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Evidence of meeting #33 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was passports.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Christine Desloges  Chief Executive Officer, Passport Canada
Lisa Pezzack  Director General, Policy, Research and Communications, Passport Canada
Michel Brunette  Director, Resource Management and Compliance, Passport Canada
Asha Elkarib  Executive Director, Sudanese Organization for Research and Development

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

We're out of time. Maybe we'll catch you on the next round.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Okay. Thanks.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Mr. LeBlanc, seven minutes, sir.

April 25th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ms. Desloges, I thank you, as well as your colleagues, for being here with us and for the often difficult and very technical work that you all do.

Like Mr. Williamson, I am a member for a rural riding in New Brunswick. You say that you allowed Service Canada agents in small rural communities to help people by checking to see whether their application had been properly filled out. In my riding, we often give advice to those who are not very conversant with filling out an application electronically. I know that this helps people a lot and reduces frustration. In small remote communities far from Passport Canada offices, that initiative was very helpful, and I wanted to let you know.

According to the experience of electors that I send to your Fredericton office, the staff there is exceptional and very professional. In my area, in case of emergency or complications, the most direct way of dealing with things is to go to Fredericton. As members, we note that the service we receive from those offices and from your office in Ottawa is also very impressive. I wanted to tell you that and to thank you.

I am going to follow up on the questions put by my friend John Williamson. People certainly want to know about the costs when they come to our offices. Everyone wants more services while paying less tax and fewer service fees. That is often what we encounter. In your proposal, you attempt to assess the cost of the ePassport. You talked about costs of 13% for auxiliary products and services and 10% for new and ongoing investments.

That sounds like bureaucratic expressions that may mean something, or perhaps nothing at all. Can you give me an example of these

“auxiliary products and services” or “new and ongoing investments”.

3:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Passport Canada

Christine Desloges

As for the auxiliary products, child passports are subsidized products. It costs us more to produce those passports. This is the result of consultations we carried out with Canadians who told us that they agreed with that. We think that it is worthwhile to keep the cost of children's passports low.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

As Mr. Williamson said, in my area, we used to go by car once a year to see an aunt who lived in Boston. We used to show our driver's license and everyone was happy with that. Today, having a passport is essential because of the decisions made by the American government. Have you thought of subsidizing seniors' passports, for people who have very modest pensions, who don't have MP's pensions or something akin to that?

4 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Passport Canada

Christine Desloges

Indeed, we asked that question during our consultations. For instance, there were consumer groups, and among these we had representatives of seniors' groups, students, and so on. People were not very favourable to the idea of subsidizing other kinds of passports aside from those for children. This was the result of all of these consultations, and that is what you see in our price proposal.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

There won't be much support if we ask people whether they are ready to pay $170 because your grandmother wants a discount. They will answer no.

4 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Passport Canada

Christine Desloges

We have to balance the program as a whole. Since we don't get budget appropriations, we have to balance revenues and expenditures. If we reduce the cost of a passport for one group, we have to increase the cost of the passport for other groups so that at the end of the 10-year cycle, we have a balance between revenues and expenditures.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

I understand that. Thank you very much.

I was a bit surprised by your answer to another question. You said you repatriated the production of passports to Canada. In the past, I presume that this was done in certain embassies. For instance, now if a Canadian makes a passport application in an embassy in Europe or in Asia, the passport is not produced in those places, but the application is sent to Canada, where the passport will be made.

4 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Passport Canada

Christine Desloges

That is correct. The idea is to strengthen security and that is the tendency the world over. We work in partnership a great deal with the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. There is an international tendency to strengthen security, as this is an element of national security.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

I understand and that probably explains why there is a difference between someone who submits an application in an embassy in a given country as compared to someone who submits an application in Fredericton.

4 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Passport Canada

Christine Desloges

In fact, there are two parts to the answer. First, there are indeed costs to send things abroad and this generates higher costs, and secondly, there are a lot of children whose applications are received abroad. And so it costs more to produce those passports abroad because, once again, they are subsidized.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Fine, I understand that.

In your proposal or in the explanation of costs, there was a reference to modernizing infrastructure. Does that mean to modernize the technical equipment that is used in the production of passports, or is it for the renovation of offices?

4 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Passport Canada

Christine Desloges

We are referring in particular to passport issuing systems, because we have an obsolete system that has to be replaced to improve security. We also want to consider online production, which will allow us to modernize and have the most effective systems possible. We also want to automate our capacity to verify people's identity.

When we refer to the “social footprint”, this is a reference to the process of confirming that people are indeed who they say they are. With the introduction of the chip passport or ePassport, the risky part, and the part that worries passport agencies internationally a great deal, is the confirmation of identity, and identity theft. It is also a concern for Canadians, and that is why we have to see how we can enhance those procedures.

When we talk about investments, you have to consider that there have been no cost increases for 10 years. And thus, we have several obsolete technical infrastructures that we were not able to replace because we didn't have the money to do so. So there are a combination of factors that mean that we must now—

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you, Mr. LeBlanc.

We're going to start our second round with Mr. Dechert.

You have five minutes, sir.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Ms. Desloges and your colleagues, for being here today and providing us with information on what I think is a really exciting new product.

I concur with some of the comments made by other members about the need for a 10-year passport. It's something that people in my constituency in Mississauga have been requesting for quite some time.

Canada is a country of international trade, with diaspora connections all over the world. The ability to move freely across international boundaries is vitally important to us. Thank you for all the hard work you and your colleagues have done in bringing these 10-year passports forward.

I was struck by something you said, Ms. Desloges, in your opening remarks about Canadians telling you that they valued being able to travel freely to destinations around the world without the need for costly visas. I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit more on that and give us some examples of places where Canadians do need visas today and how that might change in the future, if that's the case, or if we didn't do this, where visas might arise.

4:05 p.m.

Director General, Policy, Research and Communications, Passport Canada

Lisa Pezzack

I believe Canada currently has access to 164 countries around the world without requiring visas. That's really quite extraordinary.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

What about exceptions?

4:05 p.m.

Director General, Policy, Research and Communications, Passport Canada

Lisa Pezzack

There are a few notable exceptions, but as far as international comparisons we're way up there at the top of the pack in our access.

If we didn't go to an e-passport, our concern was partly that we would face more visa requests from more countries. As part of their border security initiative, the United States required many countries that had visa access to go to e-passports sooner rather than later. Part of our concern was that if we didn't go to an e-passport that might be one of the countries where we would need visas, and they're very expensive.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Thank you for that. That's a good example of why we need these.

You mentioned the new security features in the new e-passport. I took it that this would make it much more difficult for people to forge Canadian passports. We know that there have been celebrated cases of situations where it was suggested that Canadian passports were forged internationally, sometimes by the kinds of people that we really don't want to have Canadian passports.

Can you provide us with some examples of the kind of fraud that has occurred in the past with Canadian passports, and how these new passports will prevent those things from happening in the future?

4:05 p.m.

Director General, Policy, Research and Communications, Passport Canada

Lisa Pezzack

There are two types of issues, in terms of security. One is the security of the book itself. The security of the book itself is improved because we have put the chip in it; we save the information to the chip. There is, as I mentioned earlier, a public key infrastructure. Border officials can actually go directly to ICAO and say, “Is this the digital signature of Canada?” If that's wrong, then they know the information has been tampered with. That is the physical security.

The other security relates to how we process the applications themselves. One of the issues we have had in the past is people using somebody else's passport to either get a new passport or another piece of identification or to get more than one passport in more than one name.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

How does the facial recognition technology work?

4:05 p.m.

Director General, Policy, Research and Communications, Passport Canada

Lisa Pezzack

I was just going to answer that. If somebody applies for a second passport in a different name, we always run a check against our database. We say, “Well, wait a moment, we have issued you a passport already.” We have found fraud in that way, where people have applied under different names.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

I can certainly think of some high profile cases where that may have been the case. I appreciate that explanation.

A number of Canadians have expressed a concern that there is some sort of tracking mechanism that will infringe on their privacy rights. I think you touched on this briefly in your opening comments.

Can you explain that again and clarify if there is anything of that sort in the new passport?