Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you immediately that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Louis-Hébert.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak, because the matter we are debating today strikes me as a vital one.
As the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has pointed out this morning, the most serious threat to privacy is the theft and misuse of a person's identity by another. Identity thefts cost Canadian society $2.5 billion annually, which is why I believe it is important to ask some questions about this.
In November 2002, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration made a proposal. Without introducing any bill in the House of Commons, the minister wanted to open up a debate on the possibility of creating a national identity card.
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, identity has taken on vital importance.
As far as citizenship and immigration are concerned, the Government of Canada has a commitment to ensure the safety and well-being of Canadians. In addition to legislation on immigration and the protection of refugees, which came into effect in the summer of 2002, we are now making progress toward enhanced border security.
What the minister is proposing is to consult Canadians in connection with a national identity card. The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is going to seek out Canadians' opinions on this and report the results back to the House.
For the moment, the government wishes to hear what Canadians have to say about a national identity card. In short, it is a matter of establishing a proper dialogue between the government and Canadians. In my opinion, such a debate is a very good thing. It is a demonstration of the healthy state of democracy in Canada.
If we enter into this debate with an open mind, privacy must remain a primary concern. Canada continues to play a lead role internationally in promoting human rights, in such forums as the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the Organization of American States. Domestically, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees everyone equal protection and equal benefits.
The Liberals have always been greatly concerned about protecting privacy as well as rights and freedoms. Let us not forget that we owe our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the Liberals.
Many countries around the world already have a national identity card. This is not something the minister invented. France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain all have them. Belgium recently announced that it would be using smart card technology for its national identity card, to protect the integrity of the document and to better protect personal information.
The lessons that we can learn from what countries like Belgium are doing is that new technologies, like biometrics, are able to better protect Canadians' privacy. In today's world, institutions and ideas are undergoing fundamental change.
We must ensure that Canadians do not lag behind. The technologies that will be used, if Canadians so desire, will provide for unique biometric identifiers like fingerprints, facial recognition and iris scans to control people's identity. The precision and effectiveness of these new techniques are very promising.
The security measures used when such cards are issued will allow a considerable degree of certainty. Why not use the latest technology, such as biometrics, to guarantee the integrity of these documents, while improving the protection of privacy at the same time?
It is important to make a list of the benefits and the drawbacks of a national identity card and it is important to find out what Canadians think about this. I would encourage all my colleagues in the House and all Canadians to reflect on this issue.