Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter into the debate today. I want to thank the minister for speaking to this topic and laying out his thoughts. He raised a number of questions during his debate, which I believe he should have answered. It has really left us wondering more about the topic rather than quenching our thirst for answers within this whole notion of a national identity card.
I also thank my colleagues from the NDP for bringing the motion forward. I thought they may have chosen their opposition day today to talk about the conflict in Iraq, but they have chosen this topic and we will certainly entertain debate on the topic.
The Canadian Alliance is supportive of the NDP motion. We have some serious concerns about the national identity card.
I will begin by first examining the minister's reasons for bringing the initiative forward. He says that we need positive proof identity that offers personal and collective security in light of the events surrounding September 11. People may agree or disagree with that but the debate is about whether this national identity card solves that particular question.
Second, the minister said that global travel would increasingly depend upon the integrity of travel documents, that the United States was considering this and that Canadians may no longer be able to use their drivers licence to cross the border. That is possible and we do need to be concerned about that, but again, is a national identity card the way to solve that particular issue?
The third reason the minister gave for entertaining the notion of a national identity card was that the federal department was responsible for issuing immigration and citizenship documents. He said that because the provinces issue birth certificates which are the basis for passports for travel, drivers licences and health insurance cards, and that these documents were not security proof, we needed one universal card with biometrics. We heard him making that argument in the House again today.
I ask, in rebuttal to that claim, is this the way to go? Is this the card that will solve that particular question?
The minister also said that Canadian companies were at the forefront of these technologies. When my NDP colleague from Winnipeg Transcona asked the minister which possible contributors to the Liberal Party may be involved in producing these cards, he received a wrath of scorn from the minister and Liberal colleagues. However I believe that is a valid question. The minister referred to that as a cheap political point. I would suggest to the minister and to the government that when there have been so many concerns about friends of the government benefiting from government programs or the contracts that go along with any development of any program, that is a valid question.
I also found it disappointing that the minister, while deploring that comment from our colleague from the NDP, then engaged in the same kind of activity by referring to members of the Alliance.
The minister also said that the new permanent resident card would be state of the art, that we needed to keep an open mind and that we should not rush to judgment. He said that we required objectivity and that we needed to consider other countries and what they were doing. The minister is putting a lot of faith in biometrics and he is asking Canadians to take a giant leap of faith, not only in his idea but in his government, with the notion of biometrics.
I was going to include a quote but I will skip that and basically summarize what we heard from the minister this morning. He claimed that putting biometrics in an imbedded chip or in a card would be a fail safe way of protecting Canadians' identities. That is a claim that is not provable at this point because the technologies are not at the point where that can be verified.
In making that claim and in placing so much importance on the issue of biometrics being the way to protect our identities as Canadians, the minister has missed a key point in the argument, that being, to believe this point is to put faith in something that is not yet there in the way of technology.
Given the track record of the government and what we have seen in the past with other programs, as my colleagues alluded to this morning, we have some serious concerns. We do not need to look back too far to see where there were some serious concerns about the administration of government programs by the current government. Now the minister is asking us to put our faith in him and his government to put together a national identity program that will actually protect the identity of Canadians. I would simply say that we are not ready to do that.
A number of concerns have been raised, not only today but in the past. One of the major concerns was brought forward by the former minister of immigration and the current Minister of National Revenue. When this idea of a national identify card was brought forward she said:
It makes me nervous. I don't think we need it. That's what I would worry about--police--somebody coming up asking for your ID card. If you're walking down the street minding your own business, nobody would expect in a free and democratic society to be stopped and asked for ID papers
That was said by the former minister of immigration, the current Minister of National Revenue, on the topic. She went on to say:
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
Given what has been going on in cabinet lately, we are all very well aware of what is going on in terms of the Prime Minister who is on the way out and a prime minister who is on the way in, the debates that go on in caucus and the turmoil that has been there. It is no wonder that this has not received approval of the cabinet yet.
I would be interested to know whether or not it has been on the table at cabinet yet and whether there is even agreement among ministers. I do believe that if our NDP colleagues had a votable motion today it would be a very interesting to see exactly where members would stand, in fact, where members of the cabinet would stand on this issue because there certainly does not seem to be agreement even within cabinet on this topic.
What the minister said in the House this morning, just minutes ago, raises all kinds of questions that should have been answered by him but were not. I will dig a little deeper into that in a few minutes.
I want to focus on what some of the other government members have said in terms of the national identity card idea. The member for Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies said that the federal government did not have a stellar track record. I referred to that earlier in the House. He said that millions of additional social insurance cards were in circulation, that passports had been stolen from Canadian offices abroad and that the firearms registry had experienced cost overruns. He then asked the minister if he could ensure that this would not be another bureaucratic nightmare. That was a member of the government asking that. It is no wonder that he had those concerns.
I was surprised a few minutes ago when the minister of immigration told us in the House and told all Canadians that he did not believe the social insurance card was an identity document. What a surprising revelation in the House today. My goodness, a social insurance card is an important document. We know that not too long ago all kinds of databases were being gathered around Canadian social insurance cards and social insurance numbers. All kinds of information was being databased and collected without anybody knowing exactly what was going on. When it came to the light of day that this was going on, the government had to backpedal and try to find some explanation for gathering information around our social insurance numbers. That was an interesting comment that the minister made.
However I am straying from my comments and I will get back to the very important comments that have been made by Liberal colleagues on the topic.
The member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel said that he had difficulties with both the privacy and moral aspects of identity cards. The member for Haliburton—Victoria—Brock said, “I have this big brother problem”. He noted that the federal privacy and information commissioners both expressed deep concerns about ID cards. The member for London North Centre is the chair of the immigration committee. Many of our colleagues are travelling with the immigration committee, and they will not be able to participate in today's debate, which is unfortunate. He said that he had honest scepticism about this whole issue.
Certainly this whole big brother concern, this privacy issue concern, is one that has been raised by others in this place, and which I and my Alliance colleagues raise as well. Placed in the context of the track record of this government in handling other sensitive information about Canadians, the government is asking us to trust it. It has given us more than ample reason in the past not to. The government's track record is really one of utter incompetence when it comes to the administration of important programs.
There was an important witness at committee, Mr. Morris Manning, who is one of Canada's leading constitutional lawyers. He warned the committee that the ID cards would increase racial profiling, do little to combat terrorism or identity fraud and invade people's privacy by creating a huge database of information.
That claim goes directly against what the minister said earlier in the House today. He told us that these national identity cards would protect our identities and decrease racial profiling. There are arguments on the other side of that issue, so really there is no conclusion. The minister is making assertions without proof that his assertions are in fact true.
There are all kinds of things I could get into but I want to focus on rebutting some of the comments that the minister made this morning in the House.
He said that the topic of a national identity card is not about a card, it is about an identity policy in our country. He asked us to look at the information that banks gather about us, our social insurance numbers, which again he referred to as not an identity document, and to look at the computer, the Internet and all the information out there.
It is because of those kinds of technologies and that information that is out there that Canadians have concerns about the privacy of their own information. We have seen identity fraud. The minister referred to it. Those kinds of concerns are not alleviated by the idea of bringing in a national identity card. In fact they are likely magnified because we have seen many examples of Canadians' information being used in ways that have come back to cause them great concern and great damage.
The minister referred to 12,000 people who have had their identities stolen. I believe that is what he said. It does not take much for us to look at that as a serious concern and something that we do not want to have happen to ourselves.
The minister said that creating this card is all about how we can remain ourselves and protect the Canadian way. I would argue, how can Canadians remain themselves if their identity is not securely protected?
If we do put our faith in this system and the system fails us, what have we gained? Nothing. What have we lost? Quite a bit.
The minister referred to a survey in which 76% of Canadians said that they want to see the protection of their identity. That is a large number of people. That survey he referred was of about 3,000 people. The minister then took a giant leap and said that these same people agree that his notion of a national identity card is the best way to protect their identity. That is illogical. The minister is getting a conclusion from a piece of information taken for another reason.
Yes, 76% of people want their identities protected, but does that mean they agree that the national identity card is the way to protect their identity? No, absolutely not. For the minister to make that conclusion I believe is illogical and one that we should take into consideration when examining this idea of a national identity card.
The minister has a lot of other priorities he could focus on and we are wondering why he is proceeding with the national identity card. My colleague from Winnipeg—Transcona mentioned that earlier. Let us fix the systems that are in place now before we embark on a new one.
I could go on for an hour about the refugee determination system. I am sure members would love to hear me go on for an hour on that topic. It is one that I have studied over the years as a member of Parliament. There are all kinds of problems within that system. There are problems with the IMM 1000 document, with our passports and the security of very important identity documents. Those things have not been cleaned up. Why now embark on a new program that has so many questions left unanswered for us?
The minister also raised all kinds of questions. Can this technology help? How will the biometric information be stored? What about the cost? What about the management of this information? These are all valid questions that we have for the minister. We had hoped he would answer those kinds of questions rather than pose them.
If he is at the point of bringing this idea forward, we hoped he would have some kind of cost estimate as to how much this program would cost, given the debacle with the gun registry, another one of the government's billion dollar boondoggles, given what has happened with the HRDC information surrounding our social insurance numbers which I referred to earlier and given any number of mismanaged files on the government's part.
We even had the amazing event not long ago in the House where government members would not approve the estimates for the gun registry. That came to light again in the House yesterday when it was raised that money is still being spent on the gun registry. Where is that money coming from for the Minister of Justice when it was turned down by members of the House, including government members?
I had hoped the minister would bring forward in his debate today the idea of at least a trial project on a national identity card, of running some kind of small scale voluntary program where individuals could test the model before launching into a full scale initiative. It certainly would have been prudent. I think it would have helped his case had he done something like that ahead of time. He could have come to the House with accurate cost projections and information about how a trial project would have worked in terms of the biometrics that he talked about, rather than asking us to take a giant leap of faith in the whole area of this card being the protector of our national identity when the indication is quite clear from many individuals that these concerns have not been addressed.
The minister said he was glad we had this opportunity for debate today. However, if this idea has come this far down the pipeline without having had a full debate at cabinet and without having had these kinds of questions answered, I wonder if it is not just a way for the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to trumpet something that likely will not see the light of day.
I thank my NDP colleagues for bringing forward this motion today. I look forward to what other members have to say on the topic. Certainly I would have hoped to have had a vote on this topic to see where members stood on the issue because I do not think there is a consensus. I hope the minister takes from this debate that there are serious concerns about the idea of a national identity card because it has not been clearly thought out by the government and given its track record, we cannot put our faith in it to administer such a program.