Mr. Speaker, I am following the debate on a national identity card with great interest, all the more so because I had the opportunity to listen to some entrepreneurs from my riding talk about new technologies that could be used to make the biometric portion of such a card.
I am also very happy to learn that the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship is now touring Canada to consult Canadians about this matter.
In our country, identification documentation is a shared responsibility. The federal government, through Citizenship and Immigration Canada, is responsible for issuing immigration and citizenship documents. The provincial governments are responsible for issuing birth and death certificates.
These documents are called primary documentation. They are used to obtain all kinds of other documents, such as passports, driver's licences, and health cards.
However, in reality, we know full well that none of these are specifically meant to be used as identification. Most of them, however, are commonly accepted and used as such. Just recently, my daughter told me that, to attend a basketball tournament in the United States, she only had to show her health card with a photo or her driver's licence.
We also know that these documents have security features that vary considerably and some can be easily reproduced. Consequently, numerous attempts have been made to use fraudulent cards.
Theft or fraudulent use of such documents can present a security threat to Canadians, the integrity of government programs or economic prosperity.
In terms of government programs, for example, some documents have proven very easy to counterfeit, allowing certain people access to employment insurance, for example, or even welfare. This easy access has cost the various levels of government billions of dollars.
In Canada as elsewhere, there has been a shocking rise in fraud and identity theft. Despite cutting-edge technology, identify theft is rising in the industrialized world. It is clear that the easier the technology is to access, the easier the documents are to reproduce and obtain.
According to the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus, identity theft and fraudulent use of identity documents cost billions of dollars each year. Obviously these crimes affect consumers and companies and clearly have a negative impact on our economy.
In the current context, with the technology available to us, Canadians can be better protected against such theft and fraud. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration has accordingly been asked to coordinate the Government of Canada's efforts to strengthen document integrity.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada issues documents to citizens, permanent residents, foreign students, refugee claimants, temporary workers, and visitors to Canada. Consequently, it is vital that these documents incorporate cutting-edge technology.
The new Permanent Resident Card is an extremely safe document that can include biometric identifiers. The Permanent Resident Card was introduced last year. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has already issued more than 170,000.
The card has been well received by clients and security experts.The International Card Manufacturers Association gave Canada's Permanent Resident Card two awards, and it has been referred to by U.S. experts as the most secure ID card in the world.
In fact, the Permanent Resident Card can be improved so as to include biometric technology. This is new technology that uses unique biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints, facial recognition or iris scans and can be used to verify an individual's identity with unprecedented precision.
In the United Kingdom, public consultation is currently underway on the introduction of a voluntary national identity card.
The government is fully aware of the concern about privacy, and this issue clearly remains a focus of discussion.
Privacy is a primary consideration. In Canada, we already have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian privacy legislation, which ensure that the privacy of Canadian citizens is protected. Needless to say, any proposed national ID card will have to comply with government guidelines on the protection of personal information as well as with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This is an important debate that touches on key issues, and we must consider those issues relating to security, privacy and citizenship, as almost everyone in this House has indicated in debate. There is also a need, in this debate, to remain objective, given how serious the issues under consideration are. We must steer clear of any sensationalism and examine the pros and cons of a national identity card in a calm and reasoned fashion.
This is how Canadians would want us to address the matter.