration—to consult with Canadians. I have absolutely nothing against the government conducting consultations. Consultations are good, in my opinion; this is a democracy.

However, many years ago, before becoming a member, I studied consulting and communications. Being somewhat of an expert in this field, I would say that, normally, hypotheses and proposals are submitted. Alternatives are sometimes proposed during certain consultations.

In Quebec, for example, I remember having worked with the Minister of Agriculture on estates general on the economy. The minister or the government would mandate public servants to study the issue. If the public servants did not have the expertise needed to examine certain issues, then the government would usually consult experts.

Why am I talking about experts? Because, at first glance, a national identity card—several already exist—seems like a harmless idea. But, in this case, the minister is talking about a smart card, a card with a silicon chip able to store personal information. The minister is not setting guidelines or limitations. He is submitting the entire thing to consultations, in an ad hoc sort of way, which is unusual, at least when it comes to something so serious.

The principle of an identity card is a subject for debate on its own, but what about the personal information they want included on such a card?

If its creation is in reaction to the events of September 11, one may assume that its purpose is to be forewarned of terrorists. But does anyone really believe that a terrorist's card would bear the identification “I am a terrorist”? We are talking of biometric data, and I know that the eyes are the mirror of the soul, but can being a terrorist show up in a person's eyes? That is impossible.

There are other aspects as well. One could raise the question of DNA. Do they want to go that far? The minister does not say. I do not want to get carried away and end up putting words in his mouth. Then there are fingerprints, but the minister does not talk about what the cost of this will be.

We know what is happening with gun control. The Bloc Quebecois agreed with the principle of registering firearms, but the problem lies with administering this. They were after information, asking for instance “Do you have a gun, and if so what type?” But we see now that it is costing way more than expected, $1 billion even, when the initial figure was $2 million.

People say we ought not to always mistrust government, but we will recall that the Auditor General, in 1998 I think it was, reported that there were 3.8 million more SIN numbers than people in Canada. I am not talking hundreds of thousands, but 3.8 million. That is one example.

Two years ago, the Minister of Finance of the day wanted to give Canadians a gift to offset the increase in heating costs. He sent cheques to dead people. One is therefore justified in questioning the administrative aspect.

I am sure that if the member for Mercier has time, she will broach the subject of Bill C-54 and the fight she led at that time. Like her, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. We wondered who would manage this type of personal information and how it would be linked. We know that today, with computers, with data being linked with other data, there are few things that people can keep private. Will this go so far as to include medical data?

What I condemn is the fact that the minister appears open to holding consultations, but everything is so broad that much of the detail gets lost. In my riding, people have asked me why this is being done now.

The minister seems to be making it up as he goes along, which gives us the impression that he is a bit of a puppet. With the pressure since September 11, we know what the government has done in terms of public security. Public security measures have been strengthened. We have seen a shift take place. People have serious questions. They want to know how far the government plans on taking this. We may also wonder just how far the American government will ask us to take it and what changes it will ask us to make in order to meet its requirements.

I remember a time when you did not even need a passport to enter the United States. All you had to do was say you were a Canadian citizen and you could get through the border without any problem. I understand that there needs to be more control, but should this extend to an identity card for citizens? You have to wonder. The need should be demonstrated, and that has not been done yet.

The government has given people too many reasons to be wary of any attempt to collect personal information. We do not know a whole lot on how and where this information will be used. Unlike the minister, we are not sure that it will protect our identity.

As Réal Caouette said, “The government has your good at heart, and it will manage to get its hands on your goods as well”.

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12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was quite interested in the remarks of the member. I have served with him on other committees and know that he takes these issues very seriously.

Has he had an opportunity to examine the Quebec government's privacy statements and privacy law? I have had an opportunity to meet with some of the public servants in Quebec who work on these issues of government information and how efficiencies are brought about. Quebec has quite a strong privacy policy but it also has a system that reconciles its protection of individual privacy with the use of tools, like unique identifiers and such, to deliver better services to citizens.

That is the nature of this debate from my perspective. There is always a problem moving in a new direction, particularly a direction that reformulates how governments do business. On the one hand, one response to that is to not do it, to run away and be afraid. Some of the things the member has said about fear of government and government processes are very high on that list. I will speak about this when I speak in more detail on this.

However I note that there has been some interesting and creative work done by the government in Quebec. Has the member had a chance to meet with the officials there to get a sense of how they reconcile both the need to access better health information to do better planning and provide better social policy and at the same time provide a guarantee of the right of personal privacy or the right to private life? It is a very difficult problem for legislators.

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February 13th, 2003 / 12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reply that there are surely public servants and people within the government who are thinking about this issue. I must be brief, but I will say that the minister responsible for services to citizens, Rémy Trudel, opposed the idea of a compulsory identity card, for a number of reasons after consulting his public officials.

I should also add that, in Quebec, debates have taken place regarding this issue. Of course, there are a number of cards in use, including the health insurance card. I remember that when a chip card was being considered, many people were strongly opposed to the idea.

When people know more about the issue and realize that there is not just an identity card, but also a smart card, there is a lot of opposition, as we will see during the consultation process.

Of course, at this point, the whole issue of costs has yet to be raised. This will require an in-depth study that has not yet been conducted.

I thank the hon. member for his question. In Quebec, this issue was examined. Some are in favour while others are opposed, as is the case elsewhere, but so far those who oppose the idea have been successful in ensuring that this option is not pursued any further.

I did not have time to mention it, but let not us forget the issue of individual rights and privacy. We are talking about a right. A right is not something that is negotiable. It is impossible to have half of a right. A right is a right. I think the minister should seek legal advice on this issue.

To my knowledge, and based on what I have seen and heard this morning, there is a lot of room for improvement in the minister's comments.

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12:20 p.m.

Brampton Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I followed the comments made by the hon. member from the Bloc Quebecois. He asked what kind of information would be on the ID card. Nobody knows what kind of information will be on the card, and that is the purpose of this discussion.

First, it is totally unfair to ask the minister or anyone on the very first day of discussion what kind of information will be on it. It would be up to him, up to me, up to everyone here and up to Canadians to tell us what they want on the card, if we have the card. I would like him to comment on that.

Second, last week we had a committee meeting. The member for Laval Centre gave an example, and the minister repeated the example again here today, that her credit card was stolen. She may be one of the victims of 12,000 fraud cases. The credit card was then used without her knowledge or approval. If it is possible that this ID card would prevent at least the vast majority of this kind of fraud and if we could prevent 12,000 cases of $2.5 billion fraudulently charged to consumers, among other benefits, would it not be a worthwhile effort?

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12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously, this is a question that requires a detailed answer. The member's question is twofold.

I will answer the first part briefly. It is like in research. How do we find what we are looking for when we do not know what we are looking for?

This is to some extent the minister's problem. We get the impression that he is asking all and sundry for their opinion. It is hard to find something when one does not know what one wants.

Second, there is the issue of the card. When it comes to showing ID to prove who we are, there are many other ways to do so, such as a passport, driver's licence, and what not. The Quebec health insurance card has a picture on it. Student cards also. And, for even greater certainty, there are eye and finger prints.

This card could actually become very valuable to would-be fraud artists, who may want to steal this card which will contain even more information than the others. Is this not counterproductive? I think it is.