Evidence of meeting #50 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was using.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chris Gregory  Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Brenna MacNeil  Senior Director, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Bruce Grundison  Executive Director, Strategic Projects Office, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Richard Kurland  Lawyer and Policy Analyst, As an Individual

9:20 a.m.

Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Chris Gregory

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The existing cost for biometric enrolment is $85. We anticipate that this cost will remain as is when we expand the program in 2018-19.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you.

Aside from the costs that applicants will have to incur, are there any other downsides to the implementation of biometric screening?

9:20 a.m.

Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Chris Gregory

I would suggest not. As we were saying just moments ago, we hope that in some cases it will facilitate travel for legitimate travellers.

For previous clients using the biometric, it just confirms that they are who they say they are. It allows the visa officer to move on with other questions quickly and confirm that, yes, this is the same person who visited here a few years ago and all was well, and to say that perhaps they will move on to another application, put that one aside, and approve it.

On arrival, we're hoping that as more and more people arrive with biometrics on file, we can use an electronic kiosk type of approach to confirm identity.

May 28th, 2015 / 9:25 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you.

You've already talked about it, but I'd like to know more about the downsides. You don't think there are any. But I think you're wrong, and that worries me.

I want to share with you a story that I experienced first-hand. The people who put systems like these in place need to know about the actual costs and disadvantages that applicants and future visitors to Canada may have to deal with.

My in-laws applied for a visa. They don't live in a city with a visa application centre, so they had to drive an hour to the closest airport. Then they had to fly to the closest city where their biometric information could be collected. They didn't really know the city. These are people in their sixties with very little travel experience who had never flown by themselves before. Once in the unfamiliar city, they had to take a taxi to the visa office. And had someone in the office not taken a number for them, they would have likely spent the entire day there without being served and had to go back the next day.

These are people in their sixties who aren't used to travelling or having their biometric information collected. And once their information was collected just so they could submit their application—which wasn't necessarily approved—they turned around and went back to the airport, flew to the city they departed from and then drove an hour home.

The $85 is just the start. People will have to incur the cost of travel, taxis and, in some cases, hotel accommodations. The array of costs associated with the application can be extensive, not to mention the lost time. If my in-laws had had jobs, they would have had to miss a day of work, or two or three days. On top of that, the whole experience was quite stressful for seniors who had to fly by themselves to a strange city without even knowing if they would be served that day. And these are healthy people who don't work or have children to take care of. I saw what they they had to go through, and it isn't out of the ordinary.

I'm not saying I'm against biometric screening, whose virtues you extolled. But it's important to know the implications they can have for the families who have to follow the process. Keep in mind that the process I described involved people who had not been approved yet. They had to go through all of that merely to apply, and then go back home and wait for an answer. In the end, their application was approved. So they had to drive to another city for the medical examinations and so forth.

It's important to understand that the measure has downsides, as well. Yes, protecting Canadians is essential. And, of course, we need to take action in response to security concerns. But is this really the best way to do that? And has the process proven effective so far? The question bears asking, and you need to be aware of the reality.

Can you tell me where in the world individuals who are required to provide their biometric information have to travel great distances in order to get to the closest visa office? Have any countries expressed dissatisfaction about the fact that their citizens are being subjected to these kinds of measures? Have any countries indicated that they planned to impose the same requirements on Canadian tourists visiting their country? That kind of thing has happened in the case of other measures.

I'd like to know—

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Excuse me, I'm afraid your time has expired. You've raised some good points, but unless there's unanimous consent, you're out of time. And there doesn't appear to be unanimous consent.

Mr. Shory.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses as well. Before I ask a question, I would ask for a little clarification from Mr. Gregory and Ms. MacNeil.

Mr. Gregory, is there any chance of error in the biometrics? Also, is the plan to take one fingerprint, or 10 fingerprints, or five fingerprints?

9:25 a.m.

Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Chris Gregory

Thank you.

I guess I would say there's always a chance of anything happening. The RCMP has been taking fingerprints, verifying fingerprints, and storing fingerprints for decades. It is the RCMP who will be storing our prints and doing all of the matching. The RCMP have people on staff and whenever there's any question related to fingerprint quality or matching, whenever there's a grey area, those professionals who have been doing that type of work for some time now are called upon to confirm things.

To the extent that there is that small grey area there, as someone who's responsible for identity management in a department that has tens of millions of clients, I can tell you that I sleep better at night knowing that in the future we'll be able to use this rather than names. Frankly, there are a lot of John Smiths in the world and many of them happen to be born on the same day and come from the same country. What we're doing is replacing a system that works this well with a system that works much better. No system is perfect, but this is about as close to such a system as we have at this time.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

You may want to tell me if the plan is to use one fingerprint.

9:30 a.m.

Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Chris Gregory

What we're doing now is taking 10 fingerprints and we would continue to do so.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Thank you.

Ms. MacNeil, as a little clarification about this automated business model, you will be applying this model on the eTA initiative as well in coming days. The question is this. When it is used in express entry systems, if the applicants do not qualify today, they can update their application in a month or two months in the future. With an eTA, if you get a negative result because it's automated, is there any recourse to that?

9:30 a.m.

Senior Director, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Brenna MacNeil

I'm not really understanding the question. On eTA is there recourse for...?

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Is there recourse if the applicant gets a negative result.

9:30 a.m.

Executive Director, Strategic Projects Office, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Bruce Grundison

Mr. Chair, if there is a negative result for an eTA, the negative eTA decisions are handled by human officers. They are not handled by the electronic system.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Thank you.

Coming back to the topic, I understand that partnership and consultations are the key implementation of any strategy. Has CIC consulted with the tourism industry on automation? Is this initiative something it is interested in?

9:30 a.m.

Senior Director, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Brenna MacNeil

Thank you for the question.

The tourism sector certainly has been consulted on the electronic travel authorization, which is a system that is fully automated. It involves electronic applications and electronic decision making, and the result is an authorization that is transmitted electronically. This is very much something that expanded eTA.

Applying eTA to low-risk applicants in various countries is something that the tourism sector is very much in support of because of the efficiencies that automation does provide. Because it can automate the various steps in the process—and in the case of eTA all of the steps are automated—it does provide great efficiencies on those straightforward cases where there are positive decisions, so that you are able to receive decisions much quicker.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

I also understand that there was money for eTA in the budget and that this provision in the BIA will help facilitate that. Can you please give us an expected timeline on eTA and tell us if the United States has a similar system?

9:30 a.m.

Senior Director, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Brenna MacNeil

Yes, certainly. Thank you for the question.

There were investments referenced in the budget for eTA expansion. Again, that is applying eTA to low-risk populations. This legislation is in support of such an approach. There is already legislation in place for eTA itself, but this legislation supports the approach and is consistent with the approach, again, of that broader expansion of using automation in processing and particularly in automated decision making. The timelines for eTA rollout are for August of this year and then eTA expansion would happen at a later date.

I believe you asked as well, Mr. Chair, if the U.S. has a similar system. The U.S. does have a similar system to the eTA process. It is, again, a fully automatic system for visa-exempt travellers, so those are low-risk travellers. Again, it's a fully automated process with automated decision making and rendering.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Go ahead, Mr. Aspin.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Conservative Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Welcome to our CIC officials this morning.

In today's world of terrorism, security is very important, as we all know. Automation will help make Canada a more attractive destination for tourism and business, while allowing us to focus resources where it matters most, on high-risk travellers. Has the technology for automated decision making been developed yet? If not, is it in the process?

9:35 a.m.

Senior Director, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Brenna MacNeil

We've mentioned the automated decision making through the eTA initiative, and that initiative will be in place in August. The technology has been developed for the August rollout, and similar technologies would be applied as automation is expanded through these broader provisions.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Conservative Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Is this relative to high-risk travellers?

9:35 a.m.

Senior Director, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Brenna MacNeil

Through our automated approach, the plan is to look at automating the routine tasks. In the first instance, things like completeness checks will be automated, triaging to determine who the low-risk and the high-risk travellers are. The straightforward cases would be triaged through the automated system and would continue to remain in an automated system, where straightforward cases could receive automated decision making.

The more complex cases would be removed from an automated process and be dealt with by an officer. Those are cases where there's requirement for specialized or local knowledge, where there's discretion involved in the decision, or where any risk indicators have been flagged that would warrant the attention of an officer.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Conservative Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Thank you.

Express entry is currently using technology similar to what is being proposed. Has it been successful so far? Have there been any glitches? What is the general feedback?

9:35 a.m.

Senior Director, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Brenna MacNeil

Express entry is a system that was put in place on January 1 of this year. It's been in place since that time, and the response, really, has been overwhelmingly positive. As with any new system, there have been small technical glitches, if you will, but I think those have been addressed quite quickly with zero to no impact on applicants. To date, the response has been overwhelmingly positive with the vast majority of clients finding the system easy to use.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Conservative Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

I commend the department for tackling the challenge and for being at the forefront of this. Obviously, it's important that we're on par with our peer countries on our immigration initiatives.

My question in that regard is this. Has the CIC been consulting with our peer countries that have been using automated decision making, and has this been collaborative and successful?