Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the New Democratic Party for introducing this motion and for allowing this issue to be debated.
I have a great deal of respect for the member for Winnipeg—Transcona; I would have liked him to keep the debate on a higher plane.
It is some cheap political point, but that is his problem. He will have to live with it. We all want to keep our credibility. However, I thank him for some of his work.
The time has come to look at ourselves and to talk about fundamental issues to define the Canadian way, to take a stand and to protect our way. Today I am not only a minister, I am a Canadian citizen who fears what is going on in the field internationally and domestically. I believe that the world has changed.
If the debate today were based only on innuendo and fearmongering, the same people in the past probably would have believed that the world was flat. The time has come to really protect our way.
This is not about attacking privacy. It is about protecting it.
Last week, I explained to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration why I believe the issue of a national ID card is worthy of public debate. I told the committee that I am eager to know what Canadians from all fields, experts and non-experts alike, have to say about this concept.
I am happy that the committee thought the issue deserves serious, thoughtful discussion. By seeking out the facts across the country during their current consultations, they will surely help us distinguish reality from myth.
There are some who have publicly railed against a national ID card without having listened to all the arguments. They are closing the door on democracy.
When I hear the Privacy Commissioner say that he is against debate even before listening to the arguments, what kind of democracy is that? My definition of a democracy is to put everything on the table and have some debate. We are not talking about making a decision today, we are having a debate.
It is not about a card; it is about finally having an identity policy in our country. I hear people talk all the time about big brother and so on. They should look at the banks, the social insurance numbers and all the databases that exist. They should look at the insurance companies, the Internet and the computers. We are everywhere. That is why we need to have a real debate among ourselves on how we can protect our identity and our Canadian way.
On the other hand, of course there is an international situation. There is a situation at borders, not only with the Americans, but in Europe too. We have to decide among ourselves what is sufficient to protect our identity, how we can remain ourselves and protect the Canadian way. That is what it is all about.
I thought our country had a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To talk about a police state is fearmongering. Let us keep our powder dry and decide among ourselves. It is a non-partisan issue. It is not a government issue. It is a Canadian issue. That is why I salute the motion. Everybody will have a say and we will talk about it. Instead of the government coming to the House and saying what we will do, we will decide among ourselves what we think about it and then we will make a decision.
I respect the standing committee. It is so important to respect members of Parliament that I asked the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to take a look at it. It is a non-partisan issue. There will be many statements from people on the other side who believe it is a good thing. There are some people who have concerns but a lot of people will support it.
We polled 3,000 people. Seventy-six per cent believe that the time has come to protect our identity and our privacy. If it takes a card, and it depends what we want on it and I will talk about that, then so be it. We will decide among ourselves.
What is important is that we have a national debate on a national identity card. A lot of questions remain unanswered. That is why all of us together need to decide what we want to do. The world has changed, as I have said.
There is no doubt that the terrorist attack on the United States, on September 11, 2001, changed the world. The countries of Europe closed rank. The Europe of 15 just keeps growing. Since the Schengen accords, there has been a protection movement among European countries. They are protective of one another. They have agreed among themselves on some commonality in terms of identity.
Identity cards exist in 100 countries around the world. It is not a matter of reacting to the U.S., but rather of saying that if everyone is asking for this, is there a way to ensure that we can remain what we are?
Much is positive about identity. There is the whole issue of international security. Yes, it will prevent terrorism. It may be possible to put the technology to friendly use, with biometrics for instance, so that we can be sure that the person in front of us is really who that person claims to be.
Biometrics belong to us. I do not know if Steven Spielberg has made a sequel to Minority Report or if there will be another James Bond movie on that subject, but what I know from the experts is that my thumbprint and my iris belong only to me. Is there a way to use biometrics in a friendly manner to protect ourselves?
Our colleagues travel all over the world. At the Amsterdam airport there is a special program called Privium which is an iris scan. Those who use it for efficiency purposes have a card which they put in the scan and they look at the scanner and there is a red light or a green light. That is what it is all about.
An issue which is very important to me is that of identity theft. Since 2001 almost 12,000 people in Canada have been victims of identity fraud. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, identity fraud is the fastest growing fraud in North America. We talk about money. How much is it worth? The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimates that identity theft costs $2.5 billion a year to consumers, banks, credit card firms, stores and other businesses. These are staggering numbers and they are expected to grow. That is $2.5 billion a year and it is not even sanctioned by the Criminal Code. We have to take a look at that.
The issue is not just about whether or not we need an ID card. With all the databases that exist in our country and with all the problems we are facing in the domestic field, we need to stop burying our heads in the sand and have a debate on identity policy.
The biggest threat to individual privacy is to have one's identity stolen and used by someone else.
Our fellow citizens have every reason to demand tools to protect what is uniquely theirs: their identity. Is there a way to protect our seniors? Is there a way to protect our youth? Is there a way to develop prevention tools to protect once and for all our most precious possession, our identity?
There is an implicit, if not explicit, expectation that governments need to look at current practices and systems of establishing an identity and evaluate their effectiveness. This is where the need for a public debate on a national ID card fits.
I have proposed that we examine the pros and cons of a national ID card. Do we need to examine whether any such card should be voluntary or mandatory? What technologies, if any, can help to secure identity? Do these technologies present unmanageable threats to privacy or can the technologies be used to enhance privacy? How should biometric identifiers be stored?
What have we recently learned? Recent developments suggest the time is right for a debate.
Within a few years, maybe much sooner, the ability of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to cross international borders will depend more and more on the integrity of their documents.
We live in a changing world. Of course in the United States there will be an entry and exit program. My friend, my parliamentary secretary, himself witnessed this and said he felt ashamed because he was asked for his fingerprints when he went to the United States. Is there a way to prevent racial profiling? Is there a way to protect Canadian citizens? Is there a way to protect our permanent residents, 80% of whom will become future Canadian citizens? This is what I am interested in.
We are not living in our own little bubble here. When people go to the United States and are fingerprinted, do we not think it is important to have that kind of debate beforehand among ourselves and decide if there is a way to prevent racial profiling? A thumbprint or an iris does not have a race or a religion. Is there a way to make sure when those people are going to the United States they will not be asked where they are from and told, “Oh, you were born in Syria? You're on the bad list. Please step aside”? This is what it is all about: to protect the Canadian way, to protect the fact that we are different, that we celebrate that difference and that we want to be what we want to be. We want to remain Canadian, to be proud of it and to make sure that nobody will touch that, ever.
We can forget about going through with a driver's licence and saying “this is me”. Okay, let us say it is a picture of you, but is it really you? That is why we need to use biometrics. There are many ways to use biometrics in a friendly manner. If we have a card, it is up to us to decide what we will put on it. We spoke about a bar code. I agree with that. That might be a good way.
We have what we call off line and on line. Off line means all we need to do is to reproduce an iris or a fingerprint on a bar code. When the person is scanned it is not for accessing a database. It is just that it confirms that the cardholder and what is on the card are the same. The person puts their finger on the scan, red light, green light, and go for it. If there is a green light, that is all right. It can take something like 15 seconds per person to go through. Imagine what we can do. In the past some people felt that computers were bad for us, that technology was bad. These are the same kind of people who felt that Galileo was wrong, and that is their problem.
During the course of the debate on a national ID card, the protection of privacy should be and must be a paramount consideration. We must also guard against rushing to judgment. We have already seen that there are strong opinions on both sides of the debate. Some people say to go for it, that yes, it is important. I know that at least 70% of the Canadian people feel that this is a good idea, but they want to make sure that it is risk free. How can we manage that? What we require is objectivity, an open debate based on facts and reason, not innuendo and myth.
In fact, as we look outside Canada there are some countries that are carefully considering this issue. In Europe every country has an ID card except Ireland and the U.K. Last July the United Kingdom launched a public consultation on the introduction of an ID card. In releasing the discussion paper, Home Secretary David Blunkett established a very significant point:
...any debate about ID cards should not centre exclusively on issues of national security. Far more important are the issues of citizenship and entitlement to services--
Belgium recently announced it will include smart card technology on its national identity card to protect the integrity of this document and better protect personal information.
What we can learn from countries such as Belgium is that these advanced technologies have the capability to increase privacy and protection.
The lesson has been registered by some. Australia has a privacy commissioner, too, Mr. Malcolm Crompton, who has stated:
...biometrics have the potential to benefit individuals and society and indeed could have privacy enhancing capabilities.
Do members want some quotes from civil rights activists? Alan M. Dershowitz, the famous law professor from Harvard, said:
...I support a national identity card with a chip that can match the holder's fingerprint. It could be an effective tool for preventing terrorism, reducing the need for other law-enforcement mechanisms--
Hey, not bad.
--especially racial and ethnic profiling--that pose even greater dangers to civil liberties.
He also said that we should not mix “privacy and anonymity”. People are talking about the right to be anonymous and I do not know if they have filed their income taxes lately, but in this world I think that everybody knows who everybody is. The time has come to take a stand.
I want to hear from everyone before any decisions are made. My driving motivation is to serve the legitimate interests of Canadians. No, I have not taken a decision. What I would like to have is a clear, fair and objective debate. I think that it touches everyone, that it is everyone's business. Instead of reacting to a situation, I think that prevention is the essence. Together we should decide among ourselves what is good for Canada. It is a non-partisan issue.
I believe that it is in the interests of all Canadians that we do not jump to conclusions on this issue before the facts are out. There are important questions involved. Some of those questions do not have simple, ready made answers. The motion we are discussing today takes issue with the idea of a national ID card. The motion implies that the card would be incompatible with our civil rights. I hope that I have showed the opposite today. I do not believe this is true, but that is precisely what I am asking for, an open and informed debate.
Before drawing any conclusions, I would rather let Canadians hear the facts and better understand the issue. We do, after all, live in an information society, and this debate is about democracy.
This is a debate that will define us as Canadians and also define us as Quebeckers. It is a matter of looking at what is going on in the world. We must stop being hypocrites and saying, “I can see nothing, therefore nothing is going on”. Together, let us make a decision and ensure that this country is indeed the best in the world and remains so.